Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, and other Jewish comics and thinkers discuss the provocative question of whether any topic – including the Holocaust – should be off-limits in comedy.
Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, and other Jewish comics and thinkers discuss the provocative question of whether any topic – including the Holocaust – should be off-limits in comedy.
This animated special from StoryCorps celebrates the transformative power of listening, featuring six stories from 10 years of the innovative oral history project, where everyday people sit down together to share memories and tackle life’s important questions.
Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.
Do you think music is more than just fun?
Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.
It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.
Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.
Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.
I took piano lessons when I was six.
Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?
Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …
Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.
But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?
I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.
Then you learned other songs.
And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.
By yourself, or with a teacher?
No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.
You were on the piano?
Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.
And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.
You were just picking it up as you went.
Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.
And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?
Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.
And it was nighttime.
And it was nighttime.
Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.
And you gave them reason to.
A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.
And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.
How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?
Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do. Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.
What schools did you go to?
I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.
You had a band director who is legendary.
Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.
How do you think he did it?
I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.
While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.
Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?
I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t. And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.
Were you already getting paid to play?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.
And you went to college right after that, here.
Not right after, but yeah, I did.
Oh; so you graduated from high school.
Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.
And didn’t graduate.
‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.
How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?
With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.
And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?
Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.
You played with some biggies, fairly early on.
No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.
When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?
Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.
And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?
Yes, yes; for about two years.
How did you get along with Prince?
He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.
Now, did that tour lead to anything?
Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.
And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?
It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.
You had to be really mindful.
Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.
So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
–how he wanted.
Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.
And he expected you to.
Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know. That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.
Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.
So, you were good enough to get in the band.
And once you were there, you had to up your game.
Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.
After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.
Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.
You sound so casual when you say that.
Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.
Aren’t you the musical director as well now?
Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.
How much of the year do you go on tours?
With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.
Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?
No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.
Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?
Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.
Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?
With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable. That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know. It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.
Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.
What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?
Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.
And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?
The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.
That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?
Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die. And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.
Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?
I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.
And how long do you see that going on?
Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.
Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.
For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawai‘i.org.
Roland Cazimero was just a boy from Kalihi before he became a Hawaiian music legend. He and his younger brother Robert, as The Brothers Cazimero, played an essential role in the evolution of modern Hawaiian music. However, Roland’s success was not without consequences, and he fell victim to many of the temptations that accompany fame. Roland tells how faith, family and the support of his wife, Lauwa‘e, helped him heal.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 26, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 30, at 4:00 pm.
[SINGING] At home in the islands, at home in the middle of the sea.
Have you told Robert that you don’t think Brothers Cazimero will ever play again?
No, I haven’t told him. I think he knows. I tell him that I’m very proud of him doing what he’s doing, and that I want him to continue. I miss playing with him a lot. I would love to play with him again, if possible.
Roland Cazimero, together with his brother Robert, are the very definition of contemporary Hawaiian music. While Robert continues to perform, Roland’s life journey has taken him in a different direction. Roland Cazimero, next, on Long Story Short.
Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Roland Cazimero was hospitalized after falling ill during a May Day performance on Maui in 2014. Since then, Roland’s health problems have prevented the Brothers Cazimero from continuing their highly successful forty-year run. Today, this composer, singer, master guitarist, and self-described bradda from Kalihi, remembers how it all started, playing in his parents’ band.
Mama had a group called Betty and Her Leo Aloha, which was Betty and her Voices of Love. Leo, voices; aloha, love. I gotta tell you. Betty and Her Leo Aloha; I would go with my dad and we would set up for the gigs, you know. And we’d go down to like, the Pearl Harbor substation or destroyer, or wherever the place we’re gonna play. People, you know: Hi, Leo; Hi, Leo. My dad go, Hi! You know, like that.
And moving around. I’m going—
–What the hell? Who’s Leo? You know. And finally, one day, I was looking at a poster, and it said Betty and Her Leo Aloha. And I went, Oh, my god; Betty and Leo, and our last name is Aloha.
My mom had a couple of bands. Like, my Auntie Lovey played piano, this other lady, Rose Kamauna played piano after her. Daddy Camacho; all these different players that would come to the house, and every Tuesday night they would have rehearsals, or Thursday, depending. And by the time we were six years old, we would start remembering the songs. And Robert and I always had good ears. So, we would learn the melodies. My sister Tootsie, we made her sing the lead, ‘cause she wasn’t good at parts. And Robert and I would fill in, depending on what key it was in, and who would take the second part, who would take the third.
No formal training?
Well, Robert had piano lessons. He was my Mama and Daddy’s pride and joy, you know. My dad would always say, Robert, keep playing the piano, I’ll buy you your own college.
You know. He never said that to me, ever.
Now, why not?
Um … kolohe.
I was very kolohe.
So, you had the talent, but you didn’t have the discipline. Or the desire?
I don’t know. But Robert played piano. And he was playing the song The Nearness of You in F. And my dad pulled out the bass and taught me how to play The Nearness of You in the Key of F. And he taught me the basics. I was about seven years old, I guess.
With a bass?
And I played bass; yeah.
I wish I had a picture of that.
Oh; it was funny. Because when I started playing with my mom, I would sit on a high stool with a big jacket, a long jacket, so it looked like I’m a big guy. And play at the back of the stage. And after we take a break, I would have to go outside in the car, ‘cause I wasn’t allowed to stay in the bar. My dad was dating the female bass player at the time, and my mom got mad and fired her. And I got drafted.
And you started with the bass, which is later what Robert played when you played with him.
When I became part of the Sunday Manoa, I taught myself how to play guitar. And then, when Robert and I played with Peter, I taught Robert how to play bass. When my mom sang, you know, she loved to drink, love her inu. And she drank scotch, which became my drink. But I would sing the high parts for her. That’s why when you listen to The Brothers Caz, you hear the high part? That’s because I sang behind Mama. Whatever song she sang, I always doubled her part.
So, before you learned to do Hawaiian falsetto, you were singing a woman’s part?
Because Mama needed the help. We played at all their parties, you know. And I even got to go with my mom on the Lurline, you know. We’d get on a tugboat, the Mikioi, and take us out and we’d get onboard and ride in. And you know, along with all the old-timers, Auntie Flossie, all these wonderful ladies, you know. And they took Robert and I under their arms. Come babe; baby, baby come, come. You know. You make stink ear, ‘cause Auntie Flossie not too good today; okay?
You make stink ear?
Yeah; make stink ear.
Auntie Flossie not quite singing that good today. And you know, we would laugh with her, but whatever they wanted, you know.
Your dad worked at Pearl Harbor Public Works?
Yeah, the Public Works Center. My dad, you know, I gotta thank my dad because one day, I was sick, and he says to me, Boy, are you sick? And I said, Oh, yes, Dad. And I was; I said, Oh, yes, Dad, I’m really sick, Dad. He goes, Mm, are you dead? I went, No, Dad, I’m not dead. He goes, Okay, go change your clothes, get in the car, we going work.
