Sometimes / Chelsea Hotel / End Transmission

Sometimes / Chelsea Hotel / End Transmission

I’ve seen some people sing some songs sometimes that come out like cannonballs, tear a hole down the middle of the room, leave a pyramid of arms against the back wall.

I’ve seen some people sing some songs sometimes that come out like pheasants and everyone drags out their twelve-gauge and has a shot.

I’ve seen some people sing some songs sometimes that come out like doves, perch there on the end of the microphone stand for ten or fifteen minutes, preen themselves and fall asleep. No one minds too much those songs they hear from time to time, from place to place. 

I’ve seen some people sing some songs sometimes that come out like eagles, find the nearest opening — be it door or window — make their way out into the black of night. And the next day, when all the drones are walking to work with their briefcases in hand, well, their necks are craned back and they’re searching the sky, be it blue or gray, blue or gray, they’re searching for the song they saw and heard the other day. They’re searching the sky that way. There’s a song up there, just circling, circling, circling. It’s a song circle.

I’ve seen some people sing some songs sometimes, from place to place, from time to time. I’ve seen some people sing some songs sometimes, from place to place. 

Do you like my face? 

Here I am on the third floor of the Chelsea Hotel, again. Outside the window, across the street, there’s Tong’s Tailor, where an iron steams lonely into the night, gently and completely obscuring with its moisture-tongue the “o” in the word “Tong” — “o” in the word “Tong.”

And now I’m bathing in the cold blue snow of television, my feet up on a coffee table where a bag of American dreams spills out — yellow and green and yellow and green and yellow and green. And the phone rings, down the hall (the one I thought we had uninstalled). It’s your voice coming, tinny, through the receiver. 

Do you believe her? Do you believe her? 

“What you doin’ out there? What you doin’ out there?”

I said, “I thought I told you never to call me.”

She says, “I know, but I’m bored and it’s the only number that works anymore. I know, but I’m bored and this is the only number on my phone that works anymore.”

I said, “All right. I don’t want to fight anymore, anyways.”

She said, “Why don’t you sing me a song like you used to? I could sing along.”

I said, “No. At least, not mine. Not this time. But I’ll sing you someone else’s, OK?”

And her silence means concession.

I still smell tobacco on my fingers
My breath reeks of pot and wine and sex
My eyes open up like they haven’t in years
So I won’t miss whatever happens next
Call me a thief, well, all right I’m a thief
Grab your summons, come and ring my bell
I’ll be making love with to my baby in the Chelsea hotel

Making love to my baby, I will, in the Chelsea hotel

I told you to meet me at eight o’clock
Well, I’d be drinking in the bar
I drove all day between Newark and LaGuardia
Trying to return this rented car
Well we keep missing connections today
Oh, tomorrow is just as well

Please don’t contact me in the Chelsea hotel

Please don’t contact me

Don’t contact me in the Chelsea hotel

It’s just as well, baby … this time

I can hear her gentle breathing out there on the far edges, the perimeters, of the fiber optic — the telephone line. 

I walked through the neighborhood
Of my former love
She was far away and it saddened me, that time
There were rain clouds up above
I hope you’re happy, whatever you do
And I hope you’re doing well

Meanwhile, I’m back here composing and thinking all these things at the Chelsea hotel

I think a lot of things, these days, and nights out here at the Chelsea hotel

I was starting to think
The world would end when the calendar turned
But now you’re here;
those thoughts are gone,
Maybe we let that calendar burn

I put out a casting call, you cast a spell
We’re practicing for the millennium, now, at the Chelsea hotel

It’s new love it’s beautiful; it’s new love and it is sad

It’s new love that reminds you of all the old loves
That you’ve ever had

And you can stretch it out a long time

Or you can keep it short and neat (neat cut)

but practice still at our Chelsea still

We practice still, silent, at the Chelsea hotel

“What do you think of that?” 

She says … and nothing happens but the long slow hiss of sleep as translated by the Bell Atlantic keepers of the sounds deep down in the trunk lines beneath the Atlantic and the main line over the Midwest. She could be calling me from anywhere.

And I think, well, it’s cold and it’s blue, and it’s like a test that happens over and over again. I don’t hang up so much as press my thumb down gently on the pink plastic button at the top of the cradle and listen to the quiet firm final snick. 

End transmission.


(Life Underwater Music, 2000)

† Italicized lyrics by Dan Bern, as published at, with some unannotated performance variations in this recording, except where bolded. Bold italics in those sections represent significant differences from Bern’s published lyrics.

James O'Brien