And then we all heard it ad infinitum all the rest of our lives. You heard it if you went to a wedding in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ’90s. Even now.
“You, you light up my life…”
Christine, the only daughter of Bob & Sarah Bone, is a blend of two handsome folks, (he from mid-America, she from New Zealand) whose Indiana and Maori genes combined to produce a beautiful free spirit I seem to recall as the village treasure of Kailua in the early ‘80s, pretty and talented, so sure of herself she ran off to New York to be an actress on the stage. Although she may have appeared only in independent films.
We do not know, may never know, what happened in New York but I do know this: I always felt good when Christine came home to Hawaii. She lit up Bob and Sarah’s suburban house in Maunawili.
Ohana, it’s called in Hawaii, when families, even extended families, meet and get together, even if it doesn’t work out.
One year, Christine arrived with her new husband, Joseph Brooks, a dour New York songwriter–a lanky fellow with a very self important scowl–and his obtuse son, Nicholas, from a prior marriage. His second, he told me with evident pride, to a Playboy cover girl.
Oh dear, I thought, this will be a very long night on a small island in the middle of the Pacific.
Joseph seemed so much larger than life, bigger than where we stood the night we met on the ancient, forlorn island of Molokai, which shrinks like a cruise ship each day you’re aboard.
At Bob’s invitation, Joseph (we came to call him Joe) joined a press trip to Molokai, another “event” to introduce travel writers to yurts which PR folks called “tentalows” and touted as the ecological alternative to fancy five-star resorts then blooming like algae over all islands with so many newly invented Hawaiian place names. It was difficult to keep Hu‘ala‘lai apart from Ka‘luakoi or even Manele on Lanai.
How Walter Ritte, that rascally island activist, failed to halt this haole incursion into “the last authentic Hawaiian island” as all the travel writers put it then about this rock that survived on welfare aid to single mothers, I do not know. But there it was: Tentalows and yurts a la Ralph Lauren as imagined by a kama‘aina decorator who must have been Mary Philpotts, herself, the queen of Hawaii’s sense of place as far as interiors went. She always had the perfect nostalgic touches drawn from ages past that had little to do with real Hawaii, whatever that was. Sticks and stones and petroglyphs, I suppose. She was big in Matson and Pan Am posters and rattan from Manila–koa wood end tables, too. Hawaii of the ‘80s looked like the ‘50s when I first arrived. And fled to Berkeley in time to join the ‘60s.
After more than a few glasses of decent Napa Valley red that night on Molokai over a dinner of huge organic slabs of beef, raised and slaughtered on the ranch, I remember sitting amid faux cowboy decor with old timey black and white photos of paniolo wranglers, rusty horse bits, harnesses and whips, asking Joseph about that song.
Our chat went like this:
“You wrote that song, ‘You Light Up My Life?’”
“I did,” he said. No shame, straight-faced. Chin up. Proud. Royalty rich.
“That is the sappiest song I have ever heard,” I said. Couldn’t help myself. And before Joe could respond I smiled, and said, “but I bet it made you rich.”
I had to be gentle. Joe was, after all, ohana by virtue of marrying Bob and Sarah’s daughter, Christine.
He allowed a grin that reminded me of an alligator I met once on Sanibel Island, down in Florida, that lived in my mother-in-law’s canal.
“Sold 15 million records, became a movie, won an Oscar for Best Song. Song’s still selling.”
“You must be proud,” I said. He grinned again, and over more wine that night on Molokai we seemed to get along. Told me he got his start as a radio/tv copywriter, that he created Pepsi’s catchy jingle: “You’ve got a lot to live.”
Phenomenal, I said. And meant it.
As a one-time writer of 60-second spots with John Lester that aired on San Francisco radio stations, I admired his great good fortune achieved by brevity and brilliance; he had strung together a few words that hit dead center in the saccharin heart of America (a place still off-limits to me) and made an indecent pile of money out of lyrics heard in his head in the shower one day.
Even now I don’t understand why that song appeals to so many people, but it does. You know it.
A half-century later, “You light up my life/you give me hope…” still reduces grown men and women of a certain age to tears, as if it were the national matrimonial anthem.