That’s a life lesson.
That stayed with me all my life. Am I dead? No. Get up, go to work.
Tell us where you grew up, and who were your siblings? What was life like in the home, besides the entertainment part?
My dad and mom were married before. My dad had married a Spencer woman, and then, they had four. My mom married a Heirakuji man; they had four. And then, they got together and had the last four, which was my brother Rodney, Robert, my sister Tootsie, and I. When they came here, they lived in the Pali Hotel.
Where were they from?
Daddy was the luna for the sugarcane company.
In Kohala; okay.
And Mama was from Kohala.
That’s right; the Cazimeros are from Kohala.
Yeah. And then, eventually, they moved to Kalihi, where we lived at Palena Street, P Street.
With all the kids?
At one time, yeah.
That’s twelve kids.
You know, that wasn’t the, the heavy part. The heavy part was during football season. One would come home crying, one would come home happy.
Yeah. The rest of ‘em could give a rip. You know. But next week, another sister would be crying, another brother would be, you know, cheering.
And you were the baby; you’re even younger than your twin, right?
Yeah, I was the baby. And eventually, came to the point where, a force to be scared of. ‘Cause you know, when we started having family meetings, you know, if I didn’t think things were right, I’d go straight to my number one brother and tell him where I stood about that, and what I thought about it, and that I wanted to bring it up at the meetings, and you know, whether he would back me up or not.
So, you needed permission to speak.
Well, in a sense. But you know, I didn’t want to say anything and get shot down. I was bullied a lot. And so, I learned to fight.
Bullied by …
Classmates. You know, ‘cause I was kind of skinny and runty. I got bust up. You know. And then, I started lifting weights, and then I started taking martial arts, some. And the best thing I did for myself was learning how to punch stone walls.
Literally. You know, just bleeding. But every day, go out there and punch stone walls. And knowing that if I hit you, you won’t get up.
And so, I stopped being bullied.
After Roland Cazimero graduated from Kamehameha Schools, he and his brother Robert joined Peter Moon’s band, The Sunday Manoa. In 1969, this trio released Guava Jam, which sparked the beginning of a new movement in Hawaiian music.
When we joined Peter, it was a given, you know, that Peter wanted to do Hawaiian music, and so did Robert and I. And the rest is history.
You and Robert, and others woke up and—well, Peter Moon was one—woke up Hawaii. You were at the vanguard of the Hawaiian renaissance.
I still can’t spell that.
But you know you were there. How did all of that happen? You know, Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian language, all of a sudden became something to be proud of. Because truth be told, for years, there wasn’t a lot of pride on the part of Hawaiians because of what had happened in history.
Yeah. We didn’t know. We didn’t know. We were having fun, you know. We just played music. You know, Robert and I had enough repertoire that when Peter came up with an intro or something, we had the music to fit in there.
And you knew Hawaiian music. You knew mostly contemporary Hawaiian music; right?
Well, we knew both.
Both; you knew traditional and contemporary. And then, you put your own spin on contemporary Hawaiian music, with Guava Jam.
That wonderful, wonderful recording.
And it was a wonderful time. So, you know, how did it grow? We don’t know. It just kept growing. We just kept: Well, let’s do another album. And people gravitated to the stuff we were doing.
You mentioned how sometimes you, Peter, Robert, you all played off each other, and magic happened. Music is an art, and the eye is in the beholder. So, I’m sure it must have happened the other way too, where maybe one had a great idea, and somebody else didn’t like that way of doing it.
I mean, you guys must have bumped up against each other, too; right?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
How was that? Because it’s kind of personal when someone doesn’t like your art.
Usually, they didn’t like me.
Really? The others too, would tend to agree with each other?
Too rock and roll.
Oh, too rock and roll; got it. ‘Cause Jimi Hendrix is your hero, always.
All Along the Watchtower, you know.
And I love that. You know, I love that, eeee. You know.
Always Jimi for you.
Yeah. And you know, sometimes, my suggestions or what I wanted to use or do at the time, it didn’t sell with them. But, you know, I didn’t care. I didn’t care. You know, I didn’t make a big thing about it. I said, Oh, okay, that’s fine. And then, whatever they brought up, I’d make sure that I put my flavor in there.
Roland Cazimero and his brother Robert formed their own band in 1974, The Brothers Cazimero. They played together for so long that they became an institution, performing for years at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and at the Waikiki Shell on May Day. When The Brothers weren’t performing or producing albums together, Roland was a solo artist. He recorded several albums, each with its own cultural inspiration.
That is such a magical album you did; Pele. How does it begin in your head? I mean, do you hear the music in your head before you ever play it?
In Pele, I heard a great canoe came in from the universe, carrying a woman called Pele. A big canoe; a canoe so huge. You know. And I see it coming in from the cosmos, with Kaumualiʻi standing there. And what you see is Earth … coming in from Kuahelani to Earth, bringing Pele carrying an egg in her bosom. Hiʻiaka i ka poli o Pele; Hiʻiaka in the bosom of Pele. You know. And so, I hear the thunderous . . .
I am ruler of this land, I rule with a strong hand. I am Pele. I am Pele. I am Pele. Pele. I am here to stay. I’m your nows and yesterdays.
So, you visualize, and then you hear it.
Am everything you see.
Lot of times, I just write the words; they just come.
While Roland Cazimero was busy pushing the envelope of Hawaiian music, garnering recognition and awards for his work, his personal life was a different story. It was careening out of control.
You were a bad boy?
A player. Sometimes your lust … that’s the word I want to use, your lust overrides you, to the point where, you know, my lust took me down to the point of like, I didn’t care.
Didn’t care about what?
About what I was doing, with who I was doing it with, and where I was going, if at all. Whether it was hurting me or not, I didn’t care. I was in such lust that, you know, I’d fight the person to tell me that, You shouldn’t be there. But I didn’t care. You know. But one day, I took a good look at my two twins. You know. And when they said, Dad, Dad, you know, I knew it was time to stop. And at that point … people that I felt very close to me were not around. You know, I was there for them, I helped them out, I did whatever I could, you know, stood up for them, whatever. And when I needed them to stand up for me, they were gone. You know, alone; alone. You know, when you’re alone, what’s the use of being here? What’s the use of being a part of all this? It means nothing.
And you’re saying you were alone, even though you had all kinds of admiring audiences, and professional respect, but you felt alone.
