The Truth Behind Colitas and Hotel California

I ran across this from The Straight Dope and thought it a funny article.  Hopefully you will appreciate it:

A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil’s Storehouse of Human Knowledge

In the song “Hotel California,” what does “colitas” mean?

August 15, 1997

Dear Cecil:

Just what does “colitis” mean? In the song “Hotel California” by the Eagles the first lines are, “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, warm smell of colitis rising up through the air.” I remember I tried looking it up at a university library years ago and couldn’t find the answer. I know songwriters sometimes make up words, but I didn’t see a Dr. Seuss credit on the album.

– Wendy Martin, via the Internet

Cecil replies:

Uh, Wendy. It’s colitas, not colitis. Colitis (pronounced koe-LIE-tis) is an inflammation of the large intestine. You’re probably thinking of that famous Beatles lyric, “the girl with colitis goes by.”

As for “Hotel California,” you realize a lot of people aren’t troubled so much by colitas as by the meaning of the whole damn song. Figuring that we should start with the general and move to the particular, I provide the following commonly heard theories:

(1)The Hotel California is a real hotel located in (pick one) Baja California on the coastal highway between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz or else near Santa Barbara. In other words, the song is a hard look at the modern hospitality industry, which is plagued by guests who “check out any time [they] like” but then “never leave.”

(2)The Hotel California is a mental hospital. I see one guy on the Web has identified it as “Camarillo State Hospital in Ventura County between LA and Santa Barbara.”

(3) It’s about satanism. Isn’t everything?

(4) Hotel California is a metaphor for cocaine addiction. See “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” This comes from the published comments of Glenn Frey, one of the coauthors.

(5) It’s about the pitfalls of living in southern California in the 1970s, my interpretation since first listen. Makes perfect sense [and] who you going to believe, some ignorant rock star or me?

(6)My fave, posted to the Usenet by Thomas Dzubin of Vancouver, British Columbia: “There was this fireworks factory just three blocks from the Hotel California . . . and it blew up! Big tragedy. One of the workers was named Wurn Snell and he was from the town of Colitas in Greece. One of the workers who escaped the explosion talked to another guy . . . I think it was probably Don Henley . . . and Don asked what the guy saw. The worker said, “Wurn Snell of Colitas . . . rising up through the air.”

He’s also got this bit about “on a dark dessert highway, Cool Whip in my hair.” Well, I thought it was funny.

OK, back to colitas. Personally I had the idea colitas was a type of desert flower. Apparently not. Type “colitas” into a Web search engine and you get about 50 song-lyric hits plus, curiously, a bunch of citations from Mexican and Spanish restaurant menus. Hmm, one thinks, were the Eagles rhapsodizing about the smell of some good carryout? We asked some native Spanish speakers and learned that colitas is the diminutive feminine plural of the Spanish cola, tail. Little tail. Looking for a little . . . we suddenly recalled a (male) friend’s guess that colitas referred to a certain feature of the female anatomy. We paused. Naah. Back to those menus. “Colitas de langosta enchiladas” was baby lobster tails simmered in hot sauce with Spanish rice. One thinks: you know, I could write a love song around a phrase like that.

Enough of these distractions. By and by a denizen of soc.culture.spain wrote: “Colitas is little tails, but here the author is referring to ‘colas,’ the tip of a marijuana branch, where it is more potent and with more sap (said to be the best part of the leaves).” We knew with an instant shock of certainty that this was the correct interpretation. The Eagles, with the prescience given only to true artists, were touting the virtues of high-quality industrial hemp! And to think some people thought this song was about drugs.


This E-mail just in from Eagles management honcho Irving Azoff: “In response to your [recent] memo, in 1976, during the writing of the song ‘Hotel California’ by Messrs. Henley and Frey, the word `colitas’ was translated for them by their Mexican-American road manager as ‘little buds.’ You have obviously already done the necessary extrapolation. Thank you for your inquiry.”

I knew it.


Dear Cecil:

Please tell me you were joking when you mentioned the Beatles lyric “the girl with colitis goes by.” You were joking, right? You know it’s “kaleidoscope eyes.” —nancrow

Cecil replies:

Nothing gets by you, Nan.

– Cecil Adams



17 responses to “The Truth Behind Colitas and Hotel California

  1. that was a riot! reminds me of several other often misheard lyrics…

    “There’s a bathroom on the right…”
    “Sweet dreams are made of cheese…”

    Then there’s that whole “American Pie” thing…

    But, I thought sweet dreams ARE made of cheese… have I been wrong all these years? I’ll bet Wallace and Grommit would agree with me.

  2. this post is hilarious!

    It made me laugh too!

  3. Great post! Amazing reads 😀 It was about Satanism though 😛

    Good to know (the Eagles were a pretty wild bunch)!
    Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  4. On a dark desert highway, Cool Whip in my hair…

    In a Rolling Stones interview Don Henley and Glen Frey emphatically denied that the Hotel was actually a real place, but rather a metephor for the California scene.

    Colitas is a marajuana reference. Colas (tails) referes to the tight well groomed mub of pot. Colitas are the April trimmings from the product or tiny ‘colas’ or colitas. When the ‘bag’ is opened, colitas are particularly moist and pungent and have a unique aroma which even non-law enforcement can quickly identify. For smoke enthusists this is prime product.

