Day 25: Ghosts in the Hotel

Ghosts in the Hotel was an attempt to create my own version of Hotellounge (Be the Death of Me) by the Belgian band dEUS. This might come as a surprise to Hamish from Swimmer One, who wrote 90% of the music. Until recently it would also have been a surprise to me. It was only while listening to dEUS again a few weeks ago that I realised what I had done. On some subconscious level, Hamish’s demo had reminded me of a dEUS song – not Hotellounge itself, but Sister Dew from their Ideal Crash album. The distorted electric guitar riff at the start was reminiscent of a few other dEUS moments, so it might also have been a general dEUS-like vibe that I subconsciously tuned into. Anyway, I immediately started writing a lyric set in a hotel.

Hotellounge was my first introduction to dEUS, and I was obsessed with it for years after I heard it by chance on the radio – Mark Radcliffe’s evening show on Radio One, I think. Who were these people? They sounded like they might be American, but there was something about some of the lyrics that suggested English was the singer’s second language – ‘as a matter of speaking’ instead of ‘in a manner of speaking’, the odd grammatical construction of the ‘take it back your analogue’ line. It reminded me of the unusual turns of phrase you’d find on early A-ha albums (‘take on me’ ‘I dream myself alive’ etc) as a Norwegian songwriter explored the possibilities of the English language.

Hotellounge was incredibly evocative, right from the first line. ‘There’s an elevator only takes one down’ made me think of Mickey Rourke descending to hell at the end of Angel Heart. ‘It’s my daily bread but I’m unfed’ also felt Biblical. What was this hotel lounge, really? A church? The afterlife? Limbo? What was that reference to Rickie Lee Jones’ voice all about? What was the meaning of the line ‘Have another cigarette, I tend to forget’ that suggested someone haunted by regret? And the final line is just wonderful: ‘See that man in the left hand corner, see that woman, their love story’s famous’. The song then leaves your imagination hanging. What love story? Why is it famous? dEUS, come back!

I love Hotellounge partly just because I really like songs and stories about hotels. Other hotel-set favourites include Hotel World by Ali Smith, Mainstream by David Greig, and the films Up in the Air, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Lost in Translation and The Shining. If something is set in a hotel I’m pretty much always interested, so recommendations please. Hotels are soaked in symbolism. They offer physical comfort while also representing all that is fleeting and insecure about human existence. A home that is not really your home, filled with ghosts of previous inhabitants. Encounters with strangers, sometimes trivial, sometimes life-changing. Temporary romances. Loneliness. People adrift, in between places that actually mean something to them. But they also host joyful moments – wedding receptions that bring friends and families together. Decadence. Bad behaviour. Throwing televisions out of windows. Hotels – the best ones – can be weird and quirky and beautiful and spark your imagination. Places you only occupy temporarily can, after all, allow you to step outside of your usual habits and find a fresh perspective.

Being me, I mostly wrote about ghosts and loneliness. Someone – a spirit? – is waiting in a hotel lobby for someone else – a lover, a relative? – who might never show up. They have convinced themselves that because a hotel lobby is a space that people constantly pass through, then the person they’re waiting for will eventually arrive, because at some point everyone will. They might have to wait hundreds of years, mind, but it’ll happen.

There is, rarely for Swimmer One songs, a video to accompany Ghosts in the Hotel. It wasn’t actually made for the song. Our friend Daniel Warren was making a dance film, thought Ghosts in the Hotel would work as the soundtrack, and so asked the dancers he was working with, and us, if that would be ok. I couldn’t see an obvious connection to the lyrics but I certainly wasn’t going to object. It was filmed in a hotel, after all. And I like that the song itself has become a kind of ghost in this very different hotel. It doesn’t really matter what I think the song is about, anyway. Music lives longer than any of us. And so songwriters are also ghosts.

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