Friday, 3 October 2014

Legends of the Chelsea Hotel, by Ed Hamilton

1 star

As a huge music fan as well as being interested in various counter-culture figures, the Chelsea Hotel has always loomed large in my imagination and so a book with this title was always bound to appeal to me. Reading the blurb sent my excitement sky-rocketing even further, promising to immerse me in tales of Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol, Thomas Wolfe and a million others besides.

You can imagination my disappointment then when it turned out that this chose to focus on its lesser known but still rather dotty permanent residents instead of the hotel's long and chequered history and famous guests (as for the famous folk, well some guy who might have been Ryan Adams (but maybe not) might have been our author's neighbour for a short time, and Sean Penn once glared at him outside an elevator).

Ordinarily this wouldn't have been enough to disappoint me - interesting people are still interesting people, after all - but the pedestrian way in which the book was written made even the wildest of them seem rather bland, helped no doubt by the author inserting himself into many of these anecdotes (he seems to feel rather superior to many of the residents, making sure to judge, condescend and sneer at them whenever he can). Aside from his bathroom obsession (won't somebody please keep the junkies out of the john?!) and insistence on ferreting through the trash for objects he can put up as 'art', Mr Hamilton is nowhere near as interesting as he thinks he is - nor are the articles included to give a little flavour to the proceedings:

THRILL!! As some guy tries to sell him a watch outside the hotel.

QUIVER!! As he overhears one homeless guy tell another that he doesn't like salad.

GASP!! As he returns a neighbour's wallet found in the bathroom and receives a coffee pot he doesn't like in reward.

RAGE!! As a couple shares a cab with him, and then pay him half the fare.

At one point, chatting to another resident about Ethan Hawke's film 'Chelsea Walls', his neighbour rages, "How can you mess up a movie like that? With all the material this hotel has to offer, all the history! It boggles the mind."

I hope she told him the same thing when she read this book.

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