Alone. And you know, I was ready to just end it all, commit suicide. You know, ‘cause there was nothing for me to stick around for. At that point, I was so alone, I didn’t even think about my own children. And you know, when you’re at that point in your life, you’ll just step off the edge, or whatever. A good friend of mine, John, I heard him in my head. If you ever need me, Boz, call me. He and I would go to the mountains, you know, in his jeep. And I did; I called him. And he came within five minutes, and he took my hand, and he says, Pray with me, and ask the Lord to forgive you of all your sins. And I did. You know, he said, Sinners pray with me. And it was just like a whole lot was lifted off my soul, off my body, and it looked like a good day again. You know. And I hated Him; I hated the Lord, because he took my good friend away from me. We were close pals, smoking pals, hit the mountains and, you know. But when I was at the lowest point in my life, I believe it was like he was right here in my heart and in my head. Call me, Boz; call me. And I did. And when he left that day, I said to him, So what, you going take me to the ocean tomorrow and baptize me? He goes, See, you got the program already.
And that’s what happened?
Yup. He took me to Pokai Bay. We drove all the way down to the country, and blessed me. And I’ve never looked back. It was a good time. All of that was a good time. I don’t say I regret it, ‘cause I don’t. You know, it was part of me learning and part of my writing. And I’m glad that time is pau. You know.
Why are you glad it’s pau?
Because I have my wife. You know.
You’ve had a lot of health problems in the last two and a half years. And you’ve been right there by his side. It must be really challenging for both of you.
Yes, it is.
I went from zero doctors, to eight. And my doctors kept telling me that if I kept up this stressful life I was living, I would be dead by the end of the year. And so, they made me change my diet. They kept changing my medicines.
So, what’s your outlook? You know, you haven’t played music, except as on a drop-in basis, I think.
Not even. So, no music since you left the stage on May Day, 2014?
I play funerals. You know, I’m still playing funerals. I go in, and I do a few songs. I kinda developed carpal tunnel. So, I can’t squeeze, you know, although, I hope to get better.
So, carpal tunnel. Is it your heart?
ROLAND: Yeah; I have … what?
LAUAE: Congestive heart.
ROLAND: Diabetes, you know.
LAUAE: All of the above.
ROLAND: All of the above. You know.
And they all act on each other, I’m sure.
LAUAE: Yeah. They all interact.
Your public image is, you’re the bantering, smart aleck, funny half of the The Brothers Cazimero.
And you were just giving your brother a hard time, and it was super-funny.
I knew what song was coming up, so I’d start hitting it; I’d start hitting it. And then, you know, as soon as I knew he was gonna start singing, I start strumming. You learn that after years of playing. You know, I love playing with my brother. I told him once, I don’t have to play with you, I love playing with you. But if you want to go on and go do your halau, go right ahead, because I don’t need you, Robert. I can go build a band. And I have. You know, I can go work with this, I can do this. But I love playing with you. I don’t get that kick with anybody else in the world, that I do with you.
But, you know, I’m still writing, I’m still in the recording business. I have a lot of things that I want to record.
But you know that your main concern has to be your health; right? That’s your real business right now.
Yeah. I have to take care of myself, and still record. You know. Otherwise, I’ll just go back into the same spin. And I don’t like that spin. I’ve been there long enough, you know, so I think the only thing I want to spin is a record or something like that. But for spinning in my life all the way to the cosmos and goodbye. You know. No; the Lord has better things for me to do.
Mahalo to Roland Cazimero for your tremendous musical achievements. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.
For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.
Are you still a rebel, though? ‘Cause bad boy and rebel are not necessarily the same thing.
I’m still a rebel. You know. I stand for Hawaiʻi. I stand for everybody to be treated right. But I put away the bad boy that hung with the bad people. You know. Lot of people don’t know that about me, but I did hang around with the hoodlums. And I don’t regret it, because you know, there was a camaraderie there that you can’t put aside, you know. At times when you needed it, you know, they’d come next to you, and they stand up with you. And if need be, they’d back you up. You know. In the world of entertainment, you know, I always tell people, John DeMello took care of all the high makamakas, you know, Robert and Ala take care of the middle ground and some of the high makamakas. And I hung out with the hoodlums. ‘Cause you know, you gotta respect them, too.
The late Tommy Kono inspired generations of body builders, including one of the world’s biggest movie stars. This film tells the inspirational story of the most decorated American in the history of weightlifting. A Sacramento, CA native, Tommy won two Olympic gold medals, an Olympic silver medal, and six World Championship titles between 1952 and 1960.
Shep Gordon’s career as a talent manager may have started by chance, but his knack for creatively developing and promoting his client’s signature image has earned him a reputation distinctly his own. Throughout his career, Gordon has cultivated close relationships with rock stars, Hollywood actors and culinary legends founded on trust and compassion. However, navigating the often tragic world of fame took a toll. He found solace on Maui, where he has spent the past 40 years embracing the culture and helping to shape Hawai‘i’s unique fusion cuisine.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 19, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 23, at 4:00 pm.
I read about Colonel Parker, who managed Elvis Presley, coming to Hawaii and renting some beach houses in some story. A journalist had done a story. And I had a good friend here, Uncle Tom Moffatt, who I called and said, Do you know those houses? And he said, Oh, yeah, I rented it for him ‘cause I did the show. So, it was at a time when I was smoking two or three packs of cigarettes a day, and I had a fairly large office, and I offered anyone who wanted in my office to quit smoking to come with me to Hawaii. And I rented on Kahala Beach the houses that the Colonel had rented. And … we all landed, we threw our cigarettes out the window. I’m sorry to say, we weren’t that environmentally conscious at the time. And … I ran into the wrong crowd in Honolulu. It was like being back in Hollywood; it was all the same, for me, from my view. I ended up going to the Imperial Hotel every night to a dive bar in the bottom room where … who knows what was going on. And I told Tom; I said, You know, I want to try another island. And he had, I think, Kalapana playing in Maui. And in those days, it was a hydrofoil. So, I said, Can I come? And he said, Sure, I’ll let you sell tee-shirts. So, him and his son Troy and I went over to sell tee-shirts. Hydrofoil landed in Maalaea Harbor, I put one foot on the dock, and I turned around to Uncle Tom and Joe Gannon, who has also ended up living on Maui and owns Hailiimaile General Store and Joe’s Bar & Grill, and I said, I’m living here the rest of my life, I just found my home.
Shep Gordon has called Maui home since landing in 1974. That didn’t keep him from becoming one of the best-known names in Hollywood as a successful talent manager, film agent, and producer. Shep Gordon, next, on Long Story Short.
Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Shep Gordon built his career on managing legendary music artists, while becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful agents. Throughout his career, he has built a reputation as being friendly and compassionate, qualities that he attributes to his father and the unusual circumstances he endured at home, growing up in the 1940s and 50s. At the time, he thought it seemed normal, until he wrote his memoir, They Call Me Supermensch, based on a documentary film that was made about his life. Writing this book opened the door to a deeper understanding of his parents.
