At the Copa, Lola Was so Much More than a Showgirl

In the middle of every night, I get an earworm. It usually works its way in and out and is forgotten by the time I wake up, but the latest one…ugh…has looped for five days. In, out, in, out. Maybe by writing about it, I’ll put a stick in the spokes and stop these wheels from spinning.

There’s nothing quite like the song “Copacabana” (you’re hearing the song now, too, aren’t you?). It’s a catchy disco song from 1978 that, god only knows why, people still dance to at weddings.

On the surface, “Copacabana” is a short story about a showgirl who’s in love with a bartender who gets shot by a man who “went a bit too far” with the showgirl who goes on to become a mind-losing alcoholic.

Maybe why “Copacabana” has had so much airplay in my head is that the part of my brain where grief lives hears “Copacabana” and thinks, “It’s incomplete.” So I say we take a second look at Lola. A compassionate rethink of what her story really is.

I realize that some of you might say, “Oh for cryin’ out loud, Lynn, it’s just a song!” Hmmmm…maybe. But think how media of all type influence your thoughts and behaviors. Reinforced, some messages become truths.

So… What do we know about Lola, or more importantly, what do we think we know about Lola? She’s a showgirl—a risqué profession for which she must dress scantily—and she wants to be a “star.” Even if it’s subconscious, we might judge her as loose and ambitious, because for forever, women have been told to button up and not pursue their dreams outside the norm, especially if those dreams involve any type of sexuality.

Next, we learn that her boyfriend, Tony, is a bartender (no judgement there) and that he and Lola love each other. Then there’s Rico, who wears a diamond, and in just that simple lyric, we envision a man of wealth and influence who is probably surrounded by bodyguards or wannabes. Rico is man who is used to getting what he wants. And he wants Lola.

Rico calls Lola over and proceeds to handle her in a way that makes Tony angry. But ask yourself the next time you’re dancing to “Copacabana” at a wedding, Did Rico’s actions make Lola angry? There’s no way to know because an omniscient narrator tells us only that Rico went too far, causing Tony to jump across the bar to—what the lyrics imply—rescue Lola.

But let’s take that apart. Men don’t like other men hitting on their girlfriends, right? So Tony’s ego, not moral obligation, was likely what caused him to react. Lola might have had the situation under control! She was a showgirl, after all, and Rico was probably not the first man to hit on her. I have faith that Lola knew how to take care of herself, and Tony’s overreaction got him killed.

Fast forward thirty years, we learn that Lola—who, let’s not forget, witnessed the violent death of her boyfriend—is drinking at the Copa and is still wearing her showgirl outfit. I’m no therapist, but I know you don’t get to that place overnight. Pretty sure Lola had some PTSD going on.

Unresolved grief and trauma create secondary problems like—in Lola’s case—alcohol abuse and disassociation. But in the times “Copacabana” is set—the ‘40s and ‘70s—there was little, if any, grief support. Grieving people were expected to buck up and move on. Be sad for a little while, sure, but then get over it!

Lola didn’t “get over it.”

Lola needed therapy, understanding, someone to talk to. Maybe she rebuffed people who were genuinely concerned about her, but they should have kept trying.

And that’s the takeaway: don’t give up on the grieving people in your life. Think of Lola and how you would show up if she was your friend. Help her make different decisions. Help her be a star, even if by “star” it means she eats regularly, is allowed to talk about her Tony, feels heard and loved. Ask her to do the merengue or cha-cha.

I really hope this blog exorcized the “Copacabana” earworm and I move on to a different song tonight. If not, “experts” suggest chewing gum as a way to expel it. Chewing gum in the middle of the night is something I’ve never done before, but I’ll pick up some Hubba-Bubba just in case.

12 thoughts on “At the Copa, Lola Was so Much More than a Showgirl

  1. Poor Lola – I agree she would have benefitted from a good therapist! I always wondered what those 30 years looked like. 30 years is a long time to suffer! And what ever happened to Rico? Was he prosecuted for murder? Probably not 😦 Hope this got rid of your earworm, though!

    1. I know! Rico probably didn’t go to jail, Lola knows this, and so her grief and trauma are compounded. And I love (insert sarcasm) that the takeaway is “Don’t fall in love.” As for the earworm, it kind of got rid of it, but it makes its way in sometimes in the middle of the night lol

  2. I had a Barry Manilow greatest hits CD, and when my daughter was little she would sit in the back seat and ask me to play “Cocobanana”. It’s catchy and I didn’t think much of it. After my husband was killed, I would hear that song and feel bad and relate to poor Lola. I heard that song just the other day on my satellite radio and thought the same thing again(so this post is timely)

    1. You’re right, it’s a catchy song, but when our lives intersect with the lyrics, it takes on a whole different meaning. I’m very sorry about your husband. Wishing you peace in your memories.

  3. Guess what was playing on the radio in the dentist’s office this morning, and the earworm has finally bitten me. I listened with a completely different perspective on it than before. Previously, it had been just a trifle, but then I hadn’t ever stopped to consider what the lyrics were saying. ❤️

    1. Sorry/not sorry for the earworm! (Although I hope it doesn’t stick around for the two weeks it fed on my brain.)

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