    Maybe a bit like Steely Dan with “The Cuervo Gold, that fine Columbian…” I’m pretty convinced that was about coffee.
    Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

  5. leavingevangeline

    I loved this! I’ve always wondered what this song was about…and what Colitas was. Now I know!

    That Cecil guy is pretty funny…

    My mom spent her entire life thinking that Beach Boys lyric: “Help me Rhonda. Help, help me Rhonda” was: “Help me run duh, help, help me run duh”. Like, the duh was just a thing you throw into a song like la, di, da, do…whatever. She didn’t figure it out my friend Rhonda and I were singing at the top of our lungs and it just dawned on her…


    Maybe some of the “Cool Whip in her hair” found its way into her ears? That would make it a bit harder to hear. Just a thought.

  6. Growing up in my church, I was always told it was about Satanism…you know “just can’t kill the beast”. I forever felt guilty liking the song because of that!

    Very interesting and comical read! I learned something new about colitas! :o)

    Well, there you go. Education and entertainment – double your money’s worth.

  7. Ha Ha 🙂 each line can be connected to a conspiracy theory, what we may have missed is maybe it was just an ode to Aliens. 😉 He he I too though Colitas was a flower, but then you can’t be too sure.

    Ah… “Dark desert highway” could be referring to Area 51 – I never thought of that.

  8. I thought it was a drink. Like a hot toddy.

    They do have a strange drink menu at the “Hotel California”, pink champagne on ice
    but NO wine. Cancel my reservations, I’m going to a Motel 6.

    I also felt, (and still do) that “Hotel California” was a reference to purgatory,
    “This could be Heaven, or this could be Hell”

    They are sort of caught in the middle of nowhere, and they have to bring their
    “alibi” for the time of judgement… And they are all “prisoners” there (of their
    own device) !!!

    LOL ! Great article at any rate, a fun read. 🙂

    It almost makes the Eazy-8 motel (a step lower than motel 6 even though it has a higher number) sound good.

    All those arguments for purgatory also make a strong argument for drug use/addiction. That said, I’m good with your interpretation as well.

  9. Try this for the meaning of the song

    Thanks for visiting and thanks for the link.

  10. Colillas de cigarro = the remaining part of a cigarrete,
    colitas and colillas sound to be the same thing

    Thanks for the info and thanks for visiting.

  11. One of the top songs of the 70’s was “Hotel California” by the Eagles. Most people have no idea the song refers to the Church of Satan, which happens to be located in a converted HOTEL on CALIFORNIA street! On the inside of the album cover, looking down on the festivities, is Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan and author of the Satanic Bible! People say, the Eagles aren’t serious, they’re just selling records. That’s what you think! The Eagles manager, Larry Salter, admitted in the Waco Tribune-Herald, (Feb. 28, 1982) that the Eagles were involved with the Church of Satan! Not surprisingly, one of the Eagle’s songs is titled “Have A Good Day in Hell.”
    Promoting Satan
    by David J. Stewart

  12. Actually, I had heard of the “warm smell of colitas” actually be debated as “warm smell of clay dust”, with “clay” pronounced “Cuh-lay” for an extra syllable to go with the muscial beat…

    After your article, I have to say I’m sticking with the whole “song about living in South California” bit. I’ve been to California, and if you stay there long enough, you notice how crazy half those people are…

    We just moved from Southern Cal to Northern Cal. Still crazy, but not as much. Thanks for the visit and comment.

  13. I found your site after investigating a dream I had, where I was telling my dead friends mom about a dream I had the night before (which I did have the night before), and she asked if my friend-her daughter-was on the Island of Colitas? In my dream we were in a town that wasn’t but was Laguna Beach (where we grew up) and looking at an island that was Colitas instead of Catalina. Anyway…

    I have always been disturbed by Hotel California because who would want to check in but not leave (unless you knew that up front, which the song doesn’t seem to imply—though if it is indeed about the 70’s drug scene, which you have made a solid case for, everyone knows the risks of “dancing with the devil,” so to speak, but never believe THEY will get burned.

    My interpretation has always been this:
    It is a metaphor for not just the scene, but drug trips i.e. L.S.D. “It can be Heaven or it can be Hell,” which is true. Further, it refers to mental illness i.e. Schizophrenia, because it, too, “Can be Heaven or it can be Hell,” depending on the type, the person (both patient and outsider), and the current delusion or “trip.” Not to mention the fact that in the 70’s, there were those who did go so far “out there” that they never came back… the medical profession deemed anyone who had tried L.S.D., even once, “mentally ill.” Finally, for those who have tried hallucinogens: L.S.D., peyote, etc., it does permanently change you-even if you do come down, so by doing them, you open yourself in a way that can never be undone, some more than others… “You can check in [drop out] any time you want but you can never leave.”

  14. T.H.C. The Hotel California

    Hah! That’s funny. Thanks.

  15. Wow, I bet that when this song was composed they never guessed how much dinner conversation the lyrics to this song would create.
    One of the best songs ever!
    Sandra Dee

    Colitas and dinner conversation… I guess you are right. Thanks for the visit and comment.

  16. I always thought the song was about hell. Driving, dying, and not knowing you’re dead.

  17. My brother suggested I would possibly like this blog.
    He was once entirely right. This put up actually made my day.
    You can not believe just how much time I had spent for this information!

    Thank you!

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