This song has been interpreted a number of ways, but when we spoke with Local H frontman Scott Lucas, he attributed the lyric to clever wordplay. "I love words that nobody uses anymore," he said. "That crops up over and over in our songs. Phrases and words that have been tossed on the scrap heap of linguistics. 'Copacetic' was a word I'd heard in war movies about Vietnam."
The other inspiration was the rock band Velocity Girl, who released an album in 1993 called Copacetic. "It was a way to reintroduce a dead word and give a shout out to Velocity Girl," Lucas said. "Plus, it rhymes with 'pathetic.'"
Lucas, who wrote this song with his bandmate Joe Daniels (the drummer and only other member of the group at the time), came up with the guitar riff at his apartment in Zion, Illinois. "I would hang out all day playing guitar and watching stolen cable on a cheater box," he said in his Songfacts interview. "I had come across stacked 5th chords from learning to play Police songs, and I was f--king around with this moving bass line thing that I was trying to perfect because of my guitar setup. I figured I'd mash them together. That basically took care of the riff."
The title does not appear in the lyric, but alludes to the first line in the song: "Born to be down." There is a lot of loathing going on, which could be someone talking to himself, or a conversation between two people. It seems the singer has become apathetic (a common theme in rock music of this era) and feels beaten down. The chorus, which could be his voice or that of a friend, could be either mocking him or echoing his sentiment:
You just don't get it You keep it copacetic
Local H wasn't the first to use the word "copacetic," but they are the only act to chart with a song that features the word in the chorus. Previous uses of the word include:
"Perfection" by Run-D.M.C. (1986) Is everything copacetic y'all?
"West L.A. Fadeaway" by the Grateful Dead (1987) You know the pay was pathetic It's a shame those boys couldn't be more copacetic
"My Stoney Baby" by 311 (1993) It's copacetic if you let it So set up and keep the down stream down and up stream up
This was the only chart entry for Local H, which like the White Stripes were a guitarist and drummer rock duo. Signed to Island Records, they made inroads in the grunge/alternative scene, but were dropped from the label after their 1998 album Pack Up The Cats mustered just a modest Mainstream Rock hit with "All The Kids Are Right." Joe Daniels left in 1999 replaced by Brian St. Clair, who was replaced in 2013 by Ryan Harding.
The video was directed by Frank W. Ockenfels, whose credits include "I Will Buy You A New Life" for Everclear and "In The Blood" for Better Than Ezra. The muted colors and white flashes are hallmarks of grunge videos of the time.