Well, it's 1, 2, 3, 4
Take the elevator
At the Hotel Yorba
I'll be glad to see you later
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The imposing hotel
Due to his production work with the country diva, Loretta Lynn, and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, as well as his obvious musical debt to the blues, this song's connection to a certain hippie Vietnam War protest song might come as a surprise to some. Yet when Jack White counts off "Well, it's one, two, three, four/Take the elevator," he sure sounds a whole lot like Country Joe McDonald did when he sang his best known song, "The Fish Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag," which features the following familiar refrain: "One, two three, what are we fighting for?" White even sounds a little sarcastic when he sings this song's rapid-fire lyrics. However, while Country Joe McDonald focused on a particular place – the killing floors of Vietnam, to be specific – White used this hotel as more of a metaphor for how he felt. When he sings, "All they got inside is vacancy," he could just as easily be singing about his own heart.
Nevertheless, Hotel Yorba is actually a real place, although not nearly as luxurious as its moniker makes it sound. A look at some traveler reviews of this hotel will net you comments such as, "This place is good, but only if you never plan to move out. It's a hotel for the very poor," "There are no luxuries and you need some street sense," and finally, "It's not a pleasant place to lay your head. I wasn't pleased with the infestation of roaches, maggots, urine odor in the hallway, and shady characters that roamed the floors."
(thanks, Detroit Derek Photography)
This structure, constructed in 1926 in Southwest Detroit, was once an active hotel. Although you can still see it along I-75 close to the Ambassador Bridge, which leads to Canada, the complex is now subsidized housing. The building itself is rather non-descript. It's made of brick, with a big, red block-lettered sign on top. During its heyday, if you can even call it that, the hotel was akin to a retirement home, mainly populated by single older men that appreciated cafeteria and laundry service. However, its inexpensive room rates and nearness to highways and bus stops meant that it was also perfectly suited as a temporary destination for the Michigan State Prison parole program. Therefore, between 1983 and 2003, the Michigan Department of Corrections re-situated parolees at the hotel.
In order to get just the right feel for the song, the White Stripes recorded the single version in hotel room 206. However, when it came time to make an accompanying video, the act was denied entrance, so the clip was shot outside the building. According to the band, they've been banned for life from the hotel. Why? They first say it's a long story and then quip, "I don't know why we're banned." Long, indeed.
Maybe it's a bit of a reach, but White seems to suggest with this song's words that the Hotel Yorba represents a lack of belonging. After all, many people that spend a lot of their days and nights in hotels do not have strong attachments, such as husbands, wives, children and such. Therefore, this rundown old hotel may stand for the weary life that the character in this song leads. Then again, the fact that it is located along a route that leads across the border to Canada may imply a song concerning impending change. When White sings, "I wonder how long it will take till we're alone," these words speak of finding that place in life where being single leads to becoming paired.
All they got inside is vacancy...
Whatever the case, this Hotel Yorba should never be anybody's final destination. Even in its current state, subsidized housing should only be a temporary residence. Nobody wants to live in substandard government housing; instead, most folks want a home sweet home of their own.
Even in a seemingly simple little song such as this one, there are still elements that point back to Jack White being a mystery man. After all, Jack called musical partner Meg his sister while the group was still together, even though she is actually his ex-wife. Anyhow, one of the song's more mysterious sections is the line that finds White singing, "I said 39 times that I love you." Why does he use the number 39? Is he possibly referring to the great Alfred Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps
, or does the number 39 just fit into the song line particularly well? We may never know for sure, but chances are good White enjoys making his listeners guess at what his lyrics mean. That approach just seems to fit his character well.
Let's hope there are no diehard White Stripes fans out there that have taken up residence at Hotel Yorba. Such behavior is just too crazy. Instead, it's far better to have a natural curiosity over the way talented songwriters, such as White, can take a rather plain hotel and transform it into a mysterious song setting. Whatever the case, looking for love at a rundown hotel is always better than fixing to die in an Asian war the way Country Joe McDonald did in his old song. It's as easy as one, two, three, four.
~ Dan MacIntosh
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