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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hotel Chelsea / Chelsea

"Sara, Sara
It's all so clear, I could never forget
Sara, Sara
Loving you is the one thing I'll never regret.

I can still hear the sounds of those Methodist bells
I'd taken the cure and had just gotten through
Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' for you

Sara, Sara
Wherever we travel we're never apart
Sara, Sara
Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart."
-"Sara," Bob Dylan

Honestly, the only thing more dismal than the present appearance of the Hotel Chelsea is its track record of tragedies in the world of wandering poets. The hotel seems to have been a haven for the lost sheep of Greenwich Village, most memorably Leonard Cohen who penned the famous "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" which details the singer's not-so-romantic rendezvous with the late Janis Joplin. It was at the Hotel Chelsea that Dylan Thomas, who once famously roared, "rage, rage against the dying light!" died of alcohol intoxication. And perhaps the hotel's most "rock & roll" story of all was the downfall of Nancy Spungeon who was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, the one and only Sid Vicious, who all but lived up to his name.

And just when everyone thought that there was nowhere left to go but up, the hotel went to shambles and closed its doors to the public in 2011. Today, the scaffolding which embraces the empty edifice has all the charm of a mental asylum. When I dared to enter the front door I was greeted with the temporary doorman's furrowed brow and thundering voice: "We're closed." Indeed, it is hard to believe that this very building, erected in 1883, was once the high-brow and glamorous landmark that inspired the very name of its surrounding neighborhood.

Thankfully, good old Bob Dylan put the bohemian splendor of this hotel into words before old age came in like a Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball. As always, we can count on Zimmy's sing-songy stories to remind us of times and places we've never experienced, and we trust him enough to believe every word. As much as I am fascinated and disturbed by the dark times and the devilry that took place in this hotel, I am settled by this beautiful testament of love, fated though it was, that graced a moment in Bob Dylan's life and made this place a home to something other than death and drugs (although one cannot be too optimistic that the latter was not totally uninvolved in the story.)

Even if the hotel has been stripped of its placeholder in the artistic world, there is still music in the air today. I needed only to walk a couple doors down from the hotel to see this winsome little hole-in-the-wall, a used-guitar shop that Leonard and Bobby could very well have jammed at together had they crossed paths in the early 1990's on a day off with nothing to do and a little time on the hands for some freewheelin'. 

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