I started in Queens, New York, which was a suburb of Manhattan. And it was an immigrant town, mostly Eastern European, lot of Jewish, lot of Italian, some Latino. And for the most part … very little English spoken. You’d hear Italian on the streets, you’d hear Yiddish, you’d hear Russian, languages that I didn’t quite understand. And then, we moved from there in the first wave of suburbia. It was a moment in time; it was a place called Levittown. It was the first real middleclass suburban community built outside of New York City. And it set the model for a lot of communities, where people who had been used to living in apartments were starting, normally first generation, sons and daughters of immigrants who were in the middleclass and starting to make some money, and could move their families to a place that had a backyard, good schools, and could start to take advantage of everything America had to give.
Did your family feel like they were really moving ahead?
Oh; it was an amazing time. Really an amazing time. I mean, it’s all the things that you hear about America and about the dream of America, and what America can do. This was the embodiment of that. These were proud people who were so happy that they were in America, taking advantage of what America could give you. And for most families, it was their first home, it was their first car. It was the first time that a kid took a bus to school instead of walked.
Your dad was a bookkeeper who didn’t speak much.
Your mom was a rigid woman who allowed a dog to attacked you to have the run of the house.
Uh-huh. I think, you know, in the Jewish community, remembering where they came from, remembering their heritage; these were all people who were affected by the Holocaust. So, things were very black and white. Even though my parents weren’t affected, their parents were. Then they had a depression. So, these were people who had to live through serious consequences, their actions had serious consequences. And I think she just viewed the world differently. And I know a lot of my friends who were Jewish, it wasn’t dissimilar, that their mothers were very strict, you lived in their vision of life, or you didn’t really exist, almost. I never thought that she hated me. It was her path. And I had a brother who ended up being a veterinarian, who loved animals, and wanted to be a vet, and had a dog that I couldn’t get along with. And … too bad.
And you lived mostly in your bedroom, because the dog was running around.
Yeah; yeah. Which in some ways ended up, I think, being a huge advantage to my life. At least, I tend to make it that way. I was scared to death to leave the room, ‘cause the dog would bite me. So, I spent a lot of time alone. I had to entertain myself, I had to be comfortable with myself, and I had to create my own world that I could live in. And that’s really, I think, how I ended up making my living, which is creating a world. That’s what I did for my artists.
Did you listen to music?
I didn’t really listen to music.
You didn’t have digital devices at that time.
I didn’t have a TV. No; it was a lot of reading. And a lot of being in my brain to fantasize. And there wasn’t that much time at home. I’d go to school, and then I’d play basketball ‘til it was dark. And then, I’d come home.
Did you eat with your family?
Very rarely. Just ‘cause I was scared of the dog getting loose.
What about your dad; what did he have to say?
My dad was the provider for the family. And he was always very compassionate with me; lot of love. And I would say to him once in a while, Why would you let Mom do this? Why would you pick a dog over me for freedom in the house? And he would say, Would you like me to leave, and leave you alone? I’m not gonna do that unless you want me to. So, we just move on, make it work. I don’t want to paint a picture of depression, ‘cause it wasn’t. It just was the way it was. I didn’t know any other life. This was the life I knew, and I didn’t really think about it until after I left home. And I always said, you know, my first day of college was the first day of my life. Because then, I could live my life in a free way.
I know you’ve described your dad as compassionate. And then, when it came to the way you did business later, you talked about a compassionate form of doing business.
Is that because of your dad?
I think so. When I was writing the book, I had never really thought about it. I had always thought that I’d lived in reaction against my mother. And when I wrote the book, I realized that, in fact, my whole life was really following in my father’s footsteps.
How was he compassionate?
He stayed; took care of us. Never heard him say a bad word about anybody. Helped anybody he could. I would hear stories from his friends when I’d meet them about who he was as a young man. Just was always kind to everybody, always had a good word. Just very compassionate in a very simple way; not in a big way. But the choices he made at every turn were always compassionate.
When Shep Gordon left home for college, he never looked back. He chose the life path that took him directly to the heart of the 1960s American Cultural Revolution.
So, you would go from a pretty regimented, strict lifestyle to pretty much hedonism.
Oh, completely; Animal House.
What was that transition like? You finished, you went to college.
Yeah. College is where I really started to develop a personality. I went to the University of Buffalo, and started to have social interaction with people, started to find a path and way that I could support myself. Started to realize what my skills were and weren’t, and started to find a way to get through life.
And I turns out, you had a lot of social skills, but they hadn’t really been cultivated in your childhood.
I think maybe part of it was that I didn’t have a social life as a child, so I tried so hard to get one and was so excited by it. And didn’t bring maybe the selfishness that develops if it’s just part of your life. So, I was so grateful, and worked very hard to try and be included. Which showed itself in service.
And you’re a product of the time, which meant sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.
Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. And some social consciousness. You know, it was the Vietnam days, so I participated in burning draft cards in ROTC buildings, and doing all those things. And then, Kennedy died, which was a very powerful moment. I remember I was a freshman at the University of Buffalo.
Did you feel your future was limitless? Did you have that sense of, this is a new game, and I can be anything I want to be?
Absolutely. Yeah. I think that period in American history was an amazing time period. Not only you could be what you wanted to be, but you could say what you wanted to say, you could act out your feelings. I lived during the generation where if we didn’t like something, we protested against it, we took action. I went to New School for Social Research, and dropped out after a few months. But I went for sociology. And at The New School, a recruiter came from the probation department in California, and I was a sociology major, which qualified me. I had my bachelor in sociology, which qualified me for the job. And I always wanted to go to California; I was a Hippie. And there was that song, Wear flowers in your hair in San Francisco. I said, That’s gonna be me.
Although, it seems like an odd choice for a Hippie to be a probation officer.
It fit into being on a white horse, saving the day. Social liberal. It was the same thread for me as burning your draft card. And in those days, Reagan was the governor of California, and had a reputation for being very oppressive to Hippies. Which I was one of. And I thought I would go out, you know, on my white horse, save the kids in the probation department.
But you had a tough time in that job, and it didn’t last.
It didn’t quite work. Yeah.
And then came an accidental choice of a place to stay on the road that changed your life.
Luckiest day of my life. I had about three or four hundred dollars left in my pocket, and I drove into Hollywood. And there was a vacancy sign at a motel, and I checked in. It was late at night. And in those days, I lived a drug-induced life at many times. So, I took a drug at that time, and sitting out on my balcony of this little room, thinking about how horrible my life is, and oh, my god, I just got beat up in the probation department. And I heard someone screaming down at the pool, what sounded to me like screaming. And I get down there, and I separate the two people. And the girl punches me in the mouth. And they were making love. And goes crazy, you know, like, Get outa here, who do you think you are? And I go back up and now, I know my life is ruined. I’ve been beat up twice the first day in LA. And when I went down to the pool in the morning, the girl turned out to be Janis Joplin.
