Hotel California | Angelina D’Roza

Swindon 1 (Brian Lewis)I lost someone recently. He wasn’t a love or a relative, or even a friend. He wasn’t mine to lose at all. He was a pain. He was stubborn, and he had limited taste in music. I spent one week with him listening to a couple of Eminem songs over and over, maybe an Evanescence, a little Barry Manilow. But then at the end of the week, “Hotel California” came on. This was the sort of thing he’d do, drive you nuts, and then ask you to write down the word autumn, so he can carry it in his pocket. Who wouldn’t miss a man who did that?

The Eagles’ opening chords give away the whole song, like the pre-credit sequence of Columbo. Everyone (everyone!) knows “Hotel California” is a great song, even my guy (let’s call him Kevin), who whistled along to “Can’t Smile Without You”. But I like this song as a friend. I don’t love it. Nick Hornby talks about hearing a song at the right age, in the right year. I maybe heard this song in the seventies, but I suspect I was more about “The Runaway Train” than “the dark desert highway”. There are songs you shouldn’t be listening to without thinking of me. With the Eagles, it’s ok to go ahead and think of someone else, your cousin, or auntie, or Jon Tickle from Big Brother 4.

Kevin wasn’t into poetry. I read some to him – he said “thank you”. I tried to choose something culturally relevant, which is maybe a risk, like accidentally blacking up. But I do get a kick out of reading things near where they were written. I read Kafka in Prague, The Odyssey in Faliraki… The right place is probably as important as the right age, and I guess we can all agree 18-30 holidays are a good fit for Homer. One thing I did read on my trip overseas (not to Kevin) was The Poetry of Sex anthology (ed. by Sophie Hannah), and I was so in the wrong place to be reading a book with “SEX” written across the full cover – frowned upon doesn’t cover it. This is what made it the right place…

Swindon 2 (Brian Lewis)Finding time to read was hard, and when there was time, my head was so full with the chaos around me, it seemed impossible to rest my focus on the page. What did it was Lawrence’s “The Elephant is Slow to Mate” – “the huge, old beast” I can only say slowly; it steadied my breathing and my brain, so that all the frantic thinking slowed with it. It was like stretching out a cramp. I am currently away again, in the land of Kevin, reading Sagar on Lawrence’s thoughts about nature and landscape, how each locality expresses itself perfectly in its birds, beasts and flowers, its pansies and people. We are different on holiday, we dress differently (except my son, whose summer look is to wear just the one coat), dabble in the language, assume an air of sophistication when taking wine from a carafe, etc. But my Englishness is noticeable and noted wherever I go. Kevin would tell me this: Angelina, you’re so English. I am an expression of the country that raised me, and that I return to, in my turn of phrase and Yorkshire tea, and a thousand other ways I don’t see.

Someone told me that Kraftwerk were influenced by the Beach Boys, that they made music that sounded like California, so Kraftwerk went off to make music that sounded like Germany. I hear a version of California in the Eagles’ chord progressions (unfortunately, I also hear this in Jethro Tull’s “We Used to Know”). Lawrence implies place in his choice of language. I can only imagine the elephants’ “vast […] hearts” and “massive silence” in a landscape enormous enough to hold them. Imagining them dashing “in panic through the brake / of [Sherwood] Forest” won’t do. There’s loads of discussion around anthropomorphism, the conflict between Lawrence’s resolve to present the creature in its own terms and the unknowableness of the other. Its easy to see “shy hearts” as about us, but this courtship seems to keep tension between that and the elephant as an expression of its environment.

“So slowly the great hot elephant hearts / grow full of desire” invokes the heat weighted against them. They loiter along the riverbeds not only in the way that teenagers loiter after hours in Meadowhall, or snogging in gennels (I never did this), but in the hot climate. They are huge and the heat is slowing. Maybe we want to see ourselves in the poem, the heat we speak of in the urgency to touch another, the heart as the metaphorical seat of emotion? But we do feel it literally in our hearts, because adrenaline makes them beat faster. We actually give off heat. Is that mechanism so different for other animals? Being an old romantic, I do want to see myself here. The lines enact what they describe, slowly building desire until the end where “massive blood / moves as the moontides, near, more near…” It’s exciting and beautiful. I feel like that. I feel like an elephant… Wait. No…

Angelina D’Roza’s sequence The Strait appears in the Longbarrow Press anthology The Footing.  You can read ‘The Elephant is Slow to Mate’ by D.H. Lawrence here.  D’Roza discusses Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’ in ’31 Songs’ and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Pied Beauty’ here (two earlier posts in this series). 

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