Wednesday , April 24 2024
If ever there was a hotel with a checkered history, it would have to be New York's infamous Chelsea.

Book Review: Legends Of The Chelsea Hotel – Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York’s Rebel Mecca by Ed Hamilton

If ever there was a hotel with a checkered history, it would have to be New York's infamous Chelsea.

The Chelsea Hotel has been called home by what would by any stretch have to be considered a "who's who" of New York's historical community of rebel artists living on the societal fringe. At one time or another, its residents have ranged from beat poetry icons like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William S. Burroughs to those they have influenced like Bob Dylan and Patti Smith.

More recently, the hotel's residents have included the likes of Ethan Hawke, Rufus Wainwright, and Ryan Adams (which may just help explain that strange concert I saw a year or so back where Adams was completely out of his mind on — well, something).

According to legend, the Chelsea has also seen more than its fair share of cultural history. Madonna is said to have photographed much of her naughty nineties book Sex while staying there. Leonard Cohen supposedly wrote the song "Chelsea Hotel #2," after receiving a blowjob from Janis Joplin at the hotel, and Joni Mitchell likewise wrote "Chelsea Morning" about her time staying there. It is also a matter of record that the Chelsea is where Sid Vicious spent his final tragic moments with Nancy Spungen.

Whether it is because the Chelsea is some sort of weird portal into another dimension, or perhaps because it is haunted by the numerous ghosts — both the famous and the infamous — who have called it home, there is just something about the place that seems to get inside of its residents.

One such resident is novelist Ed Hamilton, who called the Chelsea home for about a dozen years. Hamilton first got the idea for a book about the Chelsea by blogging about it. As the other residents speculated amongst themselves as to just who the mystery Chelsea blogger was, Hamilton soon found himself digging much deeper into the hotel's illustrious history.

For Hamilton, Legends Of The Chelsea Hotel is also something of a labor of love. The book begins with the residents gathered in the hallway of the hotel after a fire that may or may not have been started by the hotel's telephone operator — who is herself a rather eccentric character. Sadly, it ends with the inevitable realization that like so many other things these days, the Chelsea is about to become the latest victim of gentrification — despite the rich history detailed here.

The stories in this book are far too numerous to recount here. But let us just say if you have an appetite for true stories about the famous (and some not so famous) that range from the somewhat bizarre to the downright insane, then this book will leave you breathless. With the truly odd collection of punk rockers, beat poets, and other colorful characters who populate the pages of Legends Of The Chelsea Hotel, your perverse satisfaction is guaranteed.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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