As someone who fell in love and become infatuated with the power of music, I’ve always wondered how I got to the place where I listen, read, research, criticize, praise, hate, collect, absorb, protect, and defend it. The older I get and learn about myself, life in general, and because how the mechanics of our world works, I wonder how those influences came to be. As someone who is of mixed ethnicities (Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, German, Austrian), there are moments where I wonder if my ancestors did things that eventually lead to me being who I am. Is it chance, are these things of my own doing? It’s more or less me being curious of what came before me. There are television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? where celebrities are able to track their background further than the grandparents they were aware of, and see what lead us to become us.
My story would normally begin with my parents, but I can go one generation earlier to my grandfather on my mom’s side. He was someone who loved music, not only going to performances but playing guitar, bass, ‘ukulele, and enjoyed singing. When he joined the military in World War II, he was able to put together a makeshift group that played some of the songs of the day, but also did some Hawaiian music for the “local boys” in Vienna who were homesick. It was there he made a lady who would become my Omama. When the war was over, he lived in Vienna for a year or two, and it was there that my mom came into the world. A year or two later, my grandfather returned home to Honolulu with a wife and a child.
My mom would grow up to be a fan of Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. She said she did not like The Beatles as much as the Stones, it was the typical battle of the mid-1960’s. She did tell me that she saw the Stones when they played at the Honolulu International Center (H.I.C.). on Juky 28, 1966. She was also a huge fan of the Motown Sound and Stax, or in truth she was a fan of soul, or what she grew up knowing as “black music”. Living in a strict household where the father could read the Sunday comics in the newspaper but his children could not, they did all of their fun before he came home. If that meant going to a friend’s house to hear records on the phonograph or to play the radio, that’s how they did it. By the time she saw the Stones, my mom was already working and looking for a place to live on her own, away from the restrictions of a house that had four more brothers and sisters, all of whom would become music fanatics in their own right. When my mom worked at Woolworth’s, she spent some of her money on buying 45’s and LP’s. She felt she was somewhat of a record collector, making sure she had all of the new records as they were released. She had a membership at Music Box Records in downtown Honolulu where after buying 10 45’s, you could get one free. The more records, the merrier. On top of that, her love of Hawaiian culture also lead her to dance the hula and have a deep fascination with the music and language, some of that coming from her dad who bought records to keep up in his repertoire. My mom was a teen when statehood happened in 1959, and with that came a flood of Hawaiian music to allow people around the world to hear this “new” music, even though Hawaiian music has been appreciated abroad for a long time (in fact, Hawaiian music was said to be the “pop” music in the United States during the 1920’s).
My dad loved anything and everything to do with cars. He loved early rock’n’roll, he loved the crooners, if it had attitude, he played it. I don’t know about his music listening habits early on, but when I got into The Beatles at the age of 9, he thought it was great I was getting into them because he loved them too. When I found myself enjoying the Indian sounds they would incorporate into their music, he told me that he also loved the music of Ravi Shankar. Apparently Shankar’s music was something he and friends listened to while getting high. My dad also played his share of instruments, including the guitar, bass, and ‘ukulele, along with harmonica, Melodica, and Autoharp. If there was an instrument in the room, he would reach out to it or play around with it until he could play it on his own. He was always the life of the party. If there was a party, there would be music and if there was music, my dad would be there.
As the story goes, my dad was the party guy, and while my mom loved to go to dances, she was a bit more reserved. My dad was a greaser of sorts, or at least he fixed enough cars to where he would be greasy, let’s put it that way. After a few years of socializing, they eventually met each other. They would date, and in time they wanted to take it one step further. My mom tells me that after a night of heavy partying and drinking, my dad asked for my mom’s hand in marriage. She liked the idea, but said no. He would return to her place, ask again, and she said no. She would only say yes if he asked her with a clear head. In other words: sober. A few days later, without a scent of booze or pakalolo on him, he asked, and she said yes. Job opportunities were good in California, and they decided to move to Los Angeles. This is where they were married. Over a year later, I was born.
The story would normally begin here, but as someone who has grown to listen to music, absorb it, and become curious about its origins, I must go back by a few more months.
When my mom was pregnant with me, my dad would not only play a lot of records in the house, but with his friends and perhaps family who came from Honolulu every now and then, he would not hesitate to bust out the guitar to jam and sing. At one point, my dad was singing and jamming to one of the big hits of the time, Simon & Garfunkel‘s “Cecilia”, released as a single in April 1970. The song begins with an acoustic guitar playing over a rhythm with a lot of reverb, and then Simon and Garfunkel begins to sing, there’s a slight shift in the style of the rhythm, and it begins to sound a bit tropical.
Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home
Apparently as my dad and friends played this song, she started to feel “a kick in the stomach”. She tells me that not only was I kicking, but I was kicking to the rhythm of the song.
Jubilation, she loves me again
I fall on the floor and I’m laughing
Jubilation, she loves me again
I fall on the floor and I’m laughing
Was the song and the joy in the room having an effect on her, and in turn on me in utero? There are no time machines in the present day where I would be able to see this moment for myself, or to look at it scientifically and see if music, sounds, and emotions going on in that room could have an effect on the child to be. Some farmers have suggested that they play certain styles of music for their vegetables and other crops, while there are studies on how classical music can be beneficial for expecting mothers and infants. Yet that’s classical music, I could’ve been a professor, a doctor, or scholar. Instead, my first rhythm was apparently Simon & Garfunkel.
According to the Wikipedia entry for “Cecilia”, Paul Simon said that “the “Cecilia” of the title refers to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition, and thus the song might refer to the frustration of fleeting inspiration in songwriting, the vagaries of musical fame or in a wider sense the absurdity of pop culture. The song is generally interpreted as a lament over a capricious lover who causes both anguish and jubilation to the singer.” Indirectly or not, this may have very well been the perfect song for me to kick to.