She was sitting around the pool.
This amazing collection of like, Mount Rushmore rock stars. There was Jimi Hendrix, the Chambers Brothers. During the course of the next few days, Jim Morrison showed up, Bob Dylan’s road manager, Credence Clearwater Revival.
So, this was a hangout for the rock set.
This was a hangout. It ended up being where Janis actually died a couple of years later. And I started selling drugs, which was the only way I could support myself. Not my proudest moment, but it’s what I did. And one day, Jimi Hendrix said—who was customer. Thank you, Jimi. And he said, What else do you do for a living? And I said, Well, you know, I don’t really know what I’m gonna do. And he said, Well, you know, if the police come and ask where you got the money to pay the rent, what are you gonna tell ‘em? And I said, You know, where I come from, the police don’t ask. And he said, Where I come from, if you wear a new watch, you’d better be able to tell the police where you got the watch. And he said, Are you Jewish? And I said, Yes. And he said, You should be a manager. I said, Okay, who do I manage? And Alice Cooper was living in the Chambers Brothers’ basement at the time. He wasn’t called Alice Cooper; he was called the Nazz. And they said, I think I know this guy. So, Alice tells the story of Jimi coming in and saying, I found a Jew to manage you. And forty-three years later, I’m still managing him.
Shep Gordon’s success with Alice Cooper opened new doors for him. His genius for understanding how to market and promote his clients led them to superstardom. But that wasn’t always a good thing for either him, or the people he was managing.
You know, you were a manager, which by definition means you were, you know, watching out for things. But during this time, you were drugging and drinking, and had long nights with sex with strangers.
How did you manage?
Probably would have been much more effective if I hadn’t been. So, I did as well as I could do, given my lifestyle. But I didn’t really have a personal life. So, this was my life. And parts of it were attractive to artists. I was different than other managers. I sort of lived in their genre more than other managers did. I always thought that my job was to try and understand what the connection was between an artist and his audience. And if I could understand that connection, then to try and create a historical moment that really reinforced that connection. In Alice’s case, the common thread of his audience was, parents hated Alice. These were kids going through a period of rebellion, which every kid goes through. We wanted Alice to be that focal point of rebellion, to be that badge. The parents saying, You can’t go to the Alice concert, and the kid going, I’m going, he’s my favorite artist.
And everything the others thought was reprehensible and horrible was wonderful business.
Oh; my god. It was the greatest thing for us.
You once said you probably knew more celebrities than celebrities do.
Yeah. I was very, very lucky that way. I think part of me is a groupie, so I get attracted to the celebrities.
And yet, you came to a place where you saw that the fame that you created was toxic.
Yeah, yeah; very obvious. It became very obvious, very fast. It was a strange crossroad to be in. I had gotten to the point where I was very successful at what I did, it was giving me an amazing lifestyle, it was giving me a life that I had never even dreamed I could approach. You know, I was meeting presidents, I was driving in Rolls Royces. So, to give it up was something I really didn’t want to do. At the same time, I became aware that the better the job I did, or the bigger the celebrity was that I knew, the harder they fell. And it was very tough. The way that I dealt with it was to try and be honest. So, I would tell my clients when they’d come in, and all of them thought I was crazy, they’d all laugh, never had one who took it serious. But I would tell them; I would say, You know, if I do my job perfectly, I could kill you. Luckily for you, I’m probably not gonna be perfect, but I’m really good, so you’re gonna get maimed.
And that was all about fame?
All about fame. And they all got maimed.
So, there’s nobody that you represented who could handle the fame and the attention.
You know, I don’t want to paint this dark picture of suicidal, ‘cause I don’t mean that. You know. But you lose your life with fame. It’s so hard to stay on your path. There’s so many things pulling you, and celebrity becomes so important. It takes you off your journey. And it’s very hard to stay on your journey and stay positive, and stay happy. You start to dehumanize yourself for your career. And those are tough. There’s nobody who really survives. You learn how to adjust to it, but it takes you off your path. You know, for some, it’s drugs and liquor, which lead to, you know, horrible stuff. For some, it’s isolation. And the higher it gets, the harder it is. You know, I watch Alice, who I think has handled it as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, and he’s just found a way to get through it, but he’s nice to everyone.
But he’s had a serious drinking problem.
Oh, there’s nobody who hasn’t hit the wall, that I know.
Who’s famous, in your experience.
Yeah. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a crisis moment. For Alice, it was rehab, which didn’t work, and then it was losing everything. And usually, it is losing everything.
Shep Gordon’s life started to change when he met a famous French chef named Roger Verge. Shep’s new interest in food and cooking gave him the idea of creating Celebrity Television Chefs, and his new chef clients started becoming stars as national interest in cooking shows took off. In the meantime, Shep Gordon’s chef friends on Maui were not getting any of the benefits of the new culinary trends.
You’re credited with inventing the celebrity chef concept.
That’s my proudest moment, probably. I had started representing chefs, and signed most of the great chefs in the world, ‘cause no one else did it.
Did you think of, Bam!, Emeril Lagasse?
We worked a lot together. Yeah; yeah. The chefs weren’t friends. I lived in Maui, so I knew the guys, but they were acquaintances. The Hawaiian chefs were friends. Mark Gelman was one of my best friends, Peter Merriman was a great friend, Roy Yamaguchi. These are the guys that I cooked with, laughed with, you know, gloated about how lucky we were to be in Hawaii. And I knew, although no one ever busted me, here I was representing all these great chefs, but yet having dinner at my house for the local chefs, and I wasn’t representing any of them. And the question, How come not us? … although never said, permeated the room. And I realized I had to try and do something.
That’s just a Hawaii thing. It’s not spoken, but it’s there.
But it’s there; yeah. And they were all so gracious; nobody ever even made a sarcastic comment about it.
Yeah; there’s not a feeling of entitlement.
Yeah; at all.
But there’s a fairness question.
Exactly. And I felt it very strongly. So, I spent a little time in my Jacuzzi, and you know, my aloneness thinking, How do I do something that isn’t just a show? What can I do that can really help ‘em? Three of the chefs that I represented started movements. Mr. Verge had started nouveau cuisine, which was the first real culinary movement. And Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande had started Southwest cuisine. And these were culinary waves that went across the world. So, I called up the guys and I said, Listen, I want to try and do something with you. I have this idea that maybe we can start a movement. I don’t know what it is, but I think Mr. Verge will come in, I think Dean will come in, and they’ll tell us how they started a movement, and maybe we can figure out how to do something with all of you, and the weight of everybody. And they came and lectured, and out of it came Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which was pretty phenomenal.
Wow. So, do you spend a lot of time at restaurants on Maui today?
