This Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel 1980-1995, an Oral History by James Lough [Book]
September 1, 2013 Leave a comment
So just a couple of months ago we shared a feature for an event that occurred in my favorite city of Portland, Oregon in which the great James Lough would be doing a reading from his latest book, This Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel 1980-1995. And from what I know, the event went well. And needless to say, I became very drawn to this book. As I have eluded several times over the years, I am a huge fan of the Beats. I love the Beats, and the overall bohemian culture in which I will never truly be a part of, in this lifetime at least. And for anyone who is an adamant follower of the Beats, bohemia, or simply counterculture in general, we all know that the Chelsea Hotel is in so many ways the epicenter of bohemian lifestyle. It was one place that not only allowed manic behavior and artistic creativity, it condoned it! To go even further, it yearned for it! Some of the greatest minds to ever think on this earth have been there. From prestigious like figures such as Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller, and Mark Twain. To legendary Beat writers and/or junkies William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, and Gregory Corso. And all the way back to musicians such as Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Sid Vicious (I think we all know that story by now), and Dee Dee Ramone. And the lists goes on, and on. Hell, I didn’t even get into the painters, fashion designers, and the entire Warhol clan. To put plainly: if you were an artist living or breathing around New York City, you wanted to be at the Chelsea.
Author James Lough seemed to have scored a jackpot at some point in his life, probably before he even realized it. How strange would it be to well educated and well versed in the world of literature, and to not realize that your very own brother-in-law was once a corresponding resident amongst some the greatest minds of our time. Lough is not unlike a the modest blue collar man who buys a Power Ball ticket on a whim, forgets about, only to have his wife retrieve it before throwing it in the wash, and soon realizing that money was never going to be an issue for them (yes, I know this is a long ass description, but seriously, imagine that scenario). Yes, Lough’s very own brother-in-law, Robert Campbell, has been through a lot in his life, and so much of it happened at the Chelsea Hotel between 1980-1995. It shouldn’t take a genius mind to realize that something great had the potential of happening. And Lough certainly jumped on board, and we should all be so damn grateful that he did.
The years of 1980-1995, may seem like peculiar years to cover. Several other books and documentaries have been spawned over the years, but tend to focus on the 50’s, 60’s, and to the more infamous events (and deaths) that occurred there in the 70’s. But, it is as if he were left the thoughts that either (1) things just continued and continue to get even more strange at the Chelsea or (2) the craziness simply died away. And sadly, at this stage in time, both are actually correct. But, what about the people? There had to be plenty of eccentrics and crazy’s living and passing through the Chelsea after Lennon was killed, am I right? Well, as the old saying goes….it feels so good to be right!
Throughout the pages of this amazing oral biography you will hear from some pretty wild figures who inhabited the Chelsea walls, and of the antics and acts of artistic fortitude that prevailed so heavily. The stories of the horrid, the advancement, and the degradation of so many great folks. First hand encounters from such interesting folks as writer and screenwriter Marlow West and his lovely take on how insanity was simple a side effect of brilliance, and vice versa. Not to mention a few words from the staff who were consistently living in feat of the tyrannical yet good hearted hotel manager Stanley Bard just as so many of the living artists who called themselves residences within these walls. There are tales of drugs, sex, manivilance, torture souls, and to top it all, a whole lot of fun at times. Hustlers like original Beat Herbert Huncke who were always looking for a quick scam, while hardly ever seeming to lose their idealization of the fine people around him, and right now to the deranged off again and on again worth ethic of Dee Dee Ramone as he picked up a few friends (including Robert Cambpell himself) to re invent his image in to the blues man he always wished he could be.
Pimps, drug dealers, eccentrics, and weirdos. These are characteristics they were label to have during their hey day, and still seem to be their most famous attributes, yet they now come with something a bit more than tolerance, a sense of respect. And it is suffice to say that there could be no better man to characterize these deranged and lovely people so wonderfully than the sociologist means modern day poet/biographer James Lough. His own descriptions of the time are rivaled in comparison to the likes of the crazies who lived, worked, and dreamed at this severely interesting several story building for the mad and the ambigiously stellar artists who unfortunately may have only received their fame and notarity within these walls. But, if you have to be known for something, a staple at an American landmark such as the Chelsea isn’t such a bad thing to be. This is a notion that James Lough develops and routes or minds into the right direction with a great sense of elegance and even playfulness as he never directs you to sympathize with these mad, mad men and women, but just to simply realize that this scene did indeed exist. And that we should appreciate each and every aspect these characters brought not only to the Chelsea, but to the final days of the great and true bohemian lifestyle.
About the time the book is wrapping up, and you are stirring with depression due to the fact that the stories must end, it can be decidedly thought that Lough has definitely created something so much more than just a simple oral biography as the title suggests. This man has given us a fresh insight into the world of bohemia, and what exactly it means to live and die by one’s art and how such passion for such insane idealism may not be dead, but it certainly will never be the same as it was in days passed. It becomes abundantly clear that James and his merry band of eccentrics interviewed in these pages have taken us on a journey through the final days of a certain place and time that seemed has all but dwindled down to nothing more than the memories of a few grizzle old men and dainty old women, of whom we may soon see their light sadly burn out. The era covered in this wonderful memoir of a doomed time is the epilogue of the wild and free days of the artist. It is a vision of New York City when the tower’s where in the sky, and capital gains weren’t sought after with a vengeance greater than that of trying to save your soul. The Chelsea Hotel is definitely the outer core and main focus of the book, but essentially this is a book about artists. Artists who dared to dream, and the mosaic place that once facilitated their genius.
Find out the joy and splendor of the book for yourself by picking up a copy right HERE.