22 January 2010

Rupert Holmes: Escape (The Piña Colada Song)

So today we have Rupert Holmes’s “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”, the song that officially provided the musical bridge between the 70s and the 80s by virtue of being the last #1 song of 1979 and the second #1 song of 1980. This means that both decades have something to be ashamed of, but in terms of lyrical content this song belongs firmly in the 70s—not saying that the 80s would have been any better, just that songs describing the joys of the infidelity scene got a bit more subtle as disco gave way to new wave on mainstream radio.

I have to say that i can’t slam every aspect of this song—i actually like the music behind this song. It has an interesting beat, and it could function as decent non-Muzak background music in a restaurant or something. The lyrics laid on top of that music, though…Well, let’s just say they’re questionable.

Quick thought before i get to the lyrics: I don’t know any couple who has ever thought of this as “their song”. It’s possible, i suppose (i knew a couple who very seriously considered Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” as their song, so anything could happen), but if you’re a couple like that, well, nothing personal, but i don’t want to ever meet you.

And now we might as well let Mr. Holmes tell us about his life:

I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long,
Like a worn-out recording of a favorite song.

Wow. Just wow. I mean, can we be a little more cold here?

I’m just trying to figure out how Mr. Holmes got into this relationship in the first place. Imagine: Rupert Holmes sitting in a singles bar, shirt halfway unbuttoned to show the glories of his chest hair wig, attention drawn to it by the huge gold-plated zodiac sign hanging from his neck. He sees an attractive woman at the other end of the bar, and sends her a drink (my guess, given stuff we learn later in the song: a sex on the beach). She accepts, and so he walks across the bar like he was walking across a yacht, and delivers his one best, can’t-fail pickup line: “Hey, lady. You lookin’ for someone who’ll stay with you until he gets tired of you, as if you were an overplayed hit song?”

The scary thing, really, is that she said yes.

Oh—and he calls her “my lady”. Can we just all agree that that’s an annoying way to refer to the female person you’re coupled with? You would have thought that Styx would have put the knife in this one back in 1972, but nope, here it is in 1979. Another reason i’m glad i grew up in the 80s, not the 70s.

On a perhaps more serious note, it’s worth noting that the word “lady” is ambiguous here—certainly she and Mr. Holmes are a couple, but it’s unclear what sort of relationship this is. They may just be long-term lovers, they may be living together, they may be married. I suspect that they’re married, if only because it makes the rest of the song more horrific. and therefore I’m going to assume for the rest of this that the unnamed “lady” is Mrs. Holmes to the singer’s Mr. Holmes. If you’d rather think otherwise, feel free—it doesn’t lower the horror level by more than a half-notch to do so.

So while she lay there sleeping, I read the paper in bed.
And in the personal columns, there was this letter I read:

You know how, every once in a while, you’re listening to a friend tell a story, everything’s going along nicely, and then they throw in a weird little detail that makes you say “Wait—hold on a minute.”

We’ve reached such a point here.

You’re in bed with your sleeping wife, and you’re reading the personals?

I mean, okay, so i recognize that infidelity happens—not as much as a lot of people think, but not infrequently. So the fact that you’re looking for someone else isn’t as shocking as it might be, but while you’re in bed with your wife? Dude, that’s chutzpah—and i’d like to remind everybody out there the the word chutzpah isn’t as positive a quality as a lot of people think it is.

Also, exactly what section of the personals are you looking in? Given the content of the letter it’s not men seeking men, so we might expect to it to be women seeking men. I’m thinking, though, that it’s most likely the women seeking lying, cheating scumweasels section.

Anyway, let’s see what this advertisement says. I’m going to quote it in full, just so that the annoying superficiality of it won’t get lost, and then break it down piece by piece for you. So here’s the ad:

“If you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain,
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain,
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape,
Then I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape.”

And here’s the breakdown:

“If you like piña coladas,

I will admit right here that i’m not the best choice to criticize someone’s drinking habits, not least because i choose not to drink alcohol for a number of reasons. But i do know enough to wonder why this anonymous advertiser is looking for a guy who likes to drink what can only be described as a girl drink.

and getting caught in the rain,

You don’t own an umbrella, but you pretend that’s a virtue? Cool, let’s sleep together!

If you’re not into yoga,

Given when this song was released (the late 70s), i’m willing to not criticize this one—not being into yoga would have clearly been a virtue. Unfortunately, it’s only an even-a-blind-squirrel-finds-a-nut-once-in-a-while moment.

Or maybe, it’s an even-a-clueless-personal-ad-writer-finds-a-nut-once-in-a-while moment.

if you have half a brain,

If you’re looking for someone with half a brain, why are you advertising in the personals section instead of going out and meeting people you might really have something in common with?

Oh, wait—maybe you’re actually hoping for someone with only half a brain, as opposed to having a completely functional one. In that case, carry on.

If you like making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape,

At least we know now it’s actually all about the time and location of sex. Glad to see what caught your attention, Rupert.

Of course, any time i hear this line about sex in the dunes, all i can think about is one word: Sand!

Sorry, not my thing.

Then I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape.”

For “love”, read “expensive prostitute”.

I didn't think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean.

No, Rupert, it sounds like you’re unable to sustain a relationship. It doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re mean—in fact, it might even be merciful to duck out now rather than lead her on. However, when your stated reason for this is

But me and my old lady had fallen into the same old dull routine.

then it’s clear not that you’re not being merciful, you’re just being a jerk.

So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad.
And though I'm nobody’s poet, I thought it wasn't half-bad.

Strike that—you’re just being an egotistical jerk.

“Yes, I like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain,
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne.
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape,
At a bar called O’Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape.”

