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PDPIs it possible to feel unhappy when you hear “U Li La Lu” by Poi Dog Pondering?

Maybe for some people. But not for me.

The song is from the 1990 album Wishing like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea. I bought the CD from one of those record clubs back when I was living in Washington. It seemed like a good way to fulfill my obligations, and indeed it was. I’m still listening to it a quarter-century later. It’s an infectious mélange of catchy music, one great, catchy tune after another.

The band came from Hawaii, I think, via Texas, or something like that. I saw them in D.C., shortly after the album came out, when a friend offered me an extra ticket he had for a performance at the old 9:30 Club. It remains one of the best shows I ever saw—a joyful, upbeat, communal sort of affair that left everyone feeling just plain happy. When I saw them, Poi Dog Pondering was a big band with all kinds of instruments up on the stage—violin, guitars, trumpet, bass, accordion, ukulele, percussion—and the musical influences seemed like they came from all over the globe. It all mixed together into music that just lifted my spirits.

I almost saw Poi Dog a second time. The band was booked for a return appearance at the 9:30 just after my wife and I, with a baby in tow, had moved out of Washington, D.C. to Silver Spring, Maryland. Although now creatures of the suburbs, we resolved to retain at least some remnant of our former urban existence. So what if the show was on a weeknight, and we’d be tired, and we needed a babysitter, and what about parking? We were going. I got tickets and we arranged for a sitter. On the evening of the show, we jumped into the car (a Volvo, for godssakes. Boy, did that car suck) and drove into town. We pulled into a parking place RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CLUB! The gods appeared to be smiling upon us. It’s possible that Beth Ann and I even exchanged high fives.

Then we got out of the car and read the hand-written sign taped to the door. The show had been cancelled.

I think you could hear the air escaping from our bodies as we deflated. We sadly climbed back into the Volvo and made way back home to the suburbs. We never went into the city again.*

Twenty-five years later and now I listen to Poi Dog Pondering on my iPod as I walk around my current suburban neighborhood, and the music still makes me feel happy as it drags my mind back to those long-ago years of the 1990s.

There are some lines from the lilting and wistful “Big Beautiful Spoon” that still resonate. They go like this:

Sometimes I live in the past
I know that is true
I’m romantic to melancholy
You know that’s true too.
The past is a shoe box
Full of old songs and photographs.
I dig in and wade though.
I learn from the past.

I’m not sure how much I actually learn from the past, though. Except, maybe, for one thing: Avoid Volvos.

*Okay, that last sentence is not even remotely true. But it makes the story sound a lot sadder, doesn’t it?