Narda and I spent last evening at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Kahulanui, a Hawai’ian swing band, was in town playing to a packed house of people in really bad aloha shirts. Hearing jazz riffs on Hawai’ian tunes took me back to the 1940s.
Much recorded Hawai’ian music of the era was written by non-Hawai’ians. Some of it was downright demeaning; “I got me a gal with a skirt of shredded wheat, a rope around her neck and doughnuts on her feet.” … “she dances night and day for a dollar and a quarter.”(Becky, I ain’t comin’ back no more – Bert Carlson and Harry Decker – New York) But some orchestras played big band music with Hawai’ian words and overtones. Jack De Mello and Harry Owens were two very popular bands. Hilo Hattie’s comic hulas delighted fans. My father’s uncle Johnny Cahill traveled America and Canada playing steel guitar with one of the orchestras. My grandmother, Hessie Iaea, listened to Alfred Apaka on the Hawai’i Calls program every week.
With the coming of the 50s and 60s, more serious Hawai’ian musicians emerged. Genoa Keawe, Kui Lee and Nona Beamer wrote many wonderful Hawai’ian songs and with the 70’s came Gabby Pahunui and Sonny Chillingsworth and the slack-key revolution. Genuine Hawai’ian chanting accompanied bands like Hapa, and the old hulas emerged from the missionary bans and brought a revolution to hula at the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo.
I have been fortunate enough to meet the old and the new. Andy Cummings and Sol Bright performed for us at a fundraiser for ALOHA Association on Maui in 1973. I met Gabby in Hana that year and palled around with the Hoopii brothers, the best Hawai’ian falsetto singers. I met Keola Beamer and Ray Kane in Tacoma at a performance.
But here’s the thing about Hawai’ian music; just like the folk music that is the genesis of country and western music it originates on someone’s front porch or in the living room. My family all sing and many of us play some instrument. Some dance hulas. At my Grandmother’s house in San Francisco we children watched and listened to dance and music performed by elderly relatives. It is an experience I treasure to this day.
Last evening’s performance was a tribute to a period of time when Americans first experienced Hawai’ian music. Jazz, and the island version of scat singing, once performed by Sol Bright and Andy Cummings was performed by Kahulanui. Lolena Naipo Jr. grew up playing bass violin, accompanying his father and grandfather while standing on a milk crate in order to reach the neck. He brought his band from the Big Island to Olympia and a good time was had by all. The band was dressed like a Hawai’ian Blues Brothers edition. Jitterbug dancing was in my mind but absent from my ancient knees so I just sat back and had a good time. Here’s the kicker; trombones, trumpets and saxaphones can blend with guitars, ukuleles and steel guitar. Catch this band if it comes around.
Book note: I'll be at Hart's Fine Books in Sequim, Washington signingcopies of Kolea between 5 and 8 on April 1 and at Third Place Books in Ravenna in Seattle on the evening of April 10. Come by and talk story. Russ Cahill
Russ and Governor Jerry Brown at Big Basin. Late 1970s.
The Ranger Book doesn’t have a title yet
Unless my editor Elizabeth Flynn throws a hissy and sends it back, the ranger book is on its way. Here is a summary: The book begins at Big Basin State Park in California in 1948. I was 10 years old. There is an autobiographical section regarding growing up in a family that camped and travelled all over the west to see the state and national parks. It follows me through raising a family and working nights as a Deputy Sheriff while getting a degree from San Jose State and Joining the Park Service.
The training of rangers is followed by my first assignment at Yosemite, and the wild times of the mid 1960s as flower children flowed from the Haight-Ashbury and hit the road to Yosemite. There are lots of adventures among the people and bears living foot-by-claw in the campgrounds and tales of rescues and motorcycle gangs. Readers will get to join me as I chase a black bear around the sunroom at the Ahwahnee Hotel in the middle of the night. (To be honest, the bear chased me for some of that time.)
The story moves on to Alaska and an assignment at Glacier Bay. There are stories of running a park patrol boat, and living in a remote village on the edge of a huge wilderness and the adjustments made by family. There are discussions about climate change and the observations made by scientists as the glaciers recede. A sojourn as the temporary “lone ranger” at Katmai National Monument is described. Readers will learn about the many active volcanos and the big population of Alaska Brown Bears present in that even more remote place.
We travel next to Washington D.C. and a one year temporary assignment as a biologist at the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. Readers will sit in on briefings of President Richard Nixon and dealings with the folks you got to know from the Watergate scandal.
As things start to become unglued in D.C, George Hartzog, the Director of the National Park Service discovers that a hapa haole Hawai’ian is actually a Ranger and sends me off to Maui to be the Superintendent of Haleakala National Park.
I get to meet a lot of Hawai’ian relatives and to spend valuable time learning about my heritage and managing a park that was founded during 1916; the year the National Park Service was formed. Readers will learn about the “death lights" at Kipahulu, the rarest bird in the world, and what a terrible horseman I was.
After four years in Hawai’i, I resign and move back to Alaska and the reader will spend a year with my little family as we construct a home in the wilds using only hand tools.
The latter parts of the book describe some of the events that took place during my tenure as Director of Parks for the State of Alaska and later, California. I discuss my unsuccessful interview with Secretary Bruce Babbitt to become National Park Service Director, and a stint working to transfer the Presidio of San Francisco from the Army to the National Park Service.
There are brief discussions of my later work in Washington State, some essays about parks and advice to new park rangers. This is the 100th year of the National Park Service and 50 years since I joined and followed the trail that brought me so much adventure and pleasure in a career that many people desire but few are privileged to have. There were heartbreaks along the way but joy came along to balance the low spots. I expect the book to be out by summer and will keep you posted on this blog.