Chateau Marmont Hotel: The Tales Behind Room 29 With Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales

The stories from the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles have become so shrouded in myth & legend over the years that anyone with even limited knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll will have heard at least one story related to this remarkable place. And just in case you haven’t, let me run through a few of the countless dramas since its doors opened in 1929: Judy Garland sang by the grand piano in the lobby, country music legend Gram Parsons lived there for a brief period, Blues Brother John Belushi overdosed in Bungalow 3, Led Zeppelin drove Harley Davidsons into the lobby, The Doors’ Jim Morrison might’ve fallen off the roof, venerated record producer Rick Rubin lived there for nine months, John Frusciante (guitarist with Red Hot Chili Peppers) took up residence at the peak of his drug addiction & Anthony Kiedis (also of Red Hot Chili Peppers) rented a room to record vocals for ‘By The Way’. It’s been said: “If you must get in trouble, do it at Chateau Marmont”…

Oh, and apparently it’s supposed to be filled with spirits. When experimental hip hop group Death Grips stayed there leading up to the leak of their album ‘No Love Deep Web’, Zach Hill said: “There’s another energy within that building. It sounds cliché, and everybody says it’s haunted, but we felt like the building was talking to us on a minute-to-minute basis”.

From 23-25 March, Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales will be giving a voice to the ghosts of the Chateau Marmont Hotel at the Barbican using music & clips from classic Hollywood movies. The show was conceived during Cocker’s own stay in 2012 while touring with Pulp. He checked into Room 29 and used what’s probably the room’s most unusual feature – a baby grand piano. Inspiration struck with an idea that the piano had been there since the hotel opened and could tell you about everything that had happened there.

This is a fascinating project, and one that’s perfect for Cocker, who excels when it comes to writing darkly amusing sketches featuring interesting characters. I’m sure it won’t be as “showbiz glitz” as it sounds either, as Cocker has explained that by telling lesser known stories they want to discuss what they reveal about us as complex humans, blending history & fiction. Think of Room 29 as what Hitchcock liked to call a “McGuffin” (it just so happens it actually exists!)

One intriguing aspect of the project for me is their concept of composing a song cycle, which is a 19th century format. Schubert was a proponent and the songs are arranged in a calculated order, connected by a theme & narrative. This promises to be an immersive audiovisual experience. If you want to listen to stories about Jean Harlow’s honeymoon & Mark Twain’s daughter then this might be the show for you.

I have a theory that live music gigs & hotel rooms are similar in a weird way: They’re a place where, for a few hours, you can leave everything behind & let yourself go. You have no responsibility & at the end somebody else will clean up so you just walk out & carry on with your life…

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