Yeah; oh, yeah. I love going to restaurants. I think one of the things to me is so exciting, is to see this new generation of chefs who were trained on Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.
You have a very nice home to this day.
I’m in the same house. Yeah; yeah. And I love it more every day. And my blood pressure on Maui is twenty-five, thirty points lower than it is on the mainland.
And you’ve done some hard living.
I’ve done some hard living.
And you’re healthy?
I am; yeah. Thank you, doctors.
And thank you, Maui.
And thank you, Maui.
Musician manager, Hollywood agent, and culinary enthusiast, Shep Gordon has done it all, while living on Maui. Mahalo to Shep Gordon of Kihei, Maui for sharing your life stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.
For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.
When you look back at a very successful life in many ways, do you have regrets?
Yeah; I would have liked to have my own children. I wish I had maybe spent more time on myself. I think when I look back at my business career, I think there are things that I would do differently. I never had contracts with any of my artists, which meant my revenue stopped when I stopped working with them. Which I also was a white knight on a horse. You know, I don’t need it. I’m doing it for other reasons. And in the days I was doing it, I never had a consciousness that in my older years my resources could really help people that needed it, instead of it being squandered by maybe some artists at the time. So, I think that, I would have done differently. I would have kept the revenue flow that I could have used for good stuff. But for the most part, no, I think my life evolved the way it was supposed to evolve, in whatever way that is.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the 2013 preparations for the 50th annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii. The Festival is Hawaii’s most significant cultural event and showcases the art of hula for a global audience. This program highlights the hard work, dedication and spirit of the Festival participants.
In the heart of Lithuania, a Holocaust secret lies buried. A team of archaeologists probes the ruins of a Nazi death camp to find the truth behind tales of a tunnel dug by desperate Jewish prisoners.
Colditz Castle, a notorious prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany, was supposed to be escape-proof. But in World War II, a group of British officers dreamt up an escape plan: in a secret attic workshop, they constructed a two-man glider out of bed sheets and floorboards. The plan was to fly to freedom from the roof of the castle, but the war ended before they could put it to the test. Now a team of aero engineers and carpenters rebuilds the glider in the same attic using the same materials and use a bathtub full of concrete to catapult the glider off the roof to find out if the legendary glider plan would have succeeded.
Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has always known the power of storytelling. During a troubled childhood, stories functioned as a source of comfort. In adulthood, she founded the Hawai‘i International Film Festival. Throughout her multifaceted life, Jeannette has blazed her own trail, working with unwavering vision and passion.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 12, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 16, at 4:00 pm.
I used to go to high school crying, with a hand on my hand, where my mother had slapped me. That was me, going to school crying. And on Mother’s Day, wondering what they’re talking about. But I knew in my heart of hearts—and a lot of it was my faith, my Congregational church believing that something else was waiting for me, and I could do it.
Jeannette Paulson Hereniko first took comfort in storytelling to escape her abusive mother. She continued to tell stories in different mediums, and in her role as founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, next, on Long Story Short.
Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaiʻi’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has spent her entire life sharing and telling stories. Whether it be through children’s storytelling, television, stage plays, or film, Hereniko has always known the power of storytelling. Hereniko is best known in Hawaiʻi as the founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, which has become one of the premier film festivals for showcasing Asian and Pacific films. She’s also gone on to be a filmmaker in her own right, producing the award-winning film, The Land Has Eyes, with her second husband, Vilsoni Hereniko. Jeannette says her childhood years were the hardest days of her life, but they also helped her develop her love of storytelling.
I consider myself an Oregonian because those first nineteen years of my life were very influential. The people there were independent people. They vote a lot; they vote on everything in Oregon. You really had to think. And I like that; I love politics. My father was a fireman, and a labor organizer for public employees. So, I was kind of, on his side, anyway, kind of political at an early age, and very interested in changing society and making it a better place. My mother, now I know, looking back, was mentally ill. But at the time, I didn’t know it. And it was a very, very difficult childhood. It was not a happy family.
How did you realize later that she was mentally ill?
I was emotionally and physically abused. You know, I was hit around, and told I was terrible and an awful person. And I really believed it. I escaped a lot, and I escaped in stories, I escaped in making up my own fantasies about life. And I was determined not to live a life like I was brought up. And I think that gave me enormous drive. And like, when I was ten, I had my own radio show.
On what radio channel?
On Public Radio.
On Public Radio?
What did you do at ten as a host?
It was called Tots and Teens, and I was a storyteller. And I told stories that I wrote, and I had my sister come and imitate animals to the stories.
I had my girlfriend play the piano. I’d give little reports on the news.
What gave you the confidence to do that?
Well, that’s kinda what I’m saying. Because my family was so screwy, I just kind of thought this other life at a very, very early age. I was giving children’s sermons in my church. I found people liked that, and I got a lot of feedback that was positive, which I didn’t get in my family.
You said your dad gave you inspiration for public affairs.
What was his role in the household?
Gone and apathetic, and leave it to Mom to do the work. And not terribly supportive. But never mind; he had that fireman outfit, and he came to my school on Fire Prevention Week, and told us the number to call if our house ever caught on fire. And I had a sign when he ran for city council up in my bedroom posted. So, he still inspired me, in spite of being kind of an absent, apathetic father.
Were there other children in the house?
There was my sister. And part of my mother’s illness really was to pit us against each other. So, we never did become close. And my sister died at an early age, in her forties, and that’s a huge regret that I never was able to be close to her. But on the saving side of all the family stuff, I had an incredible, strong grandmother on my mother’s side. And she was from Russia. She was Volga German; she migrated when the Communists came in and took over. They didn’t want any Volga Germans. They didn’t want any Jews, they didn’t want any Volga Germans, didn’t want any gays. And so, those people left, if they could. And my grandmother ran away from her family home at eighteen, and somehow made it to Ellis Island, and somehow made it to Seaside, Oregon. And in between, fell in love with another Volga German, Jacob Bartholoma. And uh, they bought cottages, little cottages to rent. That’s where my solace was. That’s where I spent my summers. My grandmother was a storyteller; she told me all the stories about Russia and German, and she cooked and she loved me. And so, it was in Seaside, Oregon that I really felt nurtured.
While still living in Oregon, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko struggled to make ends meet to put herself through college. At age nineteen, she felt there weren’t many career options open to her, so she quickly set her sights on marriage.
So, I worked two jobs, and I went to school. And I thought, what I’d really like to be, you know, is maybe a lawyer, but I can’t be a lawyer, there’s no women lawyers, and there weren’t any women going to law school. So, I’ll marry a lawyer. I was very self-determined, so I went to Willamette University to the law school, and stood down at the bottom of the steps and watched the guys come down the steps. And one of them said to me, Hi, stranger. And I remembered he had been a guard at a booth where I was a hostess during the Oregon bicentennial. And three months later, we were married. How’s that for a story?
