Ohana Means Community

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Last weekend, I ran into an old friend at a concert. I know George Mowrer from the church we used to attend together and from some men’s retreats we enjoyed. Lately I’ve lost my desire for organized religion, so I hadn’t seen George for a while. He asked me if I had found another church, and I told him no, that I was giving that a break for now.

George and I are Facebook friends, so he knows of my Tiki obsession. When George asked me what I was doing to be in community, I told him my Tiki ohana was my community. He asked me to explain that to him, and I tried the best I could before the concert started and we shifted our focus to the music. I’m afraid my explanation must have been pretty disjointed. I will try to explain it better now, so if you’re reading this, George, this is for you.

My Tiki ohana is both real and virtual. I’ve written at length about the many aspects of it (Who’s Who In The Tiki Ohana): artists, builders, chroniclers, musicians, mixologists. I’ll now talk about some of the specific people I’ve gotten to know well, some in person, some virtually. I feel blessed to know these folks, as they truly make up a wonderful community for me.

Beth Lennon. A/K/A Mod Betty, Beth is the creator of Retro Roadmap, a really cool website devoted to spotlighting vintage and retro places across the country with the hope of preserving them. Years ago, Beth came across my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page and reached out to me to talk about Tiki. She noticed that there was an interconnect between my world of Tiki and her world of Mid-Century Modern, one that we’ve explored ever since. I invited Beth to come up to Bethlehem so I could show her Steel Stacks; she and her husband Cliff Hillis both came up and we immediately hit it off! Cliff is a musician, a singer-songwriter who is very busy in the Philly music scene. He brought me a copy of one of his CDs as a gift, and I gave Beth a SHAG art postcard that reminded me of her.

Over the years, we’ve crossed paths on many occasions. Beth came back to Bethlehem for a Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica concert I helped organize at Steel Stacks; I spent time with Beth and Cliff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale; and I helped Beth organize a Tiki weekender in Wildwood NJ, the MCM/Doo-Wop capital of the East Coast. It was at this Wildwood event that I met many people I’ve gotten to know in the local Tiki ohana, folks like Robin Cammarota-Nicholson and Michael Hirsch.

Michael Hirsch. Michael lives in New York City, but his parents live in Allentown, so he comes to my neck of the woods often. Michael has been to my Tiki Lounge a few times. He is an architect by trade, and he is passionate about historical preservation, having written a book on Doo-Wop architecture. Michael organized a tour of historically significant landmarks in Wildwood during Mod Betty’s Tiki Weekend. He also is involved with the Society for Commercial Archeology and brought a few of his SCA friends to the Tiki Lounge the last time he visited.

I’ve seen Michael in other places besides Wildwood and Bethlehem. He and I broke bread together at another Retro Roadmap event at the Village Diner in upstate New York, where I also met his parents, Anita and Syman. It turns out the synagogue they attend is literally across the street from my house! Michael also met my friend Bruce and me at The Polynesian, an upscale new Tiki bar in Manhattan.

Robin Cammarota-Nicholson. Robin is another New York City resident I first met at the Wildwood Tiki Weekend. She and her husband Ken live in Yonkers, but Robin travels the world in her job with the American Council on Germany. Everywhere she goes, Robin searchesm out Tiki hotspots to try out. Although I haven’t seen her as often as I’ve seen Michael, I did run into Robin at a Surf Music weekend in Asbury Park NJ and at a pop-up Tiki bar at Boilermaker NYC, where the bar was taken over by Tiki mixologist extraordinaire and historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Jeffrey Berry. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the most influential people in the Tiki revival movement which began in the 1990s. He has published multiple books on Tiki cocktail recipes and history, travels the world as a Tiki drink ambassador, and opened his own restaurant and Tiki bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans. I first met Jeff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where I attended his symposium on the dark days of Tiki drinks in the 1970s. I found him to be personable and kind, with no ego, as he spent time talking with me as if I was the only person there.

The next time I met The Bum, he took his generosity of spirit a step further. My sister Anita and I visited Latitude 29 while in New Orleans on some family business. Jeff agreed to do an interview with me for my podcast before we sat down for dinner. He was articulate, genuine, and a wonderful historian during our talk (you can check out this interview in my podcast episode here: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya). During dinner, Beachbum Berry came to our table and shared a new drink he was working on with us, asking our opinion on it. What a nice gesture from a great guy! I consider it an honor to know Jeff Berry personally, as he is the most accessible and humble of the Tiki titans. Mahalo, Bum.

Steve Seifert. My wife Jess first introduced me to “Tikiman” Steve Seifert, who created a wonderful website dedicated to WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort: Tikiman Pages. Our family are Disney junkies, and The Polynesian is my happy place. Jess began following Tikiman’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date on all things Poly, which helped us better plan our vacations there.

