And climb the stairs to the beach...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Morning Folks July 10, 2009

I got several comments about yesterday's blog on Iz. One came from my cousin John who, along with his wife Shelley, had discovered Izzie's music a few years ago. He found a back story about the artist that I thought you'd be interested in reading. Thanks for sharing it, John.

My cousin John wrote: "Here is a back story I discovered on the recording which makes the story, the man and the recording all the more remarkable:"

Hawaii, he sang of thee -- and people listened

Jack Boulware

Wednesday, March 9, 2005


San Francisco writer Jack Boulware is the co-founder of the Litquake literary festival. His articles have appeared in Salon, Playboy, the New York Times Magazine, Wired and The Chronicle. The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress on the life of the late Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

Honolulu, two a.m. Music producer Jon de Mello is sleeping when the phone rings. It's Israel, one of the artists he represents for his Mountain Apple record label. And Israel is wide awake. He often has problems at night because his weight upwards of 700 pounds forces him to sleep while hooked up to an oxygen tank. He tells de Mello he wants to record, right now.

"You got transportation?" asks de Mello. It's difficult for Israel to move around, he needs a few people to help him get dressed, get in and out of places. The studio is about 15 minutes away.

"Yeah," says Israel. "My guys are here." "Get in the car," says de Mello. "I'll meet you over there." In the car, de Mello wonders what he wants to record. They've been discussing a bunch of possibles from a songbook. But it's Israel, you never really know for sure what he's going to do. A traditional Hawai'ian hula. A John Denver song. A theme from a TV show. Could be anything.

A young engineer named Milan Bertosa sits in his recording studio, waiting. He was planning to go home, until some Hawai'ian guy with a lot of letters in his name called up and wanted to record something right away. It's late, Bertosa is tired, but the voice was insistent, saying he only needed half an hour. A knock at the door, and there stands an unimaginable sight. De Mello, whom Bertosa recognizes, stands about five foot two and 100 pounds. Next to him, the largest man he's ever seen, a gargantuan six-foot-six Hawai'ian carrying a ukulele. De Mello introduces the two, they get Israel situated in a chair, and Bertosa starts rolling tape.

Israel leans into the microphone, says: "Kay, this one's for Gabby," and begins gently strumming the uke. His beautiful voice comes in, a lilting "Oooooo," then slips into the opening words of "Over the Rainbow," from "The Wizard of Oz." Bertosa listens behind the glass, and within the first few bars knows it's something very special. He spends most of his time recording lousy dance music. This is otherworldly. An incredibly fat man, elegantly caressing a Hollywood show tune, breaking it down to its roots, so sad and poignant, yet full of hope and possibility. Halfway through the tune, Israel spirals off into "What a Wonderful World," the George David Weiss/Bob Thiele hit made famous by Louis Armstrong, then melts back into "Over the Rainbow." He flubs a lyric, and tosses in a new chord change, but it doesn't matter. It feels seamless, chilling. Israel plays five songs in a row, then turns to de Mello and says, "I'm tired and I'm going home." "Gets up and walks out," says de Mello. "Ukulele and a vocal, one take. Over." Israel never played the song again.

When Israel and de Mello began piecing together his 1993 album Facing Future, they added the demo tape of "Over the Rainbow." Upon release the song took on a life of its own. The familiar melody played in hotels and on rental car radios, in restaurants and bars. Many were moved to tears. If it didn't give you "chicken skin," you were legally dead. The song resonated even more for locals. Some heard its kaona, or hidden subtext, to reflect the sadness Hawai'i felt about having its lands illegally annexed by the United States in 1898. Those who had seen him in concert knew he ended each show with the words, "My name is Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, I am Hawai'ian." Israel was one of only 1, 500 full-blooded Hawai'ians left in the world. He was pure, and so was the recording. It bounced around the islands for the next three years.

And then one afternoon, Santa Monica KCRW radio host Chris Douridas cued up "Over the Rainbow" as part of his program "Morning Becomes Eclectic," to cheer up listeners on a rainy day. After it faded out, Douridas announced the 800 phone number on the back of the Facing Future CD. In two days, Mountain Apple received over 2,000 calls from southern California, people crying and asking about the music, many of them stuck on the freeway when they heard it.

Movie producer Martin Brest bought the rights for use in his film, "Meet Joe Black." As the end credits rolled, movie audiences stayed in their seats to listen to "Over the Rainbow." One of America's most recognizable melodies, first made popular by Judy Garland, the tune had always embodied optimism, depicting a world where dreams really do come true. Israel's version was something else entirely: haunting and delicate, stripped down to a lone voice and a ukulele, an unexpected minor chord contrasting, almost unconsciously, against the happy lyrics of wishing upon a star. After the film's premiere in Hawai'i, people were sobbing in the theater.

Producers bought the very same song for "Finding Forrester," "Made," "The Big Bounce," and "50 First Dates," for episodes of "ER," "Providence," "Charmed," and "Party of Five." It aired in an eToys ad during the Super Bowl, and then commercials throughout Japan, Europe, Australia, New Zealand. Although most listeners couldn't remember the name of the artist, it didn't matter. The music was most important, that raw, perfect-pitch voice that hit people right in the heart, touched their emotional core, reminded them how fragile life can be. You heard it once, you never forgot it.

