Hotel California Meets the Great Gatsby – Music As a Teaching Resource For Literature

The most famous artistic product of the boozy 1920’s is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel about a man trying to recreate an ideal past in a drunken, materialistic present. It’s one of those books just about everyone has a strong impression of whether or not they’ve actually read it – which makes it hard for many to approach the story with fresh eyes.

If you’re a teacher looking for interesting, relevant ways to dig into The Great Gatsby, why not try something like this on for size: the 1920’s were to WWI what the 1970’s were to the hippy movement. The unprecedented global carnage following the so-called “War to End All Wars” turned disillusioned Americans inwards, setting their priorities on money, bootlegged liquor, and partying. Similarly, after the hippies failed to elevate worldwide consciousness with peace, love, and patchouli oil, 1970’s America drowned its sorrows in disco, drugs, and polyester pants.

As an assignment, have your students compare The Great Gatsby to a 1970’s song in this same vein. Take, for example, The Eagles’ Hotel California, one of the best-selling and most recognizable songs from this (or any) era of American history.

Hotel California boasts some of the most analyzed and memorized lyrics in rock and roll. If the element of mystery means a lot to you, you’ll probably be disappointed to hear Don Henley’s two cents: “It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream.” Not that a bunch of rock stars would know anything about that. In other words, the symbol of Californian prosperity (back when that still existed) stands in as a microcosm of American decadence in the 1970’s.

The “hotel” (wink, wink) California is no Motel 6. It has mirrored ceilings, courtyards, master’s chambers, pink champagne, and high-falutin’ guests. The narrator can’t help but notice the seductive woman with a Benz, a mind that’s “Tiffany-twisted,” and a lot of hot guys following her around. He asks for wine, to which the captain famously replies, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” Since wine isn’t a spirit (and we’re betting The Eagles have a basic understanding of liquor), we’re going to go ahead and assume Henley is referring to some other spirit of ’69.

In a creepy turn of events, there is then a beast-killing ceremony involving “steely knives,” which prompts the narrator to high-tail it “back to the place [he] was before.” Only when it’s too late does he realize that he can “check out” but “never leave.” How, pray tell, can a person be checked out without going anywhere physically? We’re thinking there might be some chemistry involved.

So let’s review: luxury, substance abuse, a beautiful temptress, materialism, violence, living in the past, and being trapped. Remind you of anyone?

As a rule of thumb, music is one of the best teacher resources because it can be deeply personal and easily relatable at the same time. Plus, the fact that lyrics are usually highly open …

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Southern California Family Vacation Without the Crowds

If you live in Southern California, you know that summer brings out the crowds-visitors from around the country and around the world.. That means it’s hard to go anywhere without running into lots of people and traffic-two main ingredients that makes kids (and parents) cranky.

One place that seems to have held on to its laid-back California charm and has lots of kid-friendly fun is Ventura, particularly the three cities known as VenturaCountyWest (Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura). Located up the 101 Freeway north from Los Angeles, VenturaCountyWest features uncrowded beaches (with free parking), ocean adventures and tons of easy-to-get-to kids’ summer activities. Here are some to check out.

Channel Islands National Park

Take a tour boat to the Channel Islands National Park out of either Ventura or Channel Islands (Oxnard) harbors. The islands are only 11 miles off the Ventura County coast. On the way, you can see dolphins, seals, pelicans and other wildlife. Hikes, overnight stays, kayaking are all available once arriving on shore. Tours are booked through Island Packers, http://www.islandpackers.com/.

Ventura Harbor Village

Ventura Harbor Village contains an arcade featuring an old-fashioned indoor carousel, arcade and a candy shop with more than 20 varieties of fudge (made fresh daily). Families can rent paddle and electric boats to tour the quiet harbor channels. Back on shore, plan on eating at one of the casual harbor side restaurants featuring freshly caught seafood. http://www.venturaharborvillage.com.

Ventura County Fairgrounds’ Raceway

“Midget” cars, motorcycles and all sorts of other racing vehicles take to the track almost every weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. It’s all good fun as you cheer on your favorite driver.

Gull Wings Children’s Museum

This children’s museum in Oxnard is very unassuming from the outside, but once inside, the eight and under set will have so much to do and see that they won’t know where to begin. They can dress up as firefighters, doctors or pretend they are astronauts landing on the moon in an Apollo spacecraft. There are snakes to hold, treasure to find in a geological dig and plenty of Legos to build whatever they wish. Kids can try their hand at rock wall climbing or let their imaginations go while in the driver’s seat of an actual car.

Sky High Sports

You won’t find a big sign announcing Sky High Sports Camarillo from the freeway. It’s in an industrial park-it has to be-the place is huge. It’s filled with trampolines with super padded floors and walls. Kids can play trampoline dodge ball and other organized games or… just jump. All under supervision. Sky High also has laser tag. Kids are sure to come out sweaty and tired-a perfect way to spend an afternoon.…

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