After my column came out last week, I got a phone call from a gentleman who wanted to know why I left Hawaii. He was curious. It was the same question my twins asked when I picked them up at the airport after their first trip to Hawaii about 10 years ago. But they were angry.
The boys were just 3 and a half when we moved to Grants Pass, but both claim to have vivid memories of life on the island where they were born. They remember swimming in a pool with my father and visiting the zoo in Waikiki. Bring up the subject and they will shake their heads and grumble about being moved from paradise on Oahu to Oregon against their will.
Living on a tropical island was enchanting. Sunny days, balmy nights and the aloha spirit can sweep mainlanders off their feet. Fragrant flowers, wild mangoes and the music cast a spell over you. Just writing about Hawaii last week put me in a trance that led me straight to Starbucks, where I impulsively bought a CD of Hawaiian music called Mele O Hawaii. “Mele” means song or chant in Hawaiian and it also means happy or merry as in “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas). They are one and the same in Hawaii.
I surprised myself by knowing most of the lyrics to the song “Moonlight Lady” performed by Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues. The notes in the CD said the song was a popular one performed by legends like Don Ho. I never listened much to Don Ho so I knew I hadn’t learned the song from him. But why did I remember these lyrics after 30 years?
I went to my friend Google for the answer. The version of the song that I was familiar with is from the album Hawaiian Band Volume 1 by Gabby Pahinui with Ry Cooder released in 1975. Gabby was a household name on the islands when I lived there from 1974 to 1980. Here is what one review of his album said:
“When this came out in the mid 70s, Hawaiian music was very diverse. You had the new breed of artists like Cecilio and Kapono, Kalapana, and Country Comfort incorporating pop, rock and folk, managing to gain an audience outside of the islands. But for the traditionalist, it also meant a time of change. Gabby kept to his guns and did what he did best. This album got attention in the U.S. and UK because of Ry Cooder’s involvement. Before he exposed the world to the Buena Vista All Stars, he was jamming with Gabby Pahinui and his friends ... The big hit on this is the sweet ballad ‘Moonlight Lady’ sung by Pahinui’s son Bla. Part of this album was recorded in California, specifically for the orchestra and string sections, and when Gabby heard his songs being backed by the orchestra, it was he who cried. Anyone who lived in Hawaii in the mid 70s will always remember ‘Moonlight Lady’ and it’s the song that makes thousands of transplanted Hawaiians very homesick.”
Hearing the song now creates a mental slideshow of dozens of images of my young sons in Hawaii. Those days of our innocence resonate in the lyrics. “Moonlight lady...works in the fields by day, in the sun, while your children play. River sings their lullabies and rainbows fill their youthful eyes.”
Listen to Gabby’s version of “Moonlight Lady” in its entirety on YouTube. Google “Moonlight Lady Gabby Pahinui.” Whether you’ve been to Hawaii or not, I think you’ll enjoy it.