Behind Warren Zevon’s ‘The Hula-Hula Boys’

by Walter Rhein 7 months ago in humanity

The end of the family.

I knew something was wrong from the moment he spoke. In fact, there had been a lingering wrongness for some time.

“C’mon son, let’s go on a trip,” Dad said.

He’d just taken my brother on a trip, and my sister. Now it was my turn. This struck me as unusual behavior, but what choice did I have in the matter?

“Okay,” I said, and we got on a plane and got off in Maine where we rented a car.

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“What should we do?” Dad said as he started to drive. He fiddled with the radio. But before I could answer, he slammed his hands against the dashboard. “There’s no good radio stations in this state. Let’s go get a cassette.”

He started driving around looking for a record store. Dad was always a fanatic about music. He had a whole room dedicated to vinyl records. When CDs came out he had to replace them all. I don’t know what he does now, maybe he’s got a mainframe in his basement.

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We found a little hole-in-the-wall place that claimed to be a record store even though it only had a selection of about thirteen cassettes. Dad looked through them, his face tight with fury. He could be scary when he got angry. I began to grow concerned, but the darkness cleared and he brightened up.

“Here we go, Warren Zevon!”

“Okay,” I said. Not that I had any choice in the matter. But I liked Warren Zevon.

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He put the tape on and the soothing intro to ‘The Hula-Hula Boys’ put me at ease. The song is a bit mellow for Zevon, but it contains the same dark humor.

The lyrics are about a man whose wife is cheating on him with the valets and bellhops on a vacation in Maui.

She’s off with the Hula-Hula boys, she don’t care about me. Is the repeated refrain, sung by a man who thinks he’s a victim, but who obviously is in denial over the contribution he’s made to the situation.

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But then the mood shifts as Zevon goes into the chorus of Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana.

“Do you hear the voice accompanying him there?” Dad said.

I listened, and yes, there was the clear voice of a young boy, the type of pure, prepubescent tone you’d hear in an angelic choir.

“That’s Jordan Zevon, Warren’s son.”

“What do the lyrics mean?”

“They’re Hawaiian.”

“Yeah, but what do they mean?”

“Heck if I know.”

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I looked it up. The Hawaiian words in ‘The Hula Hula Boys’ serve as the coda for almost every song written in the Hawaiian language. They mean ‘And so the story is told.’

Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana.

Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana.

Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana.

We drove around the state of Maine. I don’t remember anything from the trip beyond the repeated words. And so the story is told.

They'd turn out to be a portent of things to come.

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At the end of the trip, we flew back home. The next day, Dad took mom to the cities for a special dinner. This would complete his series of individual trips with the four of us.

The day after that, Dad called us all into the living room. I knew what he was going to say before he said it in the way you sometimes have a premonition of bad news. Like when you hear the phone ring, and even before you answer, you know there’s been an accident.

“I’m leaving.”

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I felt a physical response to the words that surprised me. Most of the time, you go through life believing that you know your own mind. But every now and then something happens that demonstrates much of the energy and angst and consternation you keep bundled inside is beyond the reaches of your own intellect to comprehend.

Like most kids, I’d speculated over what I would feel if my parents ever got divorced. I assumed I would be scared, or sad, or depressed. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the true feeling that flooded over me.


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My dad was leaving, and an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

What did that mean?

The recent barrage of trips had been a special tour so that we could all feel good about this new development, particularly him.

Nobody spoke, so my Dad continued.

“I’ll still be involved in your lives because you’re all very important to me.”

I snorted because I knew it wasn’t true. He wouldn’t make an effort. When he was gone, he would be gone for good.

That was the way it played out. He called a few times and asked me to come visit, but all his efforts involved me going to him. There was never even a question that he might come to me. I think after two rejections, he stopped trying.

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Today, he’s alone. I sometimes hear rumors that he feels sorry for himself. I can imagine him sitting in his music room, singing along with Warren Zevon, ‘She’s off with the Hula-Hula boys she don’t care about me.’

He's consoled by the perception that he's a victim, even though he steadfastly refuses to recognize his own contributions to his situation.

There was a time when I was the little boy in the chorus, singing incomprehensible words at the direction of my dad. I supported him with the absolute dedication, innocence, and unconditional love that comes with youth.

Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana.

But then my Dad left. He left, not me. I haven’t seen him since.

And so the story is told.

‘The Hula Hula Boys’ isn’t the type of song that you’ll hear at random on the radio. When I listen to it, it’s always after a deliberate search. I think there's a warning contained in the lyrics, but it's subtle and easily missed.

My Dad was never good with subtlety.

To this day, 'The Hula Hula Boys' always makes me smile. I think that smile flows from the same incomprehensible part of the mind that always provides an assurance that no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay.

It’s comforting, even if I don’t fully understand.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Walter Rhein
Walter Rhein
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Walter Rhein

I'm a small press novelist. Shoot me an email if you want to discuss writing in any capacity, or head over to my web page [email protected]

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