I would have done this point by point like the other one, but i wanted to…Well, to be honest, i didn’t because there are too many possibilities.

First of all, Mr. Holmes, maybe this isn’t a half-bad poem, but that’s because it’s not yours—it’s largely cribbed from the poem you’re replying to. I teach for a living, and you know what we call that? Plagiarism. It’s grounds for failing a course, maybe even getting kicked out of school if the offense is egregious enough. Now here, of course, the stakes aren’t that high—it’s just about cheating on your wife and moving on to some other relationship you’ll be in for just long enough to get bored with your new “love”.


Oh—and a couple of specific items from this “not half-bad” poem. First of all, with I am into champagne as a response to the parallel line if you have half a brain, it appears that Mr. Holmes is self-aware enough to recognize that he might not fit that part of the request. I guess we ought to give him credit for that much.

Also, consider the desperation of I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon. I mean, wow. Beyond the fact that this response probably wouldn’t actually get to her that quickly (remember, kids, this is before widespread use of the internet, and sometimes it took a whole three to four days for a letter to get delivered), there’s nothing about exchanging thoughts about starting up a relationship and the issues involved. Nope, it’s more along the lines of “I match about half of the qualifications you listed, so you will therefore meet me where i say we should so that we can go somewhere and have sex together.”

Yep, this is looking healthier and healthier.

And where does Mr. Holmes want to meet this mysterious hooker woman? Why, at a bar called O’Malley’s, of course. Sensible, i think, since the New York City metropolitan area (where Rupert Holmes did much of his growing up, according to his Wikipedia page) can’t have more than one bar named O’Malley’s, right?

So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place.

I’m glad to see that this mystery woman picked the right one. Even if you want to see someone fail, it’s never fun to see someone carrying a red rose with nobody there, obviously getting stood up by someone they don’t know. That’s really just a downer for those of us with hopes of developing or continuing healthy relationships.

I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face.

Small victory for him, i suppose, that he didn’t instantly recognize the curve of her Adam’s apple.

It was my own lovely lady, and she said, “Aw, it’s you.”

Yep, folks, here it is, the Clever Ironic Twist: Mr. Holmes went out philandering, but Mrs. Holmes was out doing the same thing—and they ended up with each other.

Then we laughed for a moment,

This is as opposed to recognizing that both of them had had the right instincts earlier, and it was time to head for the exits and hire divorce lawyers.

Of course, this was the 70s, when occurrences like this were what counted as romance-with-a-capital-R. And why was it so romantic? Well, because our star-crossed lovers had finally realized that they had so much in common that they simply had to be meant for each other.


But you know what? After thinking it through, i think i’ve come to that same conclusion, myself—and they’re welcome to have each other, too, as long as they promise not to breed. Is it a deal?

and I said, “I never knew…
That you liked piña coladas,

Let’s think for a moment about what conversations between Mr. and Mrs. Holmes must be like. I mean, imagine when they first met at the seedy singles bar you just know they met at, and Rupert was trying to impress his lovely lady by buying her drinks…

“Hey, lady. You want some wine?” “No, i don’t really like wine.” “Dang!”

“How about a martini?” “No, i don’t really like martinis.” “Dang!”

“How about a rum and Coke?” “No, i don’t really like rum and Coke.” “Dang!”

“How about a beer?” “No, i don’t really like beer.” “Dang!”

“How about a gin and tonic?” “No, i don’t really like gin and tonic.” “Dang!”

“How about a cosmopolitan?” “No, i don’t really like cosmopolitans.” “Dang!”

“How about a fuzzy navel?” “No, i don’t really like fuzzy navels.” “Dang!”

No wonder things were going badly—it never occurred to him to say “So i’ve noticed you drink like a fish. What kind of drinks do you like, exactly?”

I mean, i’m no marriage counselor, but it seems to me that such a very low level of communication is likely to result in relationship issues down the road.

and getting caught in the rain.

I can kind of understand not knowing she liked this if they lived in, say, Yuma, Arizona. Otherwise there’s really no excuse.

And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne.

Apparently he never asked her if she liked champagne, either. Maybe they first hooked up on the night of New Year’s Day and their meetup at O’Malley’s was at noon on New Year’s Eve, so they never toasted the new year in together?

Or maybe this is just a really ill-thought-out lyric? Yeah, that.

If you like making love at midnight,

We turn once again to the Holmes household. They have the day off, and we join them in the morning…

“Hey, lady, it’s nine in the morning. Wanna make love?” “No.” “Dang!”

“Now it’s noon. Wanna make love?” “No.” “Dang!”

“Now it’s three in the afternoon. Wanna make love?” “No.” “Dang!”

“Now it’s six in the evening. Wanna make love?” “No.” “Dang!”

“Now it’s nine at night. Wanna make love?” “No.” “Dang!”

“Well, it’s 11:50 at night and that was the Tonight Show monologue. Guess we’ll go to sleep now.” “Okay.”

Seriously, did these people ever have a real conversation?

in the dunes of the cape.
You’re the lady that I've looked for, come with me, and escape.”

And this time i promise i’ll read the user’s manual first, or whatever a guy does to know what kind of drinks you like. And maybe i’ll be a little more discreet when i decide to look for a little something on the side.

And so then we get the chorus on a repeat and fade, leaving us with the horrible, horrible realization that these two ended up together happily ever after.

Please excuse me while i go dry heave.

The end.

1 comment:

  1. Very good analysis. The plot twist, while totally unexpected, and the really good tune and beat do little to redeem the whole thing. But, see, you just aren't supposed to THINK about what you are listening to. Otherwise Mr. Holmes would have to grow the other half of his brain.