"Rainbow" came to personify Hawai'i to the outside world. Celebrities publicly announced their love of Israel's music: novelists, actors, directors, baseball players, sumo wrestlers. Bruddah IZ was the state's first artist in history to have an album certified gold. Posters and calendars of his face decorated record stores around the world. "Over the Rainbow" became the No. 1 bestselling song downloaded from the World Music section of iTunes. Israel had produced the most recognizable and beloved Hawai'ian song in 50 years. And he didn't live to see any of it.
Jack Boulware can be contacted at his Web site E-mail comments about "Slice" to Book Editor Oscar Villalon at

Have a great day.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Morning Folks July 9, 2009

Having heard about as much as I can stand about Michael Jackson lately, not that I don't think that he was a talented and important musical figure, because I do think he was that,

but because I am pretty much done with him for now, I thought I'd write about another musician that I only learned of in the past few years...someone who to most of you his name will be new and probably hard to pronounce.

But first, let me just say this: When I was a young teenager, I used to watch old movies all the time. I would rush home from school to watch Boston Movie Time which started at 4:00, I think. They showed some of the great old movies, including those silly lighthearted
Andy Hardy movies, and Cary Grant or Rock Hudson comedies and especially those real romantic tear-jerkers, or purse-snappers that I used to watch with a box of kleenex and a cat on my lap.

Some of my favorites from those days were Splendor in the Grass with
Natalie Wood and Warren Beaty and

Summer Place with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue.

But when I saw East of Eden and then Rebel Without A Cause I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with James Dean.

I had never been more taken by an actor in the movies before.

But I fell hard for James Dean. I don't remember who told me the news, but it was some time after I had discovered him and watched his movies multiple times that I found out he had died in a car crash in 1955 when I was only 4 years old. Nine years before I first saw him. I was so upset. I cried and cried.

Having just become such a fan of this brilliant, handsome, tortured beautiful actor, only to find out that he would never be making any more movies was devastating. I bought a huge poster of James Dean and put it up in my room when I was just 13. I never went to bed without placing a kiss from my hand to his lips. He went to college with me, too. I think I may still have it somewhere.

Well, I suffered a similar disappointment, although not so intense, when I first found out about the artist Israel (Izzie) Kamakawiwo'ole.

Izzie is the musician who plays a ukelele and sings mixing traditional Hawaiian ukelele with jazz, and reggae. you may be familiar with his rendition of the medley of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Wonderful World. The rhythm and gentle vocals are so hauntingly beautiful that I couldn't hear it enough when I heard it first on some TV commercial or maybe a sound track of a show.

I have added a link (above and over to the right) for you to click on and hear some of his music. (You can click on the spot that says "Play full song here" and start the music, minimize that window and you should be back at the blog window which you can read while you are listening to him.)

Izzie was only 38 when he died in 1997, I learned when I Googled him after learning his name on an NPR show a few years ago. It was hard to learn about his death after just having discovered who was responsible for that soft and soothing combination of Jazz and Reggae version of two songs that we all thought would only be known for the Judy and Sachmo recordings.

Looking at his bio info, he was a huge star in Hawaii, and not just figuratively. He weighed over 700 pounds and he died at such a young age due to his size. And so, there is only a limited body of work by him out there. He does a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that I love and another song Bette Midler recorded as In This Life, and Izzie recorded as 'N Dis Life. So, give a listen and see what you think. I bought one of his CDs not long ago. And I might buy another.

Izzie was born in Hawaii, on May 20, 1959. He began his singing career at the age of 11 with his brother Skippy and with a couple of other local musicians later formed the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau and between 1976 and 1982, they made 15 albums and toured all over Hawaii and the mainland. His brother Skippy died in 1982.

Michael Jackson became an instant star when he was also 11 and joined the Jackson 5. (They changed his age to 8 so he would appear cuter. But he was really 11.) In 1982, Michael recorded Thriller, the biggest selling album of all time. that same year, Izzie buried his brother and continued singing with the Sons.

Izzie released his first solo album in 1991 after a few more years with the Makaha Sons. In 1993 he released the solo album Facing Future, featuring What a Wonderful World and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. In 2005 it went platinum and in 2006, the single was released. That's when I discovered him, and like James Dean it was about 9 years after he had died. In August of 2008, the single had been downloaded 1,348,000 times.

In 1997, Iz received from Hawaii's Academy of Recording Arts awards for Male Vocalist of the year, Favorite Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, and Island Contemporary album of the Year. He watched the awards show from his hospital bed.

Leaving behind a wife, his childhood sweetheart, and a daughter, a little after midnight on June 26, 1997, Izzie died from weight related respiratory problems. Michael Jackson died June 25, 2009.

Michael's funeral has been something the likes of which we've never seen before when you consider the endless media coverage these past 12 days, the legal battles, the questions surrounding his death, his bizarre and questionable behavior and his strange and clownlike appearance.

Izzie's funeral was very different, from what I can gather. The body of this well respected singer, composer, instrumentalist, producer and full-blooded Hawaiian icon lay in state at Honolulu's capitol in a coffin made of koa wood. Only two other people in Hawaii's history were honored in this way: a former Governor and a Senator. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific ocean. A bust of Izzie has been placed on the lawn of Waianae City Hall on Oahu. He died a man loved by all who met him, whose music moved people in a quiet and positive way and continues to be an influence in Hawaiian music.

I Googled Michael Jackson and then Izzie to compare the two. There were 234,000,000 hits on the Internet for Jackson. There were 554,000 for Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. And now, there will be 554,001. Izzie was as original in what he did as Michael Jackson was. He was just quieter about it. There was no controversy around his behavior or any question about his morals. But, had he taken better care of himself, he probably would have been with us longer. A contemporary of Jackson's whose life was shorter but whose spirit was immense, who was gone too soon, as well.

I wish I had known more about him while he was with us, maybe seen him in person, and I wish we could have heard more from him. But his music goes on and that's quite a legacy. Please click on the link up on the right and enjoy. Leave it on for a while and you'll hear several of his songs, I think you'll like them. Aloha, Iz.

And Aloha all of you. Have a wonderful Day.



Search This Blog