Friday, May 30, 2008

Chelsea Hotel Documented Viciously

New York's famed Hotel Chelsea is in the bright lights these days, which is weird considering how dark everyone says the boho hotspot is.

Abel Ferrara's new documentary Chelsea on the Rocks, which premiered at Cannes this weekend, as well the recently released photo essay Inside the Chelsea Hotel, characterize the legendary residence as an unending spiral of sex, drugs, rock and hell.

As actor Jamie Burke, who plays doomed Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in Ferrara's doc, explained in the Associated Press on Sunday, Chelsea is a "vortex," an "artistic tornado of death and destruction and love and broken dreams."

Vicious infamously killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen while staying at the Chelsea in 1978, and musicians like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Tom Waits, Henri Chopin, Bob Dylan, Richard Hell and many more wrote some of their more memorable songs there. Leonard Cohen's tune "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" graphically chronicles his sexual union with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea. Other tracks about the hotel include Nico's "Chelsea Girls," Dylan's "Sara" and, most notably, Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" which, remarkably enough, inspired the Clintons to name their daughter Chelsea Clinton.

Inside the Chelsea Hotel photographer Julia Calfee describes working at the residence as "living and working in the same place with a large extended, temperamental family full of artistic sensitivities and colossal egos, with long, exposed nerve ends."

The hotel is also where some of those nerve ends met their ends.

Along with Spungen, poet Dylan Thomas died of alchohol poisoning at St. Vincent's Hospital after binging at the Chelsea in 1953. Lost Weekend author Charles R. Jackson committed suicide at the Chelsea in 1968. On the other hand, Painter Alphaeus Cole died there at the record-setting age of 115.

Yet the Chelsea was also the birthplace of immortal creation: While under its roof, Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001, Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, and Andy Warhol practically used it as ground zero for his Factory line of pop-art stars.

Much of that creation and destruction occurred under the watch of the Bard family, which managed the hotel for the last 60 years. In 2007, however, the Bard family was ousted (PDF) in a takeover and the fate of the Chelsea remains uncertain. But even if it succumbs to the kind of homogenization that has turned New York City into one huge shopping mall, it's bulletproof artistic legacy will remain intact.

Photo: Wikipedia

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