What the Piña Colada Song Taught Me About Writing

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If you’re one of the few people who’s forgotten to listen to Escape by Rupert Holmes, then I pity you. Not only are you missing out on one of the most powerful cocktail-themed songs of the seventies but you’ve overlooked one of the bravest performances in an M&S sweater/shirt combo ever committed to celluloid.

More than that, however, Escape open brackets The Piña Colada Song close brackets – to give it it’s full title – is a master class in story telling. Better than Dickens, bolder than Shakespeare and richer than a Julia Donaldson yarn, Escape not only awoken (awaked?) my love of music (and milk-based cocktails) but unleashed my inner writer.

Put simply, I learnt everything I know about writing from Escape (The Piña Colada Song).

So, let’s start with the basics. It’s got three verses. Three verses, three acts. Textbook. If that doesn’t hint at what Rupert ‘The Dreamweaverer’ Holmes is doing, then nothing does.

So, the first line:

I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long…

BANG! In one line, Rupert has set the scene. The protagonist (himself), the antagonist (his ‘lady’) and the situation – a loveless sham of a relationship – it’s all there. Then he goes on…

Like a worn out recording of a favourite song…

This is both a nice bit of creative symbolism, and also Meta-commentary about the predetermined success of this very song. Tarantino couldn’t write that shit. The layers to this song are only beginning to unfurl.

So while she lay there sleepin’ I read the paper in bed

This line, more than any in the song, gets to the heart of Escape’s storytelling technique – misdirection. Essentially a ballad made up of exposition, Escape feeds you all the important information without ever showing its hand. You think this line is there to introduce the paper into this scenario – the media being a catalyst for most of the world’s woes – but actually; it slyly reintroduces the ‘lady’ into the narrative. After all, she’s The Piña Colada Song’s loaded gun. Cocked in the first verse, she doesn’t go off until Act Three.

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Checkhov would be jamming his pants.

Then you get the chorus. Not much storytelling going on there, you might think. WRONG! It is rich with character detail. Let’s unpick it, shall we?

If you like Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain…

So this is someone who likes Piña Coladas. What does that tell us? They like a drink, they’re open to exotic things, they use alcohol as a means of introducing themselves. And where do these star-crossed lovers first meet? A bar, what else?

But what about the rain? Well, what is the rain but bad weather, and what are these two going through, but a stormy time in their relationship. Going deeper, rain is a part of the water cycle. These two reject their current relationship, yet accidentally reply to each other’s personal ads, proving their behavioural patterns are cyclical. Just like rain.

It’s. All. On. Point.

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

This song reminds us we shouldn’t trust beaches. They’re deceptive. There could be fag butts in there, some broken glass, a dog turd – sand dunes hide the grim reality of summer holidays. A bit like personal ads do with their authors.

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A scene of passion

Verse two goes on to mention this elusive ‘lady’ not once, but twice, further cementing her presence in this song. For anyone who previously thought she was a passive character, you’re about to have your preconceptions blow away.

Let’s look a little more closely – does Escape pass the Bechdel Test?

Well, does it feature more than one woman? Theres the ‘lady’ AND the mysterious woman from the ad – so two. Do they talk about something other than a man? Well, considering they both keep rattling on about yoga and rum-based drinks, I’d say so. So is this song a unequivocal success for female representation? Yep!

The second chorus mainly revisits a lot of the themes of the first, but also manages to throw in this line:

I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow night and cut through all this red tape

…which has to be one of the more beautiful sexual euphemisms in the whole song.

cutting a red ribbon
Erotic.

And so to the final verse, best to let this one speak for itself.

So I waited with high hopes and she walked in the place

I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curves of her face

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

Woah! What a twist, what a gut punch. Like many great twist endings – The Sixth Sense (it was Bruce Willis the whole time), Se7en (it’s in the box!) and The Crying Game (cock and balls) – the twist is so satisfying because you don’t expect it. And yet, somehow, you do.

Who would have thought that this hapless home wrecker would find love in the arms of an alcoholic exhibitionist? And what’s more, he’s already seeing her. The couple’s love rekindled through their appreciation of mutual deception. The romance of a generation.

the-sixth-sense-bruce-willis

Bruce knew all along.

So there we have it. A masterclass in story telling. Tell McKee to do one, and chuck the Cat in the bin – this is everything you need to know about writing in one song. A story about reignited love, crafted using rich characters, deceptive exposition, bold plot twists, relatable emotions, coconut milk/coconut cream and 3 parts pineapple juice.

Stay tuned for more writing tips!

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