RESURRECTING THE CHELSEA HOTEL
The Chelsea stands as a monument to modern history. A larger-than-life relic, an ode to its famous past, a place that seems to burst with stories. People went there to meet someone, people went there to become someone. Tourists would pay obscene amounts of money for a bog-standard room to simply exist amongst the presence of greatness and walk amongst the ghostly shadows of their deceased idols. This energy has since moved online where it is easier to witness the lives of the rich and famous for free, fans can lurk in the obsessive and dark corners of Instagram to catch a glimpse of their beloved superstar at their most ‘real’ moments. The question is if there is no longer any need for Hotel Chelsea, why do we insist on holding onto the memory of it?
In short, pop culture can’t seem to let it go. While nothing ground-breaking or new has been created there in decades, the Chelsea has been kept alive through memory. The only recent events that have taken place there are nods to its famous past, like Taylor Momsen who shot her Makes Me Wanna Die music video in 2009 in the same room Madonna had shot Sex in 1992. In a similar vein, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, published in 2010, takes you inside the Chelsea. It almost serves as a tour through Smith’s memory of the place. Its glory days were over yet celebrities pumped life back into it by forcing us to remember what it was. This creates a strange living-nostalgia, it no longer provides us with the excitement of possibility but instead provides a saddening reminder that fame is short-lived and places, like people, eventually only live through the memory of what it once was.
The Chelsea was a communal, liberal living space where artists could trade paintings for rent. A place where poets, artists, models, and thinkers would collaborate, it was the final resting place of Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen, it was where Edie Sedgwick spent her chaotic years in room 105. In perfect Chelsea-spirit this room was later rented out by The Kills because singer Hotel (Jamie Hince) liked to keep in touch with ‘what inspires [him] ... the legends and the mysteries and the over-romanticism of things.’ He said that he ‘filmed every corridor because [he] had to capture everything.’* This is what the Chelsea is; a place to exist where greatness once did. In the same way that castles and ruins evoke a sense of curiosity about how our ancestors once lived, the Chelsea does the same for celebrity. It reminds us of a time where artists could afford to live in Manhattan, where art was considered worthy of rent.
'It no longer provides us with the excitement of possibility but instead provides a saddening reminder that fame is short-lived and places, like people, eventually only live through the memory of what it once was.'
'The past seems more simple because we do not live in it anymore; because someone already figured out the end.'
It makes sense to yearn for this. In a period of time where celebrities' mistakes are immortalised through digital media, where cancel culture is looking more and more like a modern day witch-hunt, and where there is no privacy or protection against hate mail. Labels were less permanent, people less nit-picky. Or at least, that’s how it seems now the place is covered in dust. While we wait for the over-due reopening of the hotel it is worth considering where the value of it truly lies. The past seems more simple because we do not live in it anymore; because someone already figured out the end. So perhaps, instead of turning it into the luxury hotel it is destined to become, we should let sleeping dogs lie. Let it stand as a reminder that things have changed, perhaps not for the better, perhaps not for the worse, either.
When the Chelsea reopens, it will continue to capitalise off the past, perhaps even turn into a franchise like the cursed Hard Rock Cafes. Its legacy will be muted by tacky souvenirs and new memories will replace old ones. If the Chelsea is to continue to be what we want to remember it as, it must age gracefully, it must be left to fade into the past.