Culture: How The Lyrics To “Copacabana” Remain Relevant In 2016


June 2, 2016 - Culture

By Jem Winthrop, culture critic

“Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl.” So begins the 1978 Barry Manilow classic that continues to mesmerize lounge audiences to this day. And although”Copacabana” represented an idealism of a different America from today, it’s clear many of the song’s virtues still resonate in 2016.

But first, some history. The Vietnam era had left a lasting influence on Manilow and his team of lyricists (including the venerable Jack Feldman). Once asked about how he managed to avoid being drafted, Manilow said “The army said I was too crazy.” Indeed, psychology records from the military do show that a B. Manilow was denied active duty service because of “pronounced hysteria and meglomaniacal tendencies.” One staff sergeant who was involved in interviewing Manilow at the time told our newspaper, “Look, you can’t just kill everyone. There’s civilians out there too.”

Determined to find a way to use his passion for violence and blind patriotism, Manilow found music as a way to express himself without a fear of being tried for war crimes. Less than a decade later, Manilow would be climbing up the charts as his work with Bette Midler was setting the subdued-nightclub-psychedelic-lounge scene on fire.

In 1976, Manilow reportedly told Midler, “I want to write a song that will make people want to set their loved ones on fire.” For eight weeks straight, Manilow and his lyricists locked themselves  in a small dark room at the Hollywood Roosevelt; eating nothing but expired eggs and shocking themselves with a broken AM radio every fifteen minutes. Lyricist Bruce Sussman said of the time,

“We were trying to get ourselves in as a dark and twisted a place as possible. We just wanted that experience of being so fucked up and also mentally unwell.”

Finally, in Mid-March of 1977, they emerged with a hit. The rest is history.

So we come back to Copa in 2016. What has changed in American since then? What has remained the same to make Copa still relevant to younger audiences across the globe?

Well, it’s clear that many Americans are still closeted psychopaths with a desire for heinous violence and destruction. Random shootings and constant warfare have taught us that the words to Copa Cabana still resonate with a population of mentally-unwell individuals who want to cause chaos and devastation to the earth.

At the end of the day, the lyric, “At the Copa…don’t fall in love” is about much more than pursuing a dangerous romance at a lavish nightclub. It’s about the line between senility and paranoia. It’s about 4,000 Vietcong soldiers being blown to bits in a single napalm blast. And it’s about sneaking into North Korea and assisting Kim Jung-Un with building a uranium-enrichment facility.

With that in mind, we must reflect sadly on our human nature when we continue to celebrate such a musical masterpiece. “Copacabana” teaches us that the only thing worse than losing your innocence to love is the capacity for humans to lose their minds and kill a bunch of people. And that’s a message that resonates strongly in 2016 America.

› tags: barry manilow / mental illness /