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Imperial Hotel


Written by Stevie Nicks.

Contributors to this interpretation included: Becky, AJ, Alexa, Tracy G, and Samantha.

Steve Nicks has a reputation for writing songs that are deep, meaningful, and honest.  "She's a very sophisticated songwriter," said Courtney Love in the Behind the Music dedicated to her.  But Stevie Nicks' songwriting underwent a transition during the '80s.  It became more in depth; in a way, more obscure and confusing when it comes to trying to figure out what she was referring to in her songs.  Her meaning deepened and mystified as her experiences piled up.  In the beginning, her main topic was her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham.  She also used the first person tense frequently- implying that the experience had happened directly to her-as Stevie herself has said many times, she does not make up stories.  They have to be real. By the mid-to-late '80's however, her tense shifted somewhat.  It was still first person, but she was not always necessarily the "main character," so to speak, in her mini-stories.  Rather, she became the narrator, an observer, making comments on events she saw happening to others in her life.  At the same time, she could still have been the main character; only she chose not to tell it that way.  Examples of this style are "Sister Honey," "Alice," "Ooh My Love," and "Jane."  It is as if she is telling a story to someone- reminding them of what they could be losing or have already lost- "She used to love to be behind those walls with you…"  It adds an element to her songs; making one wonder, is it about Stevie herself, or about someone she knew?  It reflects the personal and professional changes in her life.

"Imperial Hotel" is written in such a fashion.  There are unmistakable images throughout this song-a hotel, two people sitting at a table together.  It can even be taken one step further, to say that there is an image of the woman getting up and walking out. The song is dedicated to Benmont Tench, who appears on many of her solo albums. It was co-written with Heartbreaker Michael Campbell; perhaps expressly for Benmont?  This whole plot has never been completely explained by Stevie; we do know that Benmont was having marital problems around this time, so it could be a reference to that.  Rock A Little was the last album with Jimmy Iovine as producer, it ended an era for Stevie's music.  As she says on her "Behind the Music" on VH1, she "just got a little too crazy… it wasn't hard for me to understand…it just wasn't any fun for him anymore."  Released in 1985, at the very height of her cocaine addiction, this album contains some of her darker work-and also some songs that are evident of her experiences (Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You). Fleetwood Mac's future was not too certain at this point in time; neither was Stevie's.  It would be two years later that Lindsey Buckingham would say good-bye to the band (and finally, to Stevie) and it would be one year later that Stevie would check herself into a drug rehab center as Sara Andersen.  "Imperial Hotel" reflects everything that was going on in Stevie's life against the backdrop of a strong drumbeat and a solid pop tune.

He says to her…why do you do it
She says to him…why do you stay
Then they say unspoken words to explain it
He says, baby, I hate to see you this way
I hate to see you
I hate to see you cry

This verse is a conversation between two people-quite possibly between Stevie and Jimmy Iovine.  He can't really understand why she's letting herself get so carried away with this lifestyle-with the drugs, and all the money and everything.  He asks her why she continues to destroy herself this way-and she responds by asking him why he feels compelled to stay and help her.  But they don't need answers-or maybe, they don't want to put into the words the truth about their relationship.  In the song "No Spoken Word," also from 1985, Stevie says "Well I either say too much, or I…I don't say enough."  She's trying to decide, would it be better to tell him everything that's going on inside my head, or just to let this situation pass?  Jimmy is upset by what is going on with her-he hates to see her that unhappy. That was true with everyone Stevie was close to at this time- none of her friends or family enjoyed seeing her drug addiction escalate like that.  It doesn't have to be only Jimmy saying that to her.  Anyone that loved her would feel the same way-Lindsey's solo song from 1984, "I Must Go," contains the line, "Hey little girl, leave the little drug alone."  Drugs were a huge factor in the lives of Fleetwood Mac members in the mid-80s, even if the addiction was not their own.

Well, you can get her
But you can't keep her
And you can't catch her fall
She will call you
When she needs you
You know where she lives
The Imperial

Stevie is an elusive figure-she will belong to men, but never completely.  "You can get her, but you can't keep her" could refer to her and Lindsey's relationship; how Lindsey made her fall in love with him, but then, in the end, he couldn't keep her as Stevie walked out. Stevie has to realize herself that her lifestyle is not the best one for her-no one else can tell her that.  Sometimes, a person needs to hit rock bottom before they can start the climb back up to health and happiness.  Stevie didn't necessarily want (or need) a man who would be around one hundred percent of the time, she would give him his freedom when he wanted it-after all, "Well who am I to keep you down…"  She would let him know when she was in trouble and needed him.  She had a permanent room at the Imperial. 

What exactly is the Imperial?  A hotel, of course, but does it really exist?   Probably not.  It could just be meant as a metaphor of sorts for a place that was maybe not the best place in the world to be, but she didn't quite know how to check out.  It may not even refer to a physical place- she's just at a point in her life where she feels like "Nothing Ever Changes." 

She sits across the table…the same glass table
Cries to her friend…why am I so alone
He sayswhowo baby, baby, baby, baby
This is the path you have chosen

The image in this song of the "same glass table" brings to mind a glass table on which cocaine is measured out.  It is symbolic of how drugs are ruining her relationships-and her performances.  She can't understand why Jimmy walked out-despite her words in the "Behind the Music" special.  She doesn't know why she is addicted.  And he reminds her-you chose this, nobody forced the crack up your nose, "this is the path you have chosen."  It's interesting that her friend is a male-is the relationship still romantic?  In "Sister Honey" on the same album, the question is raised-and answered: "Can we still be friends?  The answer's always yes."  So the man could be a past lover.  Or maybe, just a friend-such as her brother Christopher. 

