I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel

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I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
 
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
We are ugly but we have the music."
            -Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel #2
 
The infamous Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan has surely hosted more famous writers, artists, musicians and performers than any other building in America. The above song lyrics were written about Janis Joplin, who lived in Apartment 411 in 1968.  Too many famous artists to list have lived there, some for years, some for brief periods of time, but the Bohemian character of the hotel captures all who go there.  A small sampling: Arthur C. Clarke, Tom Wolfe, Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Katharine Dunham, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Patti Smith, Sam Shepard, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Joseph O’Neill, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Fonda, Jim Morrison, Dee Dee Ramone, Diego Rivera, Julian Schnabel… the list just goes on and on.

DC Public Library has some excellent books which take you to the Hotel Chelsea and let you see some of the fascinating lives that have stayed there:
 
Inside the Dream Palace:The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherrill Tippins.  This is the unofficial encyclopedia of the Chelsea Hotel, covering everything about the hotel from its creation in 1884 until this book went to press in  2012.  Sherrill Tippins put in a heroic amount of research on the Chelsea and this is clearly a work of love. She gathered photographs of many of the hotel’s most colorful residents and her stories of what they did in the Chelsea are a hoot.  For example, she tells of a young Mary McCarthy letting a group of intellectuals at the Partisan Review use her as “bait” to interest New Republic editor Edmund Wilson in coming over to their journal.  And then there was the time that choreographer Katharine Dunham brought two live lions into the hotel to rehearse a number.  The hotel was long a veritable festival of crazy creativity and originality, from Mark Twain to the Ramones. Tippins’ book is a pleasure to read.

Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living With the Artists and Outlaws in New York’s Rebel Mecca by Ed Hamilton.  This is the best book written for capturing the wacky greatness and eccentricity that is the Chelsea Hotel.   Written by a long-time resident of the hotel, Ed Hamilton, it has a feel for the hotel that no other book quite captures.   Hamilton delights in telling the legends of the Chelsea… the maybe-it’s-not-true-but-maybe-it-is tales that can make a place fun and fascinating. Like the story of Storme DeLarverie, the lesbian activist who may have been the person who single-handedly started the Stonewall Riots in 1969.  She lived in the Chelsea well into her old age.  And Hamilton includes a fabulous chapter about a possible encounter he had with the ghost of Thomas Wolfe in the apartment that Wolfe had lived in.  Hamilton’s book is chock-full of eccentric residents that will delight anyone who loves to read about people who don’t follow the rules of society all the time.  It’s a charming book.
 
Just Kids by Patti Smith. Who knew Patti Smith could write such a great memoir?  She won a National Book Award for this one, which perfectly captures her days in the Chelsea Hotel, where she cohabitated with Robert Mapplethorpe (in room 1017) and collaborated with playwright Sam Shepard.  The book reads to me like a love poem to life in New York City, especially Greenwich Village and Chelsea, especially in the glorious times that were the 60s and 70s, and especially her close friendship with Mapplethorpe.  Smith says “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe.” Her tales of her encounters there make this a truly memorable and fun memoir.
 
Call Me Burroughs: A Life by Barry Miles.  This large biography of Burroughs will thrill any fan of writer William Burroughs, a key figure in the Beat Movement. Many of Burroughs’ associates lived or passed through the Chelsea Hotel, and Burroughs himself lived there, though it is surprising to learn that Burroughs didn’t care much for some of them (he thought Harry Smith was “creepy”  and he thought that Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso were “uncouth, loud and pushy!").  This biography is a virtual name-dropping explosion and it gives you a great feel for the art scene of the Beat era which flowed in and out of the Chelsea.  Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in the Chelsea.
 
Dylan: The Biography by Dennis McDougal.   Bob Dylan lived in room 211 at the Chelsea for a year in the 60s (the door to his room was sold for $100,000.00 last year).   McDougal covers – in great detail – events that shaped Dylan’s life and music, and much of that life took place around Greenwich Village and the Chelsea Hotel.  This biography does a great job of placing Dylan in his rightful place as an important voice in American musical history.
 
I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Silvie Simmons.  Here you can find the story behind Leonard Cohen’s famous song “Chelsea Hotel # 2,” about his one night stand with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea.  Cohen lived in many rooms at the Chelsea but he will undoubtedly always be remembered for that night in Room 411 with Janis Joplin.
 
Arthur Miller by Christopher Bigsby.   Arthur Miller lived in the Chelsea for six years in the 60s and had this to say about it:  "This hotel does not belong to America. There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and shame...it's the high spot of the surreal. Cautiously, I lifted my feet to move across bloodstained winos passing out on the sidewalks--and I was happy. I witnessed how a new time, the sixties, stumbled into the Chelsea with young, bloodshot eyes."  Miller wrote After the Fall  in the Chelsea, and lived there after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe.   He was a great observer of the colorful life in the Chelsea and some of his descriptions of the “denizens of the Chelsea” are just brilliant and hilarious.  Miller was in need of a quiet place to hide from the press; the Chelsea gave him that and endless entertainment as some of the best of the 60s, from the Beat Generation to the Warhol crowd to some great new musicians, walked before him there.