Over the years, Tikiman has asked his followers to contribute to his website, whenever he knew somebody was at The Polynesian and he was looking for on-the-ground reporting. I helped Steve out when our family was on vacation there in 2014. In return, he helped publicize my blog posts through his audience, as I was blogging daily durning our stay (WDW Polynesian Day 1) and Tikiman’s followers took my readership into 5 digits!

A few years later, Tikiman decided to host a get-together for Tiki friends at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in The Polynesian Village. It was really cool to meet him in person, along with seeing other members of the Tiki ohana like Jim Hayward, Scott Deeter, George Borcherding, and Kevin-John Jobczynski.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate a lot of Tiki artists over the years (Tiki Ohana: Artists, Tiki Ohana: Artists, Part Deux), but I’ve only actually met a very few of them. Josh Agle was the first, and I’ve documented my interactions with him before (Stalking SHAG). One of my current favorite artists is Kevin-john Jobczynski, who has become somewhat famous as a Disney Master Artist.

I was fortunate to meet KJ at Tikiman’s gathering at Trader Sam’s, where he debuted a new art print created especially for the event. I had previously purchased a piece from him entitled Mai-Tai Sunset, which was one of KJ’s earliest Tiki-specific pieces of art. How cool that he printed it on a piece of driftwood with a bamboo frame and rattan matting! This print, along with several other Kevin-john works, hangs proudly in the Tiki Lounge.

George Borcherding. Like me, George Borcherding is a huge fan of Tiki. I first got to know him via our online interactions, but I have now spent enough time with George in-person to consider him a true friend. All of our meetings have taken place at The Polynesian, which certainly isn’t a bad place to meet. A Dole Whip and a Captain’s Mai-Tai are great reasons to get together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

George, like me, has his own home Tiki bar, which he puts a lot of work into making special. I’ve never been to Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, but I enjoy following along on his Facebook page to see the latest and the greatest in Tiki decor. I believe he feels the same way about A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge.

One of these days, I will visit George in Jacksonville FL, and I’m sure he will come to Bethlehem PA too. For now, we have many memories we’ve made together at The Polynesian, from the time we met with many of our Tiki ohana at Tikiman Steve’s event, and the time we were a couple of non-Polynesian gringos crashing Auntie Kaui’s birthday celebration in Luau Cove, to just chilling out at the Tambu Lounge sipping on Mai-Tais made by Walter. And we’ll never forget being served by Skipper Natalie at Trader Sam’s, which was sadly the last time we saw her before she tragically passed away at too young an age. Okole mauna, Natalie, and mahalo, Bruddah George, for being a good friend and a big part of my Tiki community.

Panda’s Exotica Island

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Exotica. It’s a misunderstood term, unfortunately. Probably because it sounds a bit like “erotica,” which it is not. Exotica is a style of music that got its name from an album by Martin Denny. Think relaxing, island music, with plenty of vibraphone, wordless vocals, and bird calls. As if you’re in the middle of a jungle and don’t really want to get out. I consider Exotica to be one of the five pillars in the Tiki canon: Panda’s Galaxy of Sound.

The big three of Exotica were Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman. Les Baxter began it all with his Music Out of the Moon album way back in 1947, which featured the unusual sounds of the theremin to create an imagined lunar soundscape. Baxter’s music was lushly orchestrated, as he went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest soundtrack artists. His original version of Quiet Village remains the quintessential Exotica song. Martin Denny stripped down Baxter’s sound with his version of Quiet Village on his classic Exotica album in 1957. Denny’s vibraphonist, Arthur Lyman, struck out on his own and imbued the music with the soul of his native Hawai’i, including his album Legend of Pele from 1959.

Over the years, other artists have made Exotica music, and modern artists from across the globe have picked up the torch. Ìxtahuele from Sweden, The Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, and Gold Dust Lounge from Florida, to name a few. This playlist celebrates a timeline of Exotica from its heyday back in the 1950s to the current day. I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Exotica Island CD Back

Here’s the soundtrack you can listen to on 8tracks:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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“It was twenty years ago today, when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”

So begins the most important Beatles album ever (in my opinion). It was 1967. The band had decided to stop touring to concentrate on writing music. Two of my favorite albums, Rubber Soul (Dec. 1965) and Revolver (Aug. 1966), began the transition from the early Beatles of Love Me Do to the more complex music of their later recordings. With Sgt. Pepper, this transformation was complete.

This is a wonderful album, featuring the competing songwriting talents of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Indian-influenced orchestration of George Harrison, and probably the most iconic song Ringo Starr ever sang. Mix in some hallucinogenic drugs and a wide assortment of musical instruments and ideas, and you arrive at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 50 years since this album was released. It sounds as groundbreaking today as it must have sounded in 1967. I was fortunate to have just purchased the 50th anniversary edition from 2017, which is an amazing collection of pictures, posters, videos, and of course music. Lots of music. There are four CDs worth of music here, including the original mono mix of the album, the original stereo mix, a new stereo mix, and lots of outtakes.