She probably goes under another name
Well, that's a good idea

Again, we get some drug imagery-the implication that something illegal is going on, illegal to the point where Stevie hides her identity under an alias.  If someone wants to find her, despite knowing where she is, it will be difficult, because she is not under her real name. This might also be some more foreshadowing of Stevie's, as when she checked into drug rehab, it was not under her real name, but as Sara Andersen. 

So you can get her
But you can't keep her
And you can't catch her fall
Well, she will call you
When she needs you
You know where she lives
The Imperial Hotel

Also evident in this refrain is her conflicting desire to have someone take care of her-the "You can't catch her fall" could also be referring to her need to have someone there to catch her.  In "Sleeping Angel" from 1982, Stevie asks that her angel "Catch me when you can."  She needs someone who would be able to walk the line between being there for her and suffocating her-"Never hold me down…I need you because you let me breathe."  The line "She will call you" seems to be almost dismissive-okay, you can leave now, and she'll give you a call when something goes wrong.  And maybe that attitude was why Jimmy Iovine stopped producing Stevie's albums, and said he was going to stop catching all her falls.  Stevie is still at the same place-the Imperial Hotel.  Is it a good place or a bad place?  Is it someplace she wants to be?  Possibly.  After all, if she doesn't like it there, why doesn't she just leave?  But if you look at the Imperial Hotel as her drug addiction itself, one has to realize that drug addictions are not that easy to walk away from.  It gives her drug addiction a world of its own-maybe one where the "ancient queen," that same "Gold Dust Woman," reigns.

Who's there
Where has she gone
But, I think she just went home

This verse seems to cement Stevie's decision to "kick the habit;" she has realized that the drugs are seriously ruining her life.  This could be meant to symbolize the point where the doctor told her she could have a hemorrhage the next time she did cocaine.  Someone came looking for her-Lindsey?  Jimmy?  But she's no longer at the Imperial Hotel.  She's finally left; maybe even left so much as to go back to Phoenix.  Her eyes have been opened in a way; she knows the drugs are way out of control, and so she's ready to walk away.  The situation in the hotel has gotten to intense; Stevie wants to walk away.

Sits across the table…same glass table
And she cries to her friend…why am I so alone
He says, wo, wo, baby…oh, my baby
You have to know…you have to know

They are back at that same table-and once again we get the image of desperation, of Stevie sitting at the table, almost sobbing, about her loneliness.  She's having trouble accepting the idea that she's the one who is lonely, not Lindsey, when she promised him loneliness.  The man calls her "his," maybe he's feeling more protective of her now. The decision has been made to get off the drugs; but it is easier said than done.  And he wants to remind her of that; that this is going to take strength and courage-"You have to know."  Also, he wants to remind her that she is, in fact, not alone.  He might not agree with her lifestyle, but he is still there with her.

She knows in her heart
That he will stand by her
Anywhere…don't cry baby
I can save you
Don't cry baby, I can save you
She's at the Imperial Hotel
Don't cry baby, I can save you

It's almost as if Stevie is responding to him-"Yes, I know that you will always be there for me."  That knowledge is what gave her the courage to say "She will call you when she needs you," because she knows that he will respond.  Anywhere she goes, whatever she does, he will be there to catch her falls-although she might not want him to. He can save her from herself, from what she is doing to her body.  He will rescue her from that Imperial Hotel.

The Imperial Hotel could also be the world that all rock stars live in, not just Stevie.  It may be "The only life that I've ever known," but that doesn't make it a healthy life.  "Love the lifestyle, if you feel it-don't try to change them, you never will."  These lines from "Long Distance Winner" seem a little prophetic-as if Stevie knew that she would reach a point in her life that Lindsey would feel the need to rescue her from.  Another man who was a force behind one of the major songs on this album, "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You," Joe Walsh, could also be the man who is with her at that "same glass table."  When Joe took her to that little silver water fountain in the mountains of Colorado, maybe he opened her eyes to what she was doing.  Also, from the point of view of being about Benmont Tench, it can be seen that his wife was quite probably taking the problems very hard; sitting at the table crying about her possible future loneliness. 

Is the woman sitting there Stevie?  Maybe not.  This song could describe any woman going through a bad point in a relationship, or the final break-up.  The woman reaches a point where she realizes that she does have the strength to get through this-"But I wake up, and I get through it…"  Stevie knew how to "pick up the pieces and go home," by this point in time.  The turmoil of her life and the pain and agony of what she was going through landed her in the Imperial Hotel.  In a relatively short song, under three minutes, Stevie tells us a very complete and mysterious story-of a woman and man, sitting at a glass table in a hotel lobby, probably with a drink on the table in front of them, and the woman pouring her soul out to the man.  Her world is crashing down; she needs to start rebuilding it, but first she must leave the Imperial Hotel, with the support of the man who will stand by her and has the power to save her.

Transcribed to HTML by Marty Adelson.

Copyright © 1995-2001, Martin and Lisa Adelson
All Rights Reserved.