You were consciously looking for a husband?
I was consciously looking for a husband who was an attorney. Yeah.
But the marriage was not successful.
It was not successful, because we were so entirely different. He was a conservative Baptist Republican, and I was liberal Congregationalist Democrat. But you know, there were good years. There were good years.
You had children together.
We had three beautiful, wonderful children. And we came to Hawaii together, you know, and I learned a lot about business from him. I learned a lot about law from him. And I really was close to his family. It was kind of a substitute family, and they were wonderful. So, not all black and dark.
What was it like breaking into Hawaii, when you didn’t know anybody, and probably didn’t have jobs either?
So, we moved May 20th. So, May 23rd was my birthday, and I wanted to go to this place called The Sty in Niu Valley.
I’ve heard of the Sty.
I remember that, in Niu Valley. And we walked into The Sty, and I heard the Sons of Hawaiʻi play.
And I started bursting into tears; I cried and cried, ‘cause the music just—it was Eddie’s voice. There was something very deep.
There was something in his voice so channeling something that touched everything inside my soul, with such storytelling like I’d never heard before. And I just knew this is where I wanted to live forever.
Before relocating to Hawaiʻi in 1975, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko worked as a professional children’s storyteller in Oregon. She even started a storytelling guild and children’s festival in Southern Oregon, and hoped to continue telling stories when she reached Hawaii.
Ray Okamoto was his name, and he was in charge of the Artists In Schools Program with the Department of Education. And before I came, he said, We’d like you to be a storyteller with the Artists In Schools Program in Hawaiʻi. So, I did. But it was part-time, and I needed to work a little more, ‘cause my husband was having a difficult time getting a job, even though he was an attorney, just breaking in. But I actually was having a great time. I was going around Waimanalo telling stories and everything. But I needed a little more money, ‘cause we had these three kids and everything. So, I went to educational television.
And that’s the DOE television.
That’s right. Anyway, they hired me as a production assistant, and I worked my way up as a producer and a writer. But I didn’t have a college degree. But it was that switch from storytelling, because when I was going around telling stories, there were all these incredible Hawaiians, kupuna. They knew the story, they knew the stories of the aina, and they knew the stories of the history. And that’s the kind of stories I love to tell. And I thought, it’s like picking flowers in someone else’s garden, this isn’t right for me to be doing this. But film, that’s another way. That’s another way to tell stories. And so, I quit being the storyteller in the schools, and devoted my time to educational television. But still, as an independent contractor, ‘cause I didn’t have a degree.
Jeannette Paulson Hereniko would go on to earn a college degree from Chaminade University in Honolulu. In 1980, she started a new job in public relations at the East West Center, an educational and research institution on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her new job would soon lead her to the creation of Hawaiʻi’s premier cinematic event, the Hawaii International Film Festival.
Where I really wanted to work was the East West Center. And people would say, Well, why? And I said, ‘Cause I’m really interested in cross-cultural relations, and I’m really interested in bringing people together from Asia and the Pacific and the United States. Where do we meet, and where do we differ, and how do we negotiate those different. That’s always been a real strong interest in those questions. So, when they had an opening in the public relations department for a community relations director, I applied, and I was hired by Everett Kleinjans, who was the president at the time. And he directed me to think of three ideas that would bring the community closer together to the East West Center. And one of the ideas, why don’t we create a film festival, and why don’t we put the emphasis on Asia and Pacific films, made by Asians and Pacific Islanders, and have some from America. And why don’t we have an academic symposium where we talk about the difference and the similarities, and why don’t we have it free, and why don’t we take it to the neighbor islands, and why don’t we take tours all around and show these films with scholars, you know, and talk about these issues. He said, Oh, I just love that idea. You go for it. Of course, I’m not giving you any money, you have no budget, so you go raise the money. And I said, Fine, I like to raise money.
You like to raise money?
I do like to raise money.
You like to ask people for money?
Because here’s what I believe, and you know this. You bring people who have money, and a cause that they want, and they’re waiting for you, because they want to meet the artists, they want to be part of a bigger vision. I really believe that. And so, I like to put people together, I like to do that. So, I thought, I’ve got to have Jack Lord be for this, ‘cause he’s got money and he’s got a name. But I didn’t know him. So, I talked to Cobey Black, and she introduced me to him, and we just hit it off famously. And he wrote a check; five-oh-oh-oh, you know. First check we got. And then, we gotta have theaters, so who owns the theaters. The person in town was Art Gordon. Do you know Art?
One of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met in my life. And I went to him and explained this idea, that we had this theme of when strangers meet, and we wanted to have Asian films. And he said, You know what, it’s free, and you’re gonna have Asian films. And he loved Asian films, particularly Japanese films, which he’d shown a lot. He says, I’m giving you the Varsity Theater. So, that’s how we got it started, until six months in, a new president come to the Center. He didn’t like the idea of a film festival, at all, and asked me to stop.
This must be Victor Li.
Yeah; it was Victor Li, Victor Hao Li. But he really did not believe that the East West Center, with the mission as he saw it, included anything to do with film.
And he didn’t think anybody in public relations should be creating program, that that should be left to the scholars. So, it was legitimate policy differences. But, you know, it affected my life, ‘cause he told me to stop. And I said, You know what, it’s too late, ‘cause the tickets have been given out. So, he says, Well, just the first one, then. But the first one, the papers called. Maybe you called; I don’t know. Where were you? And there were lines around the block, and people were loving the festival. And he called me in the office and presented me with flowers. He said, You did it, this is great. But it’s gotta be small, it’s gotta be academic, and yeah, just keep it controlled, and you gotta raise all your money outside.
You didn’t keep it small and controlled, Jeannette.
Well, maybe that was my fault, you know. And maybe because of my background, I was used to people kind of on my back and telling me, No, no, no, you can’t do it. Maybe that’s why I did it.
Under the leadership of Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, and with an army of volunteers, the Hawaii International Film Festival grew, and eventually became an independent nonprofit organization, splitting off from the East West Center. Jeannette went through a divorce from her first husband, and tried to find balance in her new role as the festival director, single woman, and mother raising three children.
When one has an abusive parent … unfortunately, that that sometimes shows up in their own parenting. How was parenting for you?
Great question. You know, again, you have to ask my children. And I still ask them. And it drives them crazy. They say, Oh, Mom, stop asking that. I had three, and one of them was extremely difficult, and she is no longer with us. And you know, maybe there’s a gene there; I don’t know. It was kind of almost like reliving my mother’s story through my daughter. Except my daughter was much more bright and loving, and a wonderful parent herself. But the other two say that I was okay, but I know in reality that I was gone too much, with throwing myself into the film festival, as almost sort of an escape thing. And I regret that; I wish I’d spent more time with them. But they keep assuring me that I was a good mom, so I hope they’re right. And they turned out great.
