One way to celebrate your 61st birthday is to be in Hawaii when it occurs. My birthday fell during HawaiiCon, so I was in Hawaii anyway. A few things made this year’s birthday exceptionable beyond being in a subtropical paradise.
Most of our writing group planned to meet at the Mauna Lani Hotel and Bungalows during or after the Con, so we could have our writing group face to face. Three of us were there for the Con, and Margaret and Terry decided to take me out to dinner for my birthday. Margaret lined up a reservation and kept adding people to it that she thought would be around. A few of them weren’t in yet, though. After Writers with Drinks on Thursday, it turned out we had a reservation for seven people, and only four lined up. Fred White, scholar, writer and Terry’s husband, made up the fourth. Marta decided to stay as host of Writers with Drinks. On impulse, I invited Marta’s longtime friend John Hedtke and his wife Marilyn, and they accepted.
Margaret had made a reservation at Tommy Bahama’s. I didn’t know Tommy Bahama’s was a restaurant. I thought they sold board shorts and Hawaiian shirts for men. They do that too; but upstairs from the clothing store was one of their several restaurants. It had a bit of a 1960’s guys’ hangout vibe; maybe “Hawaiian steakhouse” even though that isn’t a thing. I think for instance that about fifty percent of the space was in the bar. We had a table on the terrace and, even though we were in an area filled with artificial light, we could see stars.
The food was good, the conversation great, the ambiance delightful, but what makes my 61st birthday truly memorable was the musical performer at Tommy Bahama’s.
The musical performer that Thursday night was… well, there are two possibilities. Option A is that he was an excellent performer in a school of music so small, obscure and arcane that none of knew it, and we couldn’t recognize the virtuoso in our midst. Option B is that is he wasn’t good. Since two of our party sing in choruses and one plays and writes music, I’m leaning heavily toward Option B.
When we entered Tommy Bahama’s we encountered low lighting and a strange music; sort of electric guitar with a steady thumping beat behind it, that somehow still sounded like elevator music. Terry and I looked at each other. “What song is that?” We couldn’t make it out. Then a male voice joined the instruments. The host came up to lead us to our table.
“I heard the word ‘world’,” Marilyn said. We all had that scrunched-brow, head-tipped posture of someone trying to make out something they could hear but not understand.
“Is that…? No,” I said. “Wait! It’s… No.”
We walked past the performer who had one of those electric things that’s like a guitar neck with no sound box. I want to say it’s a stick but I may be wrong. (It’s possible it was a travel guitar.) At his feet was an electronic percussion box.
As we stepped out onto the terrace Terry said, “Color My World! It’s Color My World.” She nearly shouted it, she was so excited.
And it was, with a tempo that was nothing like the Chicago hit, and a slightly flat warbling vocal delivery.
And just like that, the rest of meal became “Name That Tune,” because, frankly, we often couldn’t. He changed the tempo of every song. Sometimes, a tempo change allows for a different interpretation of a song, and it’s successful. I would say these were not.
We did not spend the evening obsessing over the musical choices… okay, well, yes we did, but we had other conversations too. John loves puns and wordplays. He writes nonfiction, and a large part of his income comes from writing recovery plans for large corporations. He had a goodly share of stories that were hilarious, if horrifying. Marilyn is an administrative law judge for a very large government agency you would have heard of; she, Margaret and I bonded over silly government office stories. Marilyn’s life is pretty interesting. We all talked about books, movies and TV – I irritated Margaret by wanting to talk about Orphan Black with Marilyn. (“You always talk about Orphan Black!” Margaret said. I can’t argue with that.)
And then… “Wait… is that? Is it…?” Marilyn tilted her head.
John did too. “No. No, that’s not.”
“Yes,” Margaret said. “That’s ‘Benny and the Jets.’”
“Benny and the Jets” set to some tempo that… I don’t even know. A march, a salsa? As if I could tell at that point.
I’ve included a video of Benny and the Jets by the original artist below. Note that this is not a fast song. Please note, though, that there is one fast part, a place in the chorus where Elton John sings, “Buh-buh buh-buh Benny and the Jets.” The “buhs” are actually plosives with almost no vowel sound behind them; I could have typed that as, “B-B-B-B Benny and the Jets,” to depict it.
The live-at-Tommy-Bahamas version went something like, “Buh (tick-tick), Buh (tick) Buh(tick) (tick) (tick) Bennnieee and the Jeeeetttttttts.”
We were like, what? The cognitive dissonance was killing us!
You might be thinking, well, was it Hawaiian music? Like, open tuning and so on? No. It was not. I’m familiar with Hawaiian music and this was not it.
A few minutes later Marilyn said, “Did he just get good?” We listened. The music had gotten good. It wasn’t him. He was on a break and it was Sirius Radio.
I want to stress that the company was wonderful, the conversation great and the food delicious, and our server added to the delights of the night. John made a couple of puns at her, and when she got to me I said, “You know the whole night’s going to be like this.”
“I have teenaged boys,” she said. “You can’t scare me.”