Life is a long river learned from your past/
Been reading my history to learn what the others have seen
The dying days of the Cold War were heady times in Austin, Texas. At least they were for me and my friends. We were young, romantic, pseudo-intellectual, slacker psychonauts, discovering Whitman, Nietzsche, Kerouac, McKenna and music, sweet music.
We all heard the story about how Frank Orral was from Hawai’i, but left on a big busking adventure seeking fortune and fame and found, by some cosmic accident circa 1987, a receptive audience in Austin. Frank’s rag tag collective of musicians called themselves Poi Dog Pondering. None of us knew what a “poi dog” was, but we liked the sound of it.
Poi Dog Pondering provided the perfect soundtrack for those sun-dappled, carefree lazy days, combining the right amounts of pop, world music, and folk drenched in optimism and joi de vivre.
Poi Dog Pondering seemed to be everywhere around Austin those days, on the Drag, at the Union, in Zilker Park. When Frank showed up in Richard Linklater’s directorial debut, “Slacker,” it was no surprise. Frank was emblematic of that special time and place in the universe. It was no surprise, either, when Columbia signed Poi Dog to a record deal.
Their third record, “Volo Volo,” which means “revolver” in some Polynesian tongue, was a masterpiece, but the record buying public didn’t get it, so Columbia dropped the band.
This was always my favorite song, live and on record. On the surface, the song is about bodysurfing, something I take it that Frank did a lot of growing up in Hawai’i. But to me it’s always been about life.
Stop for a moment and listen to the wind
See the trees, leaves the sun they catch and
their rustling din.
Fill up with relief
Don’t go mad, don’t go mad.