Coming back from vacation to the work-a-day world is never easy, particularly after having spent two weeks on Maui, the Big Island (Hawai’i), and Oahu. In fact, if my time in Hawaii had not been so memorable, I would have forgotten about it all already, what with today being a miserable, cold, rainy, New Jersey day, filled with traffic, a lingering Circadian rhythm disruption, and a couple weeks of backed up work to be attended to.
Where to begin?
There simply is too much for one blog, particularly when one sits down at the keys at this hour, still wrestling with screwed up inner clocks and carry-over fatigue. So, given that we spent time on three islands, I thought that shooting the breeze about one island at a time might work. Let’s begin with Maui and see how it goes from there.
Fully one-half of the trip (i.e. one week) was spent on Maui, because that’s where the band reunion took place. It was a week of being with old friends, seeing lots of beautiful and entertaining things, and making and listening to lots of music.
Having opted to take a non-direct flight permitted us to land directly on the island of Maui, which afforded me with my first of many surprises, which was to see an airport most of which is outdoors or permanently open to the elements. After having been greeted by three of my friends (one of whom has lived there for more than thirty years) with a huge “ALOHA” and a lei, I looked around at the lack of anything resembling walls and wondered, “What do they do here in the cold weather?” It wasn’t the first time I had that stoooopid thought and had to be reminded that there is no “cold weather” in Hawaii – at least not what a Garden State Guy would consider to be cold weather.
We hopped into our rented vans and headed off to Keihi and to the place where we would be staying for the week. In total, our group (band members and friends) occupied four units, one of which would serve as the central meeting and music-making place. Unfortunately, the walls were a bit thin in the units, as we learned the first time that Tatsy (Tatsuo) fired up the bass guitar, causing the man upstairs to begin pounding on the floor in response to the rattling dishes in his upstairs unit.
Our friend, John, graciously offered to go upstairs to make peace with the floor banger and to assure him that we were not a bunch of crazed head bangers with big, big speakers, but rather that we were a rather harmless bunch of middle-aged knuckleheads who absolutely did not want to disrupt his very expensive Maui vacation. That, and our resolve to play henceforth at “unplugged” levels, seemed to work, as a day or so later, the former floor banger met us on the stairs and was keenly interested in the band.
What did we play? I know that Cousin Jack wants to see the set sheets (see the comments to the previous post), but we didn’t use them. Instead, we played (or at least took a stab at playing) anything and everything that came to mind. We played old Beatle songs, Every Brothers (or, as I noted, “Elderly Brothers”) tunes, Stones, the Dave Clark Five, country tunes, pop tunes, silly tunes, corny tunes, and some that brought back wonderful memories and created more than a couple lumps in our throats.
As I had mentioned previously, I left the Ludwigs at home, opting to play guitar instead. We took a shot at using an electronic drum machine, but soon found that getting it just right was more of a hassle than it was worth. Besides, I have a built-in, professional bias against those contraptions.
Some of the songs sounded good, and some were just plain awful, but the howling laughter and finger pointing accusations for causing the musical train wrecks made even the stinkers fun. We even did some songs that we never played together as a band (e.g. Jimmy Buffet tunes and Hawaiian songs), and surprisingly some seemed “ready for vinyl” (to use a seriously old expression).
When we weren’t playing or howling with laughter, we got to watch some truly gifted musicians do their thing. For instance, we were fortunate enough to see a two man show, called Wailea Nights, featuring Barry Flanagan, an amazingly talented guitar player, singer and composer. Barry Flanagan, a member of the band Hapa, has spent decades on the islands mastering the art of Hawaiian slack-key guitar playing, which involves de-tuning one or more strings on the guitar (often several times in a single song) to achieve a particular sound.
We all sat spellbound as Flanagan made his well-worn guitar sing, scream, whisper and sigh, sometimes all in the same song. It’s a wonder that, after having seen and heard such mastery that we hackers didn’t go back and toss our guitars into the surf.
Along similar lines, we managed to get tickets to see ‘Ualena, an amazing show in Lahaina, which chronicles the history of the Hawaiian islands in song and dance, accompanied by sparse guitar, native woodwinds and keyboards, but mainly by the most amazing forms of percussion that I have ever heard. It was a dazzling display of primitive drums, gourds, blocks, logs, chimes, gongs, congas and drums I had never seen before, each played with energy and skill that left the audience (and most certainly me) breathless. After having watched those four guys play, I concluded that it was a good thing that the Ludwigs were back in Jersey, or they might well have gone into the surf along with the guitars!
When we weren’t playing or listening to music, we did tons of sightseeing. We took the long, winding ride to the top of the majestic Haleakala, a dormant volcano more than 10,000 feet high. We began the trip skyward in warm, sunny weather, but 9,000 feet later we found ourselves in cold, misty rain and surrounded by a cloud, which unfortunately blocked our view of the huge crater normally visible from the summit. Although it would have been nicer had the weather been clear at the summit, the trip up was still great. For those of you who have no fear of possibly sailing off the edge of a mountain road and plummeting to your death, or slamming head-on into an oncoming car (also likely resulting in death), you might consider renting a bicycle and riding down Haleakala. Many people do it, but it looked a bit too sketchy for me.
We also took a boat ride out to Molokini, a small island off-Maui, to do some snorkeling over the reef. For me, it was a first, and I actually managed to spend about hour in the water without swallowing any of it. In fact, the hardest part for me was fitting my five-inch wide, Fred Flintstone/Donald Duck feet into those damned fins. I figured that, with feet that wide, I might not need fins, but I went with the flow and stuffed my ample dogs into them before flopping off the boat. After a while, we moved to a place where we could hop back in the water and swim among Hawaii’s giant sea turtles. We were reminded that the sea turtle is a protected species and that we were not to touch them or try to ride them. Frankly, after having seen those babies, touching them, or doing anything that might piss them off was not on my agenda.
Of course, then there are the indescribably beautiful Hawaiian sunsets. These are a special treat for us Jersey folks, who specialize in sunrises over the ocean. Sunsets are better. My friend Saby (Saburo, the erstwhile leader of the band and Maui resident) along with his friend Patty, treated the group to a sunset picnic on the virtually empty Keawakapu Beach. Saby brought along the Martin six-string and played and sang Hawaiian songs as the sun disappeared amidst a beautiful blaze of colors. Patty even did a genuine hula for us, which reminded us that hula, as practiced by Hawaiians, is a serious art form and is something beautiful to watch.
One of the biggest surprises of the trip was that I actually did wind up playing drums in a band.
Saby and his brothers Tatsy and Hideo are quite religious. In fact, Saby (who still plays professionally) plays keyboards in his church’s band on Sunday. He is part of a five-piece band that backs up (instrumentally and vocally) five singers, who (pardon the expression) sing hell out of gospel tunes.
By Saturday morning, we had already decided that we would all trek off on Sunday to the small, Congregational church situated in a beautiful country setting in Makawao in order to hear Saby and the band play. On Saturday night, Saby asked me if I wanted to sit in on the drums for one tune. Being the ham that I am, I quickly accepted his invitation.
On Sunday morning, as we were about to board the vans to drive to the church, Saby called from the church to inform me that the regular drummer would not be there that day, and he asked if I would consider helping out by doing the whole deal with the band. “Abso-farookin’-lutely,” I replied.
So, there I was, on vacation, a recovering Catholic, and snorkeling survivor, sitting behind a full drum set, playing gospel tunes with Saby in an ass-kicking five-piece band. It was, quite simply, a tremendous thrill.
Can I get an “Amen?”