by Jason Fagone
(N.B.: I wrote this review two years ago, but I’m trying to migrate some stuff over here from my old Tumblr before I delete the Tumblr altogether.)
I should probably be doing real work now, but I can’t get this book out of my head.
Facing Future is a very tiny book about a 1993 album by a very enormous Hawaiian musician I’d never heard of, Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. The book is so small it almost fits in a pocket. I read most of it last night while begging my wife to handle all the pre-bedtime childcare stuff. (It’s ok, I cooked. That was my contribution for the night.) I’d say the book pretty squarely accomplishes the following:
- vividly brings to life a dead fat Hawaiian guy who played a ukelele
- makes you care about a dead fat Hawaiian guy who played a ukelele
- uses the complex afterlife of “Iz” as a means to explore timeless questions about art, commerce, and colonialism, in a metaphor that’s organic to the material
- conjures Hawaii as an “old, weird” place with its own history and landscape apart from whatever you see in the background of Lost as Evangeline Lilly’s nipples are poking out
- tells a credible anecdote about Iz beating the shit out of Jimmy Buffett in a urinal
- includes prose such as this: “For long stretches the road’s shoulder is hard by the water. To your left the mountains rise in undulating waves, unthinkably lush and green even to their tips, pali climbing one atop the other and disappearing into the clouds that never seem to evaporate from their peaks. In the winter the waves roar to your right, the mist salting your windshield as you drive close to the spray. In the summer the sea is flat and clear and, as you brake behind the tricked-out Honda turning right into one of the countless local beach parks, you can hear, blaring out of a junk boom box in the parking lot, an unearthly voice, a lilting falsetto singing over ‘ukulele, or heavy South Seas drums, or cheesy synthesizers.”
- rescues the word “bruddah” from terminal corniness — indeed, deploys “bruddah” in a way to almost make you weep
Not bad for 168 pages. It’s an obvious labor of love, it’s brilliant, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Congrats to author Dan Kois, who also wrote this.