What advanced Joe’s musical success is this: Debbie Boone-the daughter of cornball ‘50s songster Pat Boone (“a white-sport coat and a pink carnation”) won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist singing Joe’s song that also won the Academy Award for Best Song in a Hollywood film in 1979. What has Debbie done since? I don’t know or care, but about Joe, you will see.
* * *
That night on Molokai, the saddest little boy I ever met appeared at our dinner table inside a faux ranch house as we tucked into big hunks of free range Molokai beef. The little boy of about seven or eight (the only child present) appeared like an afterthought. Said he wasn’t hungry. Introduced as Nicholas. Never said hello.
Pale and thin with dark circles under yearning eyes, Nicholas, his father’s son by a prior wife/Playmate, looked lost. No smile, no laugh, tombstone eyes. Good bones.
Is he okay? I wondered and was told he’s on Ritalin, something I had never heard of before, a smoothing sedative, it turns out, that keeps kids even so they don’t act like, well, kids.
There had been troubles before. I didn’t want to know. I felt sad about this little boy who wasn’t having a good time in Hawaii.
I saw Joe and Nicholas several times that year in Hawaii while Joe wrote a screenplay for an unreleased film entitled Sara’s Life Before It Became A Movie. An odd title since Sarah is Christine’s mother.
Soon, that sad little boy who seldom looked up or smiled, his father and Christine flew back to New York. Then one year Christine came home alone; the marriage had ended, and her career, too. I forgot about all that until recently learning how lives of people I knew had begun to unravel.
Back in New York, Joe Brooks suffered a collapsing stroke that bent and withered him, made him look wild-eyed and crazy.
He consumed copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol and began ordering young girls from Kristin Davis, the New York madam convicted of operating a call girl ring for clients like Eliot Spitzer, probably dick-head congressmen, too.
Then Brooks, 73, was indicted on 127 counts of sexual misconduct, including the rape of 13 young girls 18 to 30 he lured to his Upper East Side casting couch on Craigslist with promises of stardom.
“Hold this,” he would say, offering aspiring actresses his Oscar. “This could be yours, if you do what I say.”
Shortly after noon one Sunday in May 2011, Joe’s body was found in his apartment hooked to a mail-order helium-tank suicide kit. The husband of his personal trainer found his body and a rambling note. His suicide made headlines in all the papers, even The New York Times.
“Sicko Songwriter, Accused Rapist Kills Himself”
-New York Post
The Joe Brooks story took a new twist six months later when, his son, Nicholas, now 25, was accused of choking and drowning his girlfriend, Sylvie Cachay (reputedly her true surname), a Peruvian model turned swimsuit designer.
Her semi-nude body was found in an overflowing tub in Room 20 of the trendy Soho House hotel at 3:30 the morning of Dec. 9, 2010. She was 33.
“How long can I get for something like this?” Nicholas reportedly asked detectives as he was led to court, where he pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. Which I took to mean that he didn’t mean to, but it happened.
The New York press called Nicholas “a trust fund stoner” even though his father left $250,000 to his young, pretty trainer and not a cent to Nicholas.
I emailed Bob and asked about his daughter, Christine.
“She’s okay,” Bob emailed back. “The story’s not over yet.”
Wanted to ask, but didn’t. Story already seemed over the top. Who or what could be around the corner?
I mean, a once-in-a-lifetime hit song leads to fortune and fame for obscure New York jingle writer who becomes Oscar Award-winning Hollywood film producer and failing to duplicate breakthrough success, becomes casting couch serial rapist, seducing starlet wannabees, abusing alcohol and drugs, hiring high-class hookers, then suffers a stroke, gets indicted adn takes own life in Upper East Side apartment on Sunday in New York (Almost a song there). Six months later, his son Nicholas is charged with strangling a beautiful young Peruvian swimsuit designer who’s found dead in the bathtub of a New York hotel, then gets left out of father’s will while jailed on Rikers Island awaiting trial for murder. All the lurid ingredients of a classic film noir but who these days would pay to see that?
* * *
Found guilty last summer of strangling his girlfriend, Nicholas, now 27, was sentenced 25-years to life in prison in September in New York. His attorney plans to appeal.
[This story is excerpted from Mean High Tide, a memoir of a time in Hawaii by Rick Carroll whose e-book The Eyes of Easter Island is now available at Amazon.com]
Photo: Wikipedia Commons