The Fabulous Cornholers (June 2, 1999)

San Francisco-Maui, June 1979 — I boarded the plane carrying two guitars, a bag of clothes, and a gram or so of methamphetamine loosely wrapped in a dollar bill and spilling into my shirt pocket. As I walked down the aisle, the floppy straw hat and Mexican embroidered shirt I was wearing, along with my gaunt, unshaven face no doubt made me look a bit unusual, perhaps a bit suspicious, to the tourists already comfortably seated.

This was K-class, a low-grade back-of-the-bus option for “economy” travelers, where if you wanted a meal you had to buy a sandwich or an apple, but even here I was clearly and obviously the odd man out. So it was no big surprise that when a pregnant woman in first class began giving birth, and the flight attendant came through the cabin asking for doctors or nurses and I mentioned that I had done two home deliveries and was willing to help, that she looked at me as if I were carrying the plague, or a bomb.

The “standby” ticket applied to my inter-island flight as well, and when my name was called as the last passenger for the plane from Honolulu to Kahului, I was forced to run to the plane. I tripped, fell with my instruments to the pavement and tore the skin off three fingers of my left hand. The blood was pouring all over the place as I took my seat. Two stewardesses rushed to my attention, providing disinfectant and bandages and asking if they could do anything else for me. I requested a free drink. They gave me a mai-tai.

At Kahului airport on Maui I was directed to an office off the main concourse. Here I was interviewed by security staff, whose business it was to make sure I wouldn’t sue the airline and have me sign a statement to that effect. Since I was carrying illegal substances and hypodermic needles, I was glad to sign on the dotted line and get out of there.

After such an inauspicious beginning to my Hawaiian adventure and still high on crank, I was anxious to find C.J., one of the three people I knew on Maui. With a hundred-dollar bill for a deposit, I rented a Toyota and followed a tourist map to Paia, where I turned off at Baldwin Beach Park, took off my shoes, rolled up my pants, walked into the waves and immersed my bleeding self into the ocean. It worked. I achieved some sort of meditative state in which the power of the Pacific Ocean healed the cuts. They closed up quickly with no infection.

Paia was a small town, obviously not much of a tourist destination, and full of hippies. (So this was where they’d gone.) The second person I asked told me where C.J. lived. The house was a few miles down the road but the man who answered the door said she wouldn’t be back until evening. I went back to Paia to find a laundry and wash the dirty clothes I’d packed in the process of my hasty departure from Sausalito. In the laundromat I literally bumped into Marla, another of the three people I knew on Maui. She was the wife of Salty, the third person, and part of a network of meth-freaks that I was actually trying to get away from by coming to Hawaii. But there we were, old friends in a faraway place, hugging and genuinely glad to see each other. She gave me directions to their house.

C.J. was a singer, and that evening we hatched plans for gigs and started practicing. Her roommates found me loud and abrasive, but said I’d probably “mellow out” after I’d been here a few days. Yes, that, and after the crank ran out. Everyone on Maui had roommates. Rent was extremely high and it usually took four or five individuals or couples to meet the monthly payments for an average house.

The next day I went to see Salty and Marla. Right away they gave me more speed. So much for mellowing out. Salty had a friend named Wayne, a musician that I “had to meet.” C.J. came along, too.

Wayne lived with Darcy, a Japanese woman from Honolulu who was the antithesis of the stereotypical submissive Oriental “wife.” She was blunt and outspoken, with a deep “whiskey” voice. We all got drunk, played music and hit it off very well. That night we went on an exploratory trip to a dance “upcountry” in Kula where a musician named Fantuzzi was playing.

The place was full of people in long white robes and scarves, dancing in circles. It resembled a cult gathering and had what today might be called New Age ambiance, basically a lot of people pretending to be much nicer and mellower and groovier than they really were. Wayne and Darcy and I were all rock and roll veterans, and to us this was all a bore. The band took a break. We stood outside smoking cigarettes. A hippie-type woman in robes walked by.

“Watch this,” said Darcy. All by herself, a capella, she began singing “Dancing in the Street.” The hippie woman, as if she had no control of herself whatsoever, in Pavlovian reflex, started dancing and writhing sensuously and smiling beatifically at the decidedly un-New Age Japanese singer. Wayne and I came in singing on the background parts. More people appeared and danced. It was too easy. Three people just singing and snapping their fingers, and we were more alive than the whole electric band inside.

Back at Wayne’s house we discussed possibilities and determined to start a new band. Wayne said he had a name he’d always wanted to use for a musical group, but it was too off-color for the mainland. Here in the islands, he insisted, no one would “get it” and we’d have a little joke on everyone. We were drunk and none too serious, so everyone agreed that our band would be called “The Cornholers.” Wayne made a poster:

“The Cornholers — foot-stomping rhythm and blues, old time hillbilly swing. Down home drinking party music. … Try us, but we’re not cheap, are you?”

Apparently not everyone in Hawaii was ignorant of the meaning of “cornholers,” though. Not long after the posters were put out, someone wrote on the wall of the Paia laundromat, “Cornholers are butt-fuckers.” This didn’t faze us, we just reminded ourselves of the old showbiz cliché, “Any publicity is good publicity.”

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