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The biggest reason why I bought this edition is the new 5.1 surround-sound mix of Sgt. Pepper on a separate Blu-ray disc included in it. If you’ve been following along with my social media posts, you know that I’ve really been getting into these surround mixes of great albums. I was curious to hear how the original 4-track recordings would translate into 5.1. I was not disappointed! The surround-sound mix of Sgt. Pepper really pops, introducing me to sounds I hadn’t noticed before.

It was worth it to me to buy this collection just for this new mix. All of the bonus features, including a wonderful book and video on the making of Sgt. Pepper, will keep me busy for a long time enjoying this wonderful album. Which is as it should be, for a masterpiece that has aged well after 50 years.

Mahalo John, Paul, George, and Ringo!

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Owning Tiki

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I’ve been a participant in Tiki culture for about 15 years now. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what Tiki is (and what it isn’t). First and foremost, Tiki is an escape. The many aspects of this escape – music, art, drinks, decor – have been the subject of my musings in this blog, my Facebook page, my podcasts, and my 8tracks music channel.

What I’m particularly proud of is that I have become somewhat of an expert in Tiki to those who know me. I like to think I occupy the Tiki space in those people’s minds, and they often ask me questions, send me texts and pictures from Tiki-related places, and bring me things they think I might like for my Tiki Lounge.

One of the questions I get asked most often: “Andy, how did you get into Tiki in the first place?” I got tired of telling my Tiki origin story over and over again, so I wrote a blog post about it (Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge?). The next most popular question I get is “Is this Tiki?” I’m not always right, but I do try to explain the difference between Oceanic Arts and Party City, i.e. legitimate and respectful Tiki versus tacky cultural appropriation.

The most fun communications are texts from friends who know my love of Tiki and want to show me they’ve paid attention to what I’ve told them. Here are a few recent examples:

Both of these texts came to me in the past month!

Finally, the most gratifying aspect of owning Tiki is when friends bring me things from their travels. I’m not talking about my Tiki ohana, as we send each other things all the time, especially Tiki mugs. I’m talking about unsolicited gifts from unexpected people and places, just because they thought of me and saw something cool. A few examples:

I love that people think of me when they see Tiki things and bring them over. It’s not the gifts as much as the thought that brings me joy. No matter what it is, I will try my best to display these items proudly in the Tiki Lounge, after thanking the givers publicly on my Facebook page. Let’s hope I never run out of room here!

To all of you who have asked me questions about Tiki, showed me you listened and appreciated the knowledge, and brought me tokens of your appreciation, I say mahalo from the bottom of my heart. You are always welcome in the Tiki Lounge for a Mai-Tai and a temporary escape to a fun place.

A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge Soundtrack

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Welcome to the soundtrack of my Tiki Lounge, a world both virtual and real. I originally created this playlist in 2010, but have just updated it (9 years later) to include my theme song, Panda Strutt, by the wonderfully talented Jon Tiki of Five-Eaux. This tune, which can be heard at the beginning of my podcast episodes (including the latest, Panda’s Musical Journey), now kicks off this compilation. It makes sense to me. I hope you enjoy it!

Here is the playlist:

a panda's tiki lounge cd back cover

Click here to listen to this playlist on my 8tracks station:

Panda’s Christmas Island

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Christmas Island. It is a magical place, where palm trees sway, Tiki drinks flow freely, and the music is very festive. In my version of Christmas Island, the soundtrack is made of all of the stars in Panda’s Galaxy of Sound: Surf, Hawai’ian, Exotica, Lounge, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. It’s not exactly your parents’ Christmas music, but never fear: it will put you in the mood for Christmas. Tiki style.

This is my fifth Christmas compilation and first in 6 years. There’s a nice mix of old crooners, surf stalwarts, new Hawai’ian music, and some exotica that will leave you wondering how anybody could reimagine Christmas this way. I hope you enjoy it.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Christmas Island CD Playlist

And here’s a link to my 8tracks radio page where you can listen to this mix:

Panda’s Childhood in the 1970s

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I turned 5 years old in 1970. My earliest musical recollection is of listening to The Beatles, and I remain a big fan. However, my parents were into straight-ahead rock & roll, having just gone through the Summer of Love a few years earlier. In rifling through their record collection, I was exposed to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Santana, and Jethro Tull, to name a few bands that were big then. As I grew into my teenage years, I supplemented that with my own favorites: Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, David Bowie, ELO. The list goes on and on!

This music defines the 1970s for me. I now own over 200 albums from that decade, and whittling it down to a manageable playlist was hard. To honor the 1970s, I made this a 2-disc set, or double album in the vernacular of the day (there were a lot of those back then, not so much anymore). Here is the playlist:

Panda's Chilhood in the 1970s CD Playlist

And here is a link to my 8tracks page where you can listen to it right now: