Not to make anyone born in 1978 feel old, but that was nearly 40 years ago. And in that year, something special happened. Legendary crooner and vampire Barry Manilow released one of his greatest hits, Copacabana. Literally scaling the dizzying heights of second on the Canadian RPM Dance/Urban Charts. That’s literally as high as it got. Still, everybody loves this song, right? One of those pop classics that you get up and boogie to on the dance floor, regardless of how stupid it makes you look. Very, by the way. But here’s the thing. This is one of those songs whose tune is so catchy that one really doesn’t pay a great deal of attention to the lyrics. You’re too busy dancing and muttering away some nonsensical gibberish because you don’t actually know what the lyrics are. We all know and love songs like this, a strange yet common love. And most of the time, it doesn’t matter. Who cares if you don’t know what you’re dancing to? It’s so cheery and upbeat it can’t possibly be a song of tragedy, can it now? Oh, but at the Copacabana, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is a song of murder, drugs and sex. Lots of sex. So much sex…
Manilow was inspired to write this song after a thought popped into his head one day. ‘I wonder if there’s ever been a song named Copacabana.’ Nope. And so he wrote one. Well, somebody else did for him, but still. The song itself has since been complimented by a musical written by Manilow and chums and, as such, we can piece together the tragic story of Lola and her Copacabana nightmare.
The year is 1948. There was a showgirl of the name Lola la Mar, an ambitious young singer from Tulsa hoping to make it big as a star. You know the ‘40s showgirls. Scantily clad with the finest of silk garments, with the fanciest of hair and the glitziest of makeup, wrapped in exotic yellow feathers of a thousand varieties. Lola spent her nights dancing for the pleasure of wealthy businessmen, doing the merengue and the cha-cha. The stage is her home, a stage at the centre of the world-famous Copacabana nightclub, the ‘hottest spot north of Havana.’ Specifically, Noo Yoik City. Correct spelling, of course. They all talked like that in the ‘40s…
Lola wasn’t only a showgirl, though. She was a bartender, too, when she wasn’t busy gallivanting around on stage. You know the old story, readers. Little girl has big dreams of being a star, but found herself on a seedy stage dancing for the seedy pleasures of seedy men, also serving drinks, yet smiling throughout it all. She wasn’t happy but never gave up. One day, she decided to enter a talent contest on the radio, and there she met Tony Forte.
Tony was an aspiring songwriter and Lola was a wannabe singer. It was love at first sight, a match made in heaven. Tony was desperate to win her affections and, as such, decided to help his sweetheart with her fledgling and often failing career in the cut-throat world of show business. He wanted to put her name in lights. They didn’t have much, but they had each other. While she tried to be a star, Tony joined her at the bar, and together they served the people of New York whatever drinks they demanded. With each other, life didn’t seem so hard no more.
Across the crowded floor, they worked from eight ‘til four. They were young and they had each other. Who could ask for more? But this was no ordinary nightclub. It was the ‘40s. It was New York. Of course the mob were involved. The boss of the Copacabana was none other than Rico Castelli, an Italian gangster from Cuba making money from one nefarious endeavour or another, usually drugs. At the Copacabana, music and passion were always the fashion, but not for much longer for poor Lola and Tony.
Rico was your usual mobster, or as usual as they come. He had a chair all of his own in his nightclub, from where he watched the dancers on stage titillate his senses and excite his primal urges. One night, he was escorted to his chair, he saw Lola dancing there. And when she finished, he called her over. You don’t say ‘no’ to Rico. And one thing led to another. He tried to seduce her. His hands started wandering and a look of sickening lust became etched onto his face. Lola was frightened and Tony was having none of it.
Rico went a bit too far. Tony sailed across the bar. And then the punches flew and chairs were smashed in two. A brawl broke out and in the middle of it all, Tony and Rico, fighting for Lola. There were screams as loud as one could imagine, but then all was silenced. There was blood and a single gunshot. But just who shot who?
At the Copacabana… she lost her love. Some speculate it could’ve been Rico, that Lola was cheating on Tony, a no-good dirty rotten liar full of lust for another man. Others say that Tony was her true love and that it was him she lost, at the hands of Rico, the infamous mobster. Others say that whoever killed the other one was her true love and she ‘lost him’ as he’s now rotting in jail. In truth, it was Tony. A young romance cut short so very tragically by one rash decision, a decision to save the girl he loved form the hands of a perverted mobster. It’s a beautiful gesture, in a way, but so very sad, as Lola, well… you know the song. She lost her love at the Copacabana.
Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl. But that was 30 years ago, when they used to have a show. Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola. Still in the dress that she used to wear. Faded feathers in her hair. She sits there so refined and drinks herself half-blind. Like Miss Havisham, her whole world has fallen apart. Without Tony, Lola felt like she was nothing. The Copacabana shut down and it was rebranded countless times, eventually becoming a disco. And every night, long after the showgirls were gone, she still goes there. In her showgirl outfit to sit at the very bar where she stood with her one true love. A raging alcoholic with those faded yellow feathers in her hair. Crazed with sorrow and a black heart, as glamorous as the day she lost her youth and she lost her Tony. Now she’s lost her mind.
At the Copacabana, don’t fall in love…
What happened to Lola at the Copacabana? Something, really, really awful. Something you should remember if you’re considering this as the song at your first dance on your wedding day. Something I have witnessed, by the way. As we all know, The Power of Love is the best song for a first dance. Period.
The good one, obviously…
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