Saturday, June 9, 2007

Book Review: IZ


Sometimes, you just have to take a break from your normal routine and do something a bit different. With me, this occasionally takes the form of reading something completely unrelated to anything I'm working on. Most recently, I just finished a book (#2668) about a Hawaiian singer with a fondness for recording shmaltzy old songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings", "Mona Lisa", "Wonderful World", and "Over the Rainbow" with ukulele accompaniment -- which is about as far as you can get from my own musical tastes. Fortunately, his life story is far more interesting to me than his music: here was someone about my own age (our birthdates are less than six months apart), with a lot of charisma and a lot of talent, who died from morbid obesity at age thirty eight, by which point he weighed about eight hundred pounds. He was literally a food addict, and it killed him; the account of his steadily increasing weight, from four hundred to seven hundred to finally eight hundred pounds, makes for painful reading, just as would the account of an alcoholic inexorable decay.
But the music and food addiction are only part of the story; another theme running through the book is his gradual involvement in the 'Hawaiian Sovereignty' movement. I was not aware what a hot topic this is in Hawaii until our visit there last September; essentially, just as many dispersed native american tribes want to reclaim tribal lands and official recognition as a legal entity, so too some Hawaiians want to restore the Kingdom of Hawaii. This is more quixotic than it sounds, since pureblood Hawaiians are almost extinct: I've seen estimates that range from a low of 400 to a high of about 8,000 survivors (out of a total state population of about 1.3 million) -- of whom Kamakawiwo'ole himself was not one, it should be noted; his death certificate (reproduced on page 135) lists him as "Hawaiian/Japanese". Without knowing more about the context, I suspect his music should be ranked with Paul Revere's & the Raiders' "Indian Reservation (Cherokee People)" [1971] as something that helped raised cultural awareness of past injustices -- though in each case it was only part of a wider movement (e.g., in the case of American Indians, Dee Brown's BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, one of those rare books that completely changes the worldview of any reader who pays attention). That wider spectrum ranged from those who wanted past injustices acknowledged (as Clinton did with the "Apology Bill" of 1993, which expressed regret for the US's role in overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy) to those who want to ignore the consequences of the last two centuries and pretend they just never happened. At any rate, an oblique look into an interesting subject I'll have to keep on the look-out for more on it from both sides.


current music: "Mr. Bellamy" by Paul McCartney (from Memory Almost Full)

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