this could be heaven or this could be hell

Why is it that ‘Hotel California’ makes me think of you? Is it merely the song, my affection and your smile, plaiting themselves together as if in play?

I was thinking to myself – this could be heaven or this could be hell.

I think you probably like this song. ‘Classic rock’. Inevitably I cringe as I remember you saying it, wedged in next to me on a crowded pub bench,  4 pints deep and amused by yourself. The night was beautiful; everyone said we looked moments away from a love affair. The pub was scuzzy, overloud, a little too dark – but that, if anything, enhances the memory: smashed glasses and bar brawls are all woven into the romance of it.

So I’ll transport myself back. How could that night have developed?

“This song always reminds me of you,” I imagine saying.

You reply, “Why? It’s about L.A., isn’t it?”

“Not the lyrics,” I say (how to explain?). “The music. The chord progression sounds like I feel about you.”

“Oh. How come?” I’m not sure you get it. Ekphrasis is so hard. But without it, this ambiguous compliment will remain just a feeling; it will never be transcribed, appreciated, preserved by its effects.

“Take that opening chord. It’s a minor chord, but so sure of itself somehow. It’s strummed so boldly. Then the next ones come in and it’s all so hopeful – light, almost dreamy.” A mirror to our relationship so far. I’m just yearning for the day we get to the fifth chord, that gorgeous G/D cadence before mournful E minor eases us back into doubt.

“Why is that how you feel about me?” An intimate question. Let’s pretend I could broach that intimacy.

“I think it’s something to do with nostalgia. It feels like my rosy memory of you between meetings…” We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969. “I’m always slightly sad around you. I love you but you never live up to my expectations. You’re a beautiful and sweet human, but in my memory, I paint you into some kind of hero. It’s intoxicating. Desiring you is like being rotted from the inside, slowly, by sugar.” Welcome to the Hotel California. Such a lovely place (such a lovely place). Such a lovely face. Your compelling half-smile. My flattery has piqued your interest. “I suppose the general sentiment of the lyrics capture it too, actually. The song’s about the appeal of morbidity and excess, right?  A languorous moment in history, an epic moment you’ll never forget, populated with people and vices and constant stimulation. But it’s also about how that slips into unhappy, grasping decadence.” We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

“Morbidity and excess?” You look incredulous. No, you don’t get it. Maybe you don’t love music like I do. Maybe you don’t love like I do.

“No, no. That’s the feeling, not you. You’re… kind of… dutiful, and modest. You have to be pushed to excess. I don’t. I’m greedy. I want my fill and then I want more. I don’t deny myself anything.”

Last thing I remember, I was running for the door –

You left after midnight. I implored you to stick around. I always dread goodbye and my return to myth-making. I live for the memories, but the remembering itself is morbid, excessive – unhappy, grasping decadence.


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