Losing A Beloved Island Musician

Musician John Koko

Musician John Koko died last week at the age of 51. Nathalie Walker photo nwalker@midweek.com

Aww, what a sad week it was. John Koko died at the too-young age of 51. I met Koko only once, but saw him in performance many, many times with the Makaha Sons of Niihau, and then the Makaha Sons after the group reorganized. Upon hearing the news that a longtime heart condition had taken Koko, I couldn’t help but feel that something precious to us all has slipped away – a little bit of our Hawaii musical soul.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with Hawaiian music. It was the first time I heard the Makaha Sons of Niihau when they played at Andrews Amphitheatre on the UH Manoa campus. I don’t recall the date, but everything else is imbedded in my memory – the cool crispness of the air, the stars that popped in the night sky. The grass was damp, so I sat on somebody’s jacket (probably my date’s). I closed my eyes and let the glorious harmonies wash over me like a warm and gentle ocean wave. It was so beautiful I wanted to cry.

There have been many tributes already to honor him, and I just wanted to add my small voice. Thank you, John Kapualani Koko, for the music and the memories.

Another passing of note (I did say it was a sad week) – Nora Ephron. Ephron was a rare, sparkling gem. Novelist, filmmaker (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle), screenwriter, playwright, journalist and blogger -she did it all and did them all well. Ephron, 71, died of leukemia June 26.

Ephron’s movies and books have made me laugh, cry and reflect over the years. Here’s what I wrote about her in 2009:

“If you’re a woman of a certain age and you haven’t read I Feel Bad About My Neck, it’s probably worth a look. It really isn’t about feeling nostalgic for youth and beauty, or chasing after it. It’s partly about accepting the loss of it and moving on.

“It’s about fully experiencing life, letting go of the dream of perfection and abandoning the search for the fountain of youth. It’s about priorities and self-love. It’s about living right when you have the chance.”

Ephron wasn’t a perfect woman, and she knew it. She had the same regrets, the same vanity, the same weaknesses we all share, but her gift was her ability to turn a laser eye on those imperfections, to share and laugh and learn from them. She wanted to make every moment count and she tried to impart that hard won knowledge to us.

How many choices do we make every single day that deny us basic pleasures because we hope it’ll lead to something better sometime in the hazy future?

How many times do we look at that old pair of jeans and say, “Someday I’ll be skinny enough to fit into them again.”

How many times do we put off something we really want to do because we’re waiting for a better time, a more perfect moment?

Ephron was telling us to go ahead and feel bad about your neck, your wrinkles, the inevitable fact of our aging selves. And then get over it. Moisturize, buy a turtleneck, go for a walk – move on. Live!

Death is inevitable, so don’t waste your time chasing after the person you want to be. Just be.