The Chelsea Hotel is in trouble. Four years ago the booting of longtime manager, co-owner, and ‘guest curator’ Stanley Bard signaled an irrevocable change in the institution’s 127-year history. This week’s announcement that future reservations had been suspended ahead of the building’s sale to a developer for $80 million is inevitable conclusion to a series of unfortunate events. If you don’t already have a reservation or an apartment there, then you’ve missed your chance to stay at the legendary hotel.
And you’ve also missed your chance to join the long list of artists, poets, actors and musicians that called the hotel their temporary, permanent, or — very often — their last home. The Hotel’s history of catering to artists of all mediums and psychological configurations naturally resulted in some great, seedy stories emerging from 222 West 23rd Street — here are five we’ll be thinking about as the hotel closes its doors.
1. Leonard Cohen‘s greatest indiscretion
You could make the argument that Leonard Cohen’s song “Hotel Chelsea No. 2″ is famous simply because of the heavily-rumored story behind it. Then again, it’s a great song. In the first verse Cohen sings: “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / You were talking so brave and so sweet / Giving me head on the unmade bed / While the limousines wait in the street.” Speaking to the BBC in 1994, Cohen was apologetic for his outing of Joplin-as-paramour. “… I named Janis Joplin in that song, I don’t know when it started, but I connected her name with the song, and I’ve been feeling very bad about that ever since,” he said. “It’s an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologizing to the ghost, I want to apologize now, for having committed that indiscretion.” [Listen to "Chelsea Hotel No. 2"]
2. Nearly nude Dee Dee Ramone threatens construction workers with a knife
One short story from Dee Dee Ramone’s long, intermittent residence at the hotel focuses on the gall of construction workers doing their job around the noontime. To a punk rocker, this is practically 5 a.m. Writer Ed Hamilton spent 11 years living at the Chelsea, so the arrival of Dee Dee Ramone in the adjacent room likely wasn’t that much of a surprise. Nor, judging by his tone, was the appearance of a furious jersey-shorted Ramone at his door, demanding to know exactly what the f*** his problem was. After Hamilton explained that the room upstairs was undergoing construction, Dee Dee immediately took to his balcony in his underpants to shriek at the workers to pretty please, be quiet. Or something like that. [Read the story]
3. Bob Dylan‘s first babe
In an interview with SPIN in 1986, Dylan says he and his wife were living at the Hotel when their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born — around the time of Dylan’s nearly inarguable golden period, seeing the concurrent releases of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Dylan’s room at the Chelsea was later destroyed, much to the dismay of Dylan’s quite easily dismayed public.
4. Sid and Nancy and Room 100
No mention of the Chelsea’s history would be complete without including the co-dependently tragic end of Nancy Spungen, found dead on October 12, 1978 in the bathroom of Room 100, with her boyfriend Sid Vicious‘ knife in her belly. Sid, who called the police, was arrested on the spot and charged with murder. His recollection of the event was hazy, alternating between admissions of guilt and claims that she had fallen on the blade by accident. There are persistent rumors that she had been killed by a drug dealer in a scuffle over money. No one will ever know exactly what happened.
The death of Nancy, and subsequent death of Sid, who was out on bail for her murder when he overdosed, resulted in generations of punks coming to the Hotel to pay their misguided respects. However, years earlier the Chelsea had the room’s walls knocked out and split between its adjoining two rooms — effectively deleting Room 100 from her floor plan forever — in an attempt to sweep the grittiest story in Hotel Chelsea’s history under the rug (though you can still find it, sort of).
5. Jobriath, pyramidal apartment dweller
On Jobriath, Jaz Holzman the former head of his label, Elektra, had this to say to Mojo in 1998: “I made two errors of judgement in my days at Elektra, and Jobriath was one of them. It was an awful album… Not because of the gay angle, it was just lacking in any sense of reality. It’s an embarrassment…” As fast as the glam-rock star came into being — born Bruce Wayne Campbell, he became Jobriath sometime between his band Pidgeon and stints as a prostitute — he faded. That first album was the subject of a massive publicity campaign, with full-page ads in major magazines and a massively ambitious live show, including plans for a glass facade Empire State Building that would transform into a giant phallus upon his arrival at the summit. His second album, released six months later, was left to flounder. Jobriath announced his retirement from music shortly after, retreating to his triplex pyramid on top of the Chelsea Hotel, where he died of AIDS in 1983. He was largely forgotten until Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff immortalized his story in song. [Listen to
"Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979"]