SECOND-CLASS HOTEL (©Words and music by Paul F. Cowlan)


It was only after I’d written this song that I discovered Leonard Cohen has made a film in which he also uses a hotel as an existential symbol.  From where I’m standing the world only occasionally looks like this.  


Mother and father were at the reception
with a name and a key, the first day I arrived.
“We’ve booked you into the second-class hotel.
Now it’s up to you to survive.”

All the names on the doors of these corridors
are names that I’ve never heard of before.
I don’t know who they are, where they go,
what they do, or what feelings they show.
Sometimes their footsteps sound out in the hall,
a voice on the stairway, a knock on the wall,
then the lights slowly dim and it’s silent again,
and nobody’s stirring at all.

In the streets down below people rush to and fro
while the nose-to-tail traffic crawls by them,
and nobody drops their disguise for a moment,
or tries to find some face they might recognize.
A siren sounds loudly and then fades away,
the curtains move softly, the sky turns to grey;
and when evening comes on and the crowds have all gone,
alone by the window I stay.

The lights have gone on in the tenement building,
I count them sometimes as I wait by the phone,
but if nobody calls I ring through to reception
to say I’ll be dining alone.

And the tightly sealed doors on these corridors
are just something else that I’ve learned to ignore.
I still don’t know who they are, even though
they confront me wherever I go.
Sometimes they alter, but that’s not so strange,
a room is vacated, the occupants change;
and one day, it’s true, I’ll be moving on too,
though it’s not up to me to arrange.

“Turn back your bed.” says the girl at reception.
“Hand in your key, and remember to pay.
But don’t try to carry too many belongings
if your leaving today.”