Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel



Amazon Book Review: Chelsea HotelI remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
--Leonard Cohen, "Chelsea Hotel #2"

Cohen's sad, dirty classic from 1974 might have been about his encounter with Janice Joplin in a Chelsea elevator (and beyond), but he could have just as easily been praising the hotel, itself a classic harboring as has as many tales and secrets as there are bricks in its Victorian Gothic facade.

Its own tale is long and occasionally sordid: In the mid-nineteenth century, New York City was broke and divided, its coffers emptied by corrupt politicians and a vast chasm separating rich from the masses of the poor. Architect Philip Gengembre Hubert dreamed of reclaiming the city from the opportunists, reuniting its citizens within Utopian communities of art and commerce, mingling all economic classes and vocations. When the Hotel Chelsea--his signature achievement--opened in 1844 on West 23rd Street, it immediately became a beacon for artists and outcasts, its warren of hallways thoughtfully planned to encourage creativity and collaboration.

Over 150 years, the artists--writers, actors, painters, and later, the punks--kept coming, working and trysting (and recombining) in wild pairings: Sam Shepard and Patti Smith; Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal; Cohen and Joplin; Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick; and, of course, Sid and Nancy. Dylan Thomas died at the Chelsea, and his namesake Bob Dylan wrote Blonde on Blonde there. Warhol's Superstars preened in its dining rooms, and Dee Dee Ramone detoxed in its otherwise junk-friendly confines.

While the Chelsea undergoes renovations and remodeling in preparation for its next phase, here is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of books celebrating its misfits, their art, and the monument.

 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins
The definitive biography of the New York landmark. Tippins's Chelsea lives and breathes along with the mind-blowing roster of occasionally infamous geniuses and eccentrics who have haunted its chambers.
 
 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Just Kids by Patti Smith
The poet-turned-rock star earned the National Book Award for this memoir of her friendship with iconoclast photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in and around the Chelsea of the 60s and 70s. While there, she co-wrote Cowboy Mouth with Sam Shepard, a surreal play about two aspiring artists in love, set in a ramshackle hotel room.
 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

The Andy Warhol Diaries by Andy Warhol
The Chelsea was to Warhol what Camelot was to King Arthur: a place to hold court with Factory "Superstars" Nico, Edie Sedgwick, Ultra Violet, et al., as well as a stage for the film Chelsea Girls and much outrageous and questionable behavior--which he recorded in his comprehensive diaries.
 

 


Chelsea-Chandelier
 

 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
The Velvet Underground, the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Richard Hell, and a thousand bands and musicians you've never heard of prowled the Bowery in the early 70s in search of success, someone to offend, something to break, and a place to crash. That place was often the Chelsea. Please Kill Me is the best book about those people.
 
 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel by Nicolaia Rips
17-year-old (!) Nicolaia Rips grew up in the Chelsea with her artistic parents and the hotel's standard cast of eccentrics, and she lived to tell about it in this surprising, charming, and less-weird-than-you'd-think coming-of-age story.
 

 

Chelsea-Desk-BW

 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein, edited by George Plimpton
As a model/actress for Warhol's early Factory films,Sedgwick could set a room on fire. Sometimes literally, as she did with her Chelsea apartment, one disaster in a series of them that included drug abuse, hospitalization, and an early death. Depressing? Yes. A classic of the era? Definitely.
 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Chelsea Girls: A Novel by Eileen Myles
Drenched in vice and self-discovery, Chelsea Girls is another 1970s New York coming-of-age story, this one in the form of autobiographical "novel"--at once messy and inspiring--by award-winning poet Eileen Myles.
 

 

Chelsea-Brasswork2

 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography by Richard Hell
Richard Hell (not his original surname) is a lot of things: a founding member of the seminal bands Television, The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids; an influential artist whose work influenced, if not defined, much of the punk aesthetic; another anarchic, occasionally besotted Chelsea occupant; and a writer as articulate as, well, hell.
 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Chronicles by Bob Dylan
In 1965 a burned-out Bob Dylan checked into the Chelsea seeking shelter to write new songs (he had previously kept a room there earlier in the decade). Blonde on Blonde was the result; the album features "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," a love song for his first wife made all the more interesting by rumors of a tryst with Edie Sedgwick (which he has denied) while he was there.
 

 

Chelsea-Staircase4

 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

Chelsea Horror Hotel: A Novel by Dee Dee Ramone
Up to his death in 2002, Dee Dee Ramone carried many demons with him, and they followed him into this hallucinatory, Chelsea-based ghost story. He magically communicates with his dog, Banfield, scours the building for drugs, and receives visits from dead punk friends Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders, and Stiv Bators--and eventually the devil. It's unclear how much of this is true.
 

Shop on Amazon
Print Book | Kindle Book

This Ain't No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel 1980–1995 by James Lough
The 70s may have ended, but Chelsea didn't stop attracting its share of artists, misfits, and bohemians. Lough's oral history chronicles the hotel's next 15 years, when the likes of influential beat poet Herbert Huncke and Tom Waits rattled its doors and through its corridors.
 

 


You might also like:

 

Subscribe to Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review, featuring picks for the best books of the month, author interviews, reading recommendations, and more from the Amazon Books editors.

 

 



Read More

No comments:

Post a Comment