Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Tommy
Definitive Version: Live at Woodstock, 1969
This is a little out of order, but please bear with me: That’s just the way that the songs fall. Jin’s Woodstock bootleg album was one of the cornerstones of my music on our summer vacation to Hawaii in 1984, and even when I hear it now, I tend to catalog the songs based on which side of the record it was on—and thus memories.
This song started Side 3, when the Tommy freight train was building to the See Me, Feel Me climax at (the last song on that side), so that makes me think of our trip to the Big Island, which occurred about two-thirds of the way through our three-week vacation.
Dad and Mr. Lee (Laura’s dad) arranged a side excursion to Hawaii Island from Oahu for me, Jin and Scott. Laura and Mrs. Lee stayed behind as we boarded the prop puddle-jumper for the quick hop. I actually was looking forward to this particular portion of the trip after my purchase of The Hidden Game of Baseball. I’d have almost two uninterrupted hours to dive into this sweeping statistical analysis as though I were studying the Dead Sea Scrolls. To each his own theology.
Perhaps it’s changed in the near 30 years since I’ve been there—I would assume that it has—but in 1984, Hawaii couldn’t have been more different from Oahu with the exception of the people, the trees and the flowers. But where everything was built up and bustling in Oahu, it was sparse and quiet in Hawaii—starting with the Hilo airport, which if I remember correctly, you couldn’t even reach unless you flew to Honolulu first. That for sure has changed.
It also seemed much cooler and rainier on Hawaii. Whereas every day on Oahu never dropped below 75, and any cloud cover usually was long gone by mid-morning, on Hawaii, it was often foggy and much cooler—even long pants weather during the day.
We had a rental car, and our first destination was the Pohakuloa campgrounds in Mauna Kea state park, which I believe is now closed. This put us at the base of Mauna Kea with Mauna Loa in the distance past a seemingly endless and other worldly lava field. Mr. Lee was particularly excited about our cabin at the state park and how great it was going to be. He talked at length about how the governor, he said—meaning a reference in a travel brochure—made sure it would be great and that the state had spared no expense to make it so.
When we arrived we saw that no expense indeed had been spared. There was no heat—with temperatures that dropped into the 40s at night (we were well above sea level here). The windows had no curtains. Mr. Lee tacked up newspaper in the bathroom, specifically so Jin had a little privacy—not that that would’ve mattered, because we were the only saps in the campground and therefore miles around.
Then there were the beds, which were beds in the sense that prison beds are “beds”—nothing more than a pad over the wire. I took a running dive onto my bed with a hearty “ahhhh” … only to met by a solid wood frame that had no give and knocked some of the breath out of me to overexaggerated grunts and groans. My next words became family lore: “Nice slab.” From then on, Pohakuloa was referred to by Jin or Scott—and still is, incidentally—as The Home of the Slab.
Mr. Lee was totally embarrassed by this turn of events and promised to contact the governor when he got back to Oahu, but funky conditions always make for the best stories and memories, and so it was true on this trip. For example, we spent more time later in a much nicer rental cottage in Kalapana near to Kilauea volcano, and I have absolutely no memory of it other than I know we stayed there and that it was much nicer. For example, my bed wasn’t a slab of concrete.
The rest of the trip was spent exploring the south shore of Hawaii, including the fabled black-sand beach at Kalapana, which, of course, has been wiped from the face of the Earth by a subsequent eruption of Kilauea.
At the time, Kilauea was dormant, so dormant in fact that you could hike across the crater, or at least an older part of it—also now history. That hike remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I wasn’t afraid that all of a sudden the volcano might erupt—and, of course, there wasn’t anything I could do about it if it had—but I was very aware of the awesome power beneath my feet with every step.
Steam billowed here and there where vents had formed in the ground, and the rock was almost totally devoid of life. Trees that once had stood (or lay) nearby were stripped of bark and ghostly white, as if someone had just stuck a knobby pole into the earth. But the telltale of the volcano’s dormancy was that in a few places at the craters edges, vegetation began to spring anew, also in the black cracks of broken lava. Life goes on.
I remember that I was eager to get back to Oahu and the staples of beach and surf, but Hawaii Island was a singular experience, and it marked a clear division in the vacation. Afterward, although it was still great, the memories seem to blend together: Everything just seemed like more of the same.