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How to throw a rock star hotel party
As much debauchery as you can have in a hotel room ... without throwing the TV out the window
In the 1960s and 1970s, hotel suites unwittingly hosted booze and drug-fueled parties that resulted in carnage. The Who’s Keith Moon parked cars in swimming pools.
For all we know Simon and Garfunkel herded zebra into service elevators.
Room parties have since become sanitized affairs sold as packages by the hotels themselves. The wallpaper stays on, the toilet doesn’t get dynamited and very few goats get sacrificed.
Even the towels stay on the racks so the hotel can save the planet by not washing them.
To examine this tragic state of affairs, we've checked into a lavishly appointed penthouse suite with Joe McGinty, former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist and veteran hotel dweller, to figure out how to get the party started again.
Where did it all go wrong?
Needless to say the hotels got grumpy at having to scrub unsavory stains out of their shagpiles and started thinking of ways to curb the excess.
Record labels also ran out of cash.
“There are very few huge artists who can afford that kind of thing now, mainly bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones,” says McGinty.
And Bono and Jagger are probably more likely to spend the night warming their hands on a mug of ethically sourced cocoa than setting fire to the curtains.
That’s not to say that rock 'n' roll room parties are no longer an option.
With a little coordination guests can still host nights of wild abandon, spare their loyalty cards from being scissored by irate check-out staff and enjoy a guilt-free Continental breakfast in the morning.
The floor plan
Led Zep used to rent entire hotel floors, flinging open the doors to party across the corridors. If they were all on, say, level six, this also meant they didn’t have the hassle of … wait for it ... climbing the stairway to seven.
Nowadays, warns McGinty, hotel receptionists can sniff musicians and partygoers a mile off and will check them in on different floors. This is a mistake as it just means more civilians being woken at 4 a.m. by the disturbing sound of someone trying to drink the contents of a fire extinguisher.
So, to make sure you’re all on the same floor, use subterfuge to disguise yourself as ordinary guests. Carry a briefcase (preferably full of booze), enquire about the gym (usually next to the swimming pool in which you’ll be parking cars later) and request a 5 a.m. wake-up call (it’ll provide a hilarious interlude for serious drinkers powering through until dawn).
Watch out for the small print, says McGinty. Many hotels will expect guests to sign documents that make them liable to pay for damage.
There’s no getting around this, but it does mean that you should think carefully before squirting complementary shampoo into the key card slot.
And with even musicians being stripped of the privilege of being able to walk away from the detritus of the night before, this can lead to some humiliatingly domestic scenes in the morning.
“I remember one party that ended up in a potato chip fight,” says McGinty. “But the guitar player and I felt so guilty we painstakingly cleaned up all of the little bits of crushed chips the next morning. That’s how rock and roll we were.”
Value your room
If you're tempted to trash the room, know the value of what you’re about to break, because tomorrow at check-out each item will be listed on your bill alongside that small can of minibar Pringles you crushed into the carpet. No doubt with the same exorbitant mark-up.
Those bent on destruction would be wise to pick up a few tips from Johnny Cash and George Jones. As McGinty points out, years of room wrecking blessed these country legends with minds like Ikea catalogues.
“They used to sit there challenging each other about the price of the objects they were hurling across the room. One lamp, US$30. Television set, US$300. It was like a ‘Price is Right’ episode, but with added damage.”
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Leave the TV
What is it about televisions that makes them such popular targets for launching off the balcony? Perhaps the thrill of watching hefty electronics plummet to their doom, or the satisfying sound of an exploding cathode ray tube.
Either way, it’s best to leave the idiot box alone.
For one thing, modern flat screen TVs aren’t nearly as explosive.
“They’re usually bolted to the wall and are a lot more challenging to get out of the window,” says McGinty. So by the time you manage to wrench one free, the party will be over and you’ll be sober.
The amount of fun actually derived from a falling TV is also limited. Witness Rolling Stone Keith Richard and sax man Bobby Keyes going through the motions for a film documentary with all the enthusiasm of arthritic plumbers disposing of a leaky boiler.
Better still, heed the tale of Hammerfall -- a Swedish power metal band whose members apparently do not have minds like Ikea catalogues.
During a stay in Switzerland, Hammerfall drummer Anders Johansson and guitarist Oscar Dronjak tried to turn their TV into “an atom bomb” by drenching it with booze. When it failed to explode they lobbed it out of their first-floor window not once, but twice.
To cover their tracks they then stole another TV from reception and were caught on security cameras. Unsurprisingly, this earned them an embarrassing backstage visit from the police and a bill for €200 (US$260).
The real reason many musicians resort to drunkenly re-decorating their rooms is to ease monotony, says McGinty. Before the hospitality industry discovered the calming power of mood lighting, scented potpourri and pay-to-view porn, life on the road was tough.
“Every hotel is the same. You're bored, in a strange place and back in the 1970s that's how they would take their frustrations out.”
Parties, it seems, do not happen in hotel rooms because they are great venues, but because they are such incredibly dull places to find yourself. It would make just as much sense to host one in an airport departure lounge, a dentist’s waiting room or at a Coldplay concert.
So, if you are heading to a hotel get-together, McGinty advises being armed with low expectations along with something useful to suck up the pretzel crumbs.
“They’re just never as much fun as you think they’re going to be.”
Joe McGinty hosts the “Loser’s Lounge” in New York City, a regular tribute show to pop music greats of the past. He prefers a balcony room on the fourth floor, away from the elevator and with a good view of the parking lot.
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