Sometimes when we write our little stories for MrLucky, we just sense in advance we're going to offend someone. This month, we know we run the risk of offending a lot of people. Given the choice, Hawaii is about the last place we'd go for a stylish, carefree, out-of-doors holiday.
Yes, its beauty is splendid, the weather pleasant and the lovely natives are certainly attractive and mostly agreeable. The problem is you and me. The mainlanders who think that by putting an hibiscus flower behind our ear we're also part of the scenery. Guess what, hoali? We ain't even close!
The tour bus mentality of most tourists is hard to bear but it's the neo-natural, rich-hippie syndrome, at its worst on Maui (and oddly enough in the San Francisco suburb of Mill Valley, but that's another story) that drives us nuts. For mainlanders who have migrated there, there's more often than not a subtle, yet distinct, "aren't-you-envious-of-me?" attitude behind everything they do. The truth is, we're not so envious of the newly arrived as we are sorry for the oldtime Hawaiians.
When we think of chunks of sizzling pork carnitas washed down with a good cerveza, and how much closer and cheaper this dream is in Mexico, Hawaii just loses our interest.
The other problem is that contemporary Hawaiian pop culture is pretty sorry. Despite the earnestness and talent involved, Hawaiian rock stinks. We won't go into the cocktails, fashion, food and entertainment.
The first time we really remember hearing about Hawaii was in Show and Tell in grade school. We probably had a new a G.I. Joe to share or perhaps a "Pet Rock" (We're really dating ourselves now.) Before our turn to bask in all the attention, a rather horsey young girl got up to share her hula dance that she'd learned at a luau in Hawaii. She wore a grass skirt and and coconut bra. Her shoulders were very freckled, as was her face. Her large kitty-kat glasses did little to bring out her exotic beauty but when she started to do her hula, we had to admit it was pretty great. The way she moved her hips in rhythm to the music, almost simulating the beautiful palm trees, was very exciting. To top it all off, in the hula, "the hands tell the story!" she proudly proclaimed. After her performance was over, we went up to her to congratulate her and she gave us a big slug in the arm. Even knowing the exotic hula dance, she was still an unpleasant little brat.
Our next encounter with things Hawaiian was in high school when one of the fellows in our set spent a summer there. When he came back everything was "aloha" and "mahalo". One was then supposed to ask if he was from Hawaii, as if the pukka shell necklace and surfer sungalsses weren't enough in the clue department.
When we finally made it to Hawaii, our worst fears were confirmed. Actually, wandering the streets of Honolulu and finding the Chinatown and funky old bars (left over from the 1940s) was pretty fun. As was drinking Blue Hawaii cocktails at a buck fifty a pop.
A few years ago we spent a few weeks on the north shore of Oahu. We were prepared for a horrid time but ended up being charmed, thanks to our planning and the unpretentious atmosphere of the area. We brought all of our vintage Hawaiian shirts, a large (actually, very large) jug of Beefeaters gin and an assortment of vintage tropical music.
The gin only lasted two nights so the music proved to be our saving grace. We decided ahead of time that we wanted to hear jazzy vintage tunes from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. You know that we love Exotica like Yma Sumac, Les Baxter and Martin Denny, but the old time swaying of the breeze through the palms was more in order. The slack key guitar and the yodeling falsettos of sweet natives were what we sought to accompany our cocktail hour. Luckily, a lot of this music is on CD although to really set the mood, you'll need to make your own mix, as we did. And in case you find yourself in Hawaii, the even better news is that gin is available island-wide!
Hands down, our favorite Hawaiian disc is Felix Mendelssohn & His Hawaiian Seranaders (Harlequin HQCD 93). It's the perfect blend of musicianship, camp and the exotic. There are many instrumentals and even more tracks with vocal refrains. Mendelssohn helped promote the music that sways so beautifully and oddly enough, he was English! He was a bandleader with fine taste and a good ear for what swings. It's definitely the "hoali" version, but it's fine.
Vintage Original Hawaiian Memories (Vintage Records VRCD 1002) has always been one of our favorites. Along with lots of guitar, Hawaiian vocals and Hollywood camp, there's actually a recording by Hilo Hattie of Ukelele Lady that belongs in everyone's collection.
It's kind of boring at times, what with all the bad lush tropicalia from the like of Bing Crosby, but Blue Hawaii (ASV Living Era CD AJA 5121) is a strong collection of mostly Hollywood-style Hawaiian music. There is a lot of that super-goo but there's a good mix of tempos and styles.
Honolulu to Hollywood is an excellent mix of swinging pre-swing Hawaiiana. Mostly late 1920s and early 1930s, it's goofy and the focus is really on the guitar, but there are plenty of fine vocals, novelties and oddball treasures.
There is also one highly recommended recording from the 1950s that belongs in your collection. Hukilau Hulas (GNP Crescendo GNPD35) is old-school luau music performed by the old masters in high fidelity. Reminiscent of old Bourbon Street jazz players reuniting and doing what they do best without a lot of fuss, this CD is relaxed, casual and a lot of fun. As an added bonus, the CD booklet contains detailed instructions on hula dancing. Now this is good value!
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