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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In a funk? Try a little good music


By David Shapiro

I've observed many of my birthdays by relating them to the age at which various medical misfortunes befell my poor father.

The year I turned 47 was tough because it was the age that Dad had his heart attack, and I had palpitations in the night until I safely reached my next birthday. At least I was scared enough to quit smoking.

Since that year, I've started every birthday morning with a recitation of my favorite line by the great bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins: "I ain't afraid of dying, it's just that you have to stay dead so long."

This is looking to be another nervous year, as I hit the age my father was when he had the stroke that eventually did him in.

It's been a solemn year already with the passing of colleagues Corky Trinidad and Phil Mayer, as well as my friend and fellow multiple sclerosis sufferer Shelli Austen.

I received a happy birthday e-mail from a friend who recently joined the 60 club herself.

"Can't believe that I'm truly, officially, what we would describe as 'elderly,' " she said.

She imagined the headline that would be written if she was in a traffic accident: "Elderly pedestrian injured ....wasn't able to dodge the humongous SUV despite being remarkably agile for her age."

I finally escaped the funk of advancing age the same way I usually shake off distress by getting my head full of good music. In this case, I went to a retro '60s-style folk concert at Calvary By the Sea Lutheran Church headlined by Jon Osorio, Leon & Malia and Peter Apo.

The program was billed "Love Is But a Song We Sing" and the old anthems like "Blowin' in the Wind," "If I Had a Hammer" and "The Times They Are a Changing" still had legs, as did the performers.

To me, the great shame of my generation is that we let our idealism of the '60s take a wrong turn into the Me Generation.

The concert reminded me that this isn't universally true; many of the people nurtured in the folk culture maintained a lifelong commitment to community activism aimed at bettering the lives of others.

This was true of all of the headline performers in Sunday's concert, and refreshingly, some of the younger musicians and the audience that came to hear them shared the ethic of social consciousness expressed in the music.

But this isn't a column about politics. My personal highlight of the evening wasn't a protest anthem, but Leon & Malia's rousing interpretation of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man."

The song was on their first album recorded in 1970 and became one of the signature tunes at their popular live performances over the next decade. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it.

John Knox had come over from Hilo to cover the Legislature for The Advertiser and had a copy of this new album by our mutual Big Island friends Leon Siu and Malia Elliott.

He invited me and a couple of others from the Star-Bulletin Capitol bureau to listen to it at a beach house he was renting in Waimanalo with Jan TenBruggencate and some fellow young professionals.

"Hurdy Gurdy Man" got my foot tapping that night, and what a blessing to get a chance to hear my friends perform it again 39 years later and to nail it and get the audience whooping just like old times.

There's no better way to leave a funk behind than to let the power of music transport you to a different time and place.