Jeannette Paulson Hereniko poured her passion into growing the Hawaii International Film Festival. After living as a single independent woman for over a decade, Jeannette says she has the Film Festival to thank for introducing her to the man who would become her second husband and soulmate.
We wanted scholars on our jury, and we wanted people from different Asia and Pacific places. And I didn’t have a lot of Pacific Islanders that knew a lot about film, so I asked my friend Jean Charlot, who was on the film selection committee with us, Where can I find a Pacific Islander? And he says, Well, you know, there’s this student that’s getting his PhD from Fiji, and he’s at the East West Center, and he’s smart, he’s written books, he’s written all kinds of plays; he’d be great on your jury. He didn’t actually say student; he just said this person. So, I thought that he was gonna be an old man after I read his resume. And so we had the jury. And he walked in and I thought, Oh, my, that’s an old man.
He was younger than you were; right?
Yeah. He was pretty cute, too. But he was married, so I left my hands off of him. But I made him my friend and put him on my film selection committee; okay? So, when he got divorced, I decided I would fix him up with some of my young girlfriends. Then, he finally said to me, I’d like to take you to dinner. And I thought, This is really strange. I mean, we’ve had lunch, we’d gone to meetings, but why would he want to take me to dinner? Oh, he wants to announce that he’s gonna marry this woman I’d fixed up. So, we went out to dinner and he says, Before I open this bottle of wine, I want to tell you that I’ve been in love with you for two years, but you’ve been so busy with the film festival. I’m imitating him.
And you haven’t even noticed. And I thought, Oh, my gosh. So, I said to him—he’s a Pacific Islander, and I’m Caucasian. Okay, I can get over that, but I’m much older than you are. And he said to me, I have been in love with women younger than me. Where does it say I can’t be in love with someone older than me? I have learned in love, age and race make no difference. Do you think you can do the same? And I thought, Here I am running this film festival, When Strangers Meet, and I haven’t dared to think like that. So, I said, Let’s give it a try. And that man’s name is Vilsoni Hereniko. And a year and a half after that dinner, we were married, and we’ve been married nineteen years.
And you have very similar interests.
Oh, yeah; we’re both storytellers. My my kids say, You finally found someone as crazy as you, Mom.
You know, we’re storytellers, we’re filmmakers. He’s written plays, I’m starting to write plays now.
In 1996, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko decided to walk away from the Hawaii International Film Festival, the organization that she created and to which she gave so much of her personal life.
And why did you choose to quit the film festival?
That’s the object of my first show called Wild Wisdom. And it was because my mother, who I’ve talked about quite a bit in the show got early Alzheimer’s. ‘Cause it ended that there was a gene from the Volga Germans that my family had, and fifty percent of those people, meaning me, Volga Germans, get early Alzheimer’s. I saw it on CNN News one night, and I realized my mother, my grandfather, my sister, and three of my cousins had all died of early Alzheimer’s. And I thought, What if I have that gene? So, I called the Alzheimer’s Association, and they didn’t know, there was no way to test. I thought, Man, I’ve just been giving my whole life to the film festival, a single woman, I don’t even know if I like apples and oranges. I’m quitting, and I’m gonna go around the world, and I’m just gonna enjoy my life, because I might lose my mind. Who knows? And that’s why I quit the film festival. But people didn’t know that at the time. So, I’ve been doing that; it was 1981 to ’96. So, that was long enough. Fifteen years. So, they did find out about a test, and I did take the test, and I don’t have that gene. I wouldn’t marry Vili until I knew that. And he told me; he said to me when we went in to get the results of that test, he said, I don’t care if you have it or not, I still want to marry you.
In the year 2000, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko stepped out of her comfort zone as someone who shares and promotes films to someone who creates films. She and her new husband, Vilsoni Hereniko, set out to make their first feature film, The Land Has Eyes, filmed on her spouse’s tiny home island of Rotuma, Fiji.
Yeah, we decided to make a feature film together. And he had a film in mind, a script in mind. And we took it to Buddhadev Das Gupta from Calcutta, who was on the jury the same year Vili was on, and a very, very dear friend. And he said, You can’t make that film; your first feature film must be your own life. You have to go fishing deep inside and write your own life story. That’s your first feature film. And Vili took that advice literally, and he threw that away, and he started writing his own life. And then, he got writer’s block, ‘cause it was getting very personal. And I said, Change it to a girl. So, Vili became Viki. And we made The Land Has Eyes. We were on the Island of Rotuma for three months to make it.
And you didn’t have a big budget, and you had villagers playing roles.
Yeah; it was wonderful.
And it was just very courageous.
It was a gamble; right?
And it’s a beautiful movie.
Oh, thank you. Yeah. Well, it was probably the uh, deepest experience. And talk about shattering illusions. That takes the cake; that did it. Because being married to him, and seeing him in Honolulu, and then to go back to his island, which I had not been to, where he’s the director and I’m the producer, and living in his family’s home. Yeah; it was the most challenging and the most rewarding experience of my life.
You know, I look at my life from where I am now, and I am so satisfied. I’m so happy with my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. And one reason is, a lot of my dreams have been realized. And I’m still dreaming, and I’m still realizing more dreams.
You’re still working; right?
I’m still working. But I just wanted to say that the secret has been what Joseph Campbell said. And that’s, follow your bliss, follow your passion. I really honestly believe that each one of us has been born with a very special, unique gift, and it’s our job in our lifetime to find out what that gift is, and to shine it as bright as we can, to treat it like a precious diamond. And you don’t have to do everything. Like, you know, I can’t sew, I can’t can fruits like so many of my Oregon friends can. But I can tell stories, and I know how to make a movie, and I know how to get things done, and I really love involving other people in projects. That’s my little diamond. We each have that diamond, and you’ve gotta find it and shine it, and give it away.
The film, The Land Has Eyes, produced by Jeannette Paulson Hereniko and directed by her husband Vilsoni Hereniko, debuted at Robert Redford’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2004, and went on to win Best Film at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. At the time of this conversation in 2016, Jeannette had been out of the Film Festival spotlight for some years, but she continues to curate and distribute Asian and Pacific films to universities and libraries through a film distribution company called Alexander Street Press; and Jeannette and husband Vilsoni were setting out to make a new short film atop Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi Island. Mahalo to Jeannette Paulson Hereniko of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.
For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.
I’m not afraid. When I stand before a crowd, I’m not afraid. Again, maybe it goes back to that childhood. That’s my home. Ten years old; you know, I was performing at ten, live audiences as well, and I’ve just never been afraid. Sometimes, it’s harder one-to-one.