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Zen and the Art of Hotel Living by Glenn O’Brien

Leave it to the iconic Glenn O'Brien to illuminate the deeper meaning of hotel living. Come to think of it, "iconic" probably doesn't do O'Brien justice. Maybe a better way to describe him is simply "New York." In his 100 lives and reinventions, the writer, editor, TV host, musician, screenwriter, and creative director has played an integral part in countless movements and subcultures born from the cultural capital of the world. To mention a few, he was a member of Andy Warhol's factory; the first editor of Warhol's Interview Magazine; he helped artists like Basquiat and Blondie go mainstream as the host of TV Party; he edited Madonna's book, Sex, and he set straight men straight as GQ's famous Style Guy. (We also got him to star in our videos for Standard Time, directed by Danny Sangra, but we digress.)

When we asked O'Brien for some words on what living in hotels has brought to his life, we didn't expect to think about hotels in a whole new way. But of course, we shouldn't have expected anything less. 

Living in a hotel is perfect for a certain personality type. I guess I’m one of those types. I lived at the famed Chelsea Hotel for several months in 1977 and it was an adventure and an education. The Chelsea had certainly seen better days, but the glamor still remained. You could almost hear Bob Dylan typing or Leonard Cohen hitting on Janis Joplin. Lots of places are haunted but, ‘hey, was that Dennis Hopper?’ The Chelsea was home to generations of bohemians, from Mark Twain and O.Henry, to Thomas Wolfe and Brendan Behan, to a who’s who of the Beats, including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso. Andy Warhol shot his famous Chelsea Girls film there, and many of the Warhol crew lived there, including Brigid Berlin and Viva. When Nico lived there I recall going to open a window in her room and it was already open—in fact, the panes of glass were completely missing. Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Charles Bukowski had lived there, but by the time I arrived it was more like Dee Dee Ramone and Sid Vicious, who offed his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon there in 1978.  Even though Stanley Bard, the kindly manager, was generously negotiable on the rent it was still an expensive address for me, with two rooms and two fireplaces. After a while I got sick of the fire alarm going off in the middle of what seemed like every night.
          In 1990 I was considering a move to Los Angeles, but I thought I should try it out for a while before committing, so I moved into the famed Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, the closest thing the City of Angels had to the Chelsea. It was a bit of a dump, but a glorious dump, and André Balazs saw its enormous potential and bought it that year. The best rooms were bigger than most New York apartments and I liked having a full kitchen with breakfast nook and a big living room. My friend Richard Prince was also living at the Chateau then. He was in a white leather chaps period, and honest-to-God, his living room windows looked out on an enormous Sunset Boulevard billboard featuring Marlborough’s famous cowboy, whom Prince had appropriated as his own in the early eighties. I think it was a coincidence. 
          Hotels clear your head. A long-term stay in a hotel is a vacation from your stuff, all that detritus of your personality that reinforces who you are. Staying in a place that reflects your taste only in the abstract, that you have no responsibility for, is a real palate cleanser, a psychic relief from responsibility. You wake up and have breakfast delivered. You take a shower and throw your towels on the floor. You get dressed, have your laundry picked up, go out, and voila: you return and your pajamas are no longer on the floor, the empty wine bottle is gone, and the bed is made. Think of all that time and energy you can use for thinking instead. You’re like a yogi in a mountaintop cave, but with much better food.
          London has wonderful hotels, but my favorite London residence was a slightly down at the heels place in Holland Park. It was a beautiful grand building with rooms big enough for pacing, just a tad frayed, but with a very understanding and enlightened staff. They didn’t blink when I had several dozen rastas up for a casting, and when delivering a message from a young lady that was something like: “A young lady called and she suggested what you might do with yourself.”
          Paris is a great place for hotel living. A lot of it is the tradition of service. They might not really like you, but they are very good at convincing you they’re glad to see you. I have spent weeks at Le Bristol and then not shown my face for a year, but when I show up everyone knows my name. How do they do that? It makes you feel at home. No, it’s better than home. What happens when you show up at home? Everyone looks at you like, “Oh, you again!”
          I like that there are hotels offering things that my very nice apartment doesn’t. Like a pool, a spectacular view, a four-star restaurant, a night club, a gym. There is glamour and luxury and upward mobility, and yet, there’s something democratic about hotel living. It gives you an instant image, easy éclat, but oddly there’s a feeling of community: we’re in this together. But then, of course, you have your one-star democracies and your five-star democracies.
          It’s an instant community. Aspirational, but cordial. Snobby, perhaps, but in a healing, self-indulgent mode. That’s why writers and artists like living in hotels. A social context with no responsibilities except the tab. There’s a staff that knows how to do the things we don’t know how to do, or hate doing. And it’s perfect for voyeurs and storytellers. We’re surrounded by unique stories, characters you don’t meet every day. Do you remember Eloise? She’s the little girl who grows up in the penthouse of the Plaza hotel. Well, actually she doesn’t grow up, she somehow remains six-years-old in every book. Which should be the result of long-term residence in a wonderful hotel. You don’t have to grow up. Mundane things are taken care of, the unexpected is the usual, and being spoiled and pampered allows our personalities to remain untrammeled and prodigiously creative. Which reminds me…I wonder how much I could get for my apartment. 


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