Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had read so much about the different people who had lived in the Chelsea Hotel, watched the videos of Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls, as much as I could without falling into a boredom induced coma, other videos about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, Patti Smith... I decided to read a history of the hotel itself.
There is no doubt Sherill Tippins is a good writer. The history from ancient to present flows like oil. We learn of the architects who constructed the hotel in the late 19th century. We learn about the hands who bought and sold the hotel. But mostly we learn about the various famous, and infamous, people who inhabited and co-habited the rooms.
The hotel seemed to be a hub for creative people from the latter decades of the 19th century to the last decades of the 20th. It is still open but closed to all but a few long time residents as new owners have decided to renovate.
The style is Queen Anne, Victorian Gothic, but I also think a dash of Art Deco exists at least in the interior. Just based on the photos I saw.
Authors like Mark Twain, Thomas Wolf, Dylan Thomas, and Arthur Miller stayed. The Beatniks Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Harry Smith and their ilk lived there for a while. In the sixties, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Leonard Cohen were residents. Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgewick made the place famous with their voyeuristic films that last for hours. And hours.
The beginning of the seventies see Robert Mapplethorpe and then girlfriend, Patti Smith, living together, at least until Mapplethorpe decided to "come out" and kick-start his photograph career the old fashioned way by acquiring a rich boyfriend.
The end of the seventies come crashing down for the hotel with death of Nancy Spungeon when she and Sex Pistol's bass player Sid Vicious were staying there. I appreciated the fair way Tippins described that whole chaotic, messy tragedy. How did Vicious murder his girlfriend when he had taken enough Tuinal to put less hardy souls into a coma? And why weren't the others who admitted to entering their hotel room that night, and apparently stole quite a bit of money from Sid, even questioned?
Much of what Tippins says is interesting especially if you like to read about the lives of the above-mentioned people.
However, I did tire of the constant barrage of salacious gossipy details, who was sleeping with whom, especially all the gay sex. It's like the author was trying to titillate the reader. That is not why I wanted to read a history of the hotel.
Although maybe she could hardly avoid it. The hotel sounded more like it was a hospital for drug-crazed socio-paths.
Yet Abby Hoffman, another resident, as well as Arthur Miller and others, felt they had the authority to proclaim judgement on the rest of America and deem them guilty of materialism, capitalism, and the Vietnam War. It became a religion for them. One they worshiped like a group of rabid animals who felt any means necessary justified acts of violence and inciting riots.
I wonder how a group of moral reprobates, living in their own alcohol and drug-riddled enclave, had the temerity to decide what America's problem was and what the solution was. A solution they felt needed to be forced on the people "for their own good".
Sherill Tippins is very much in their camp and cannot help sharing her own political views as to how conservative presidents caused every ill in the U.S. She ignores a lot to make that point.
You will learn more about the people that lived in the hotel than the hotel itself, but, what is a building? If the walls could talk, I'm sure they would have even more shocking things to say than Tippins. As far as it goes, I think Tippins does a fair job giving the walls of Hotel Chelsea a voice.
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