Early Sunday Morning Coming Down

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I have long been a fan of Edward Hopper’s art. My favorite work of his is Early Sunday Morning from 1930. I first saw this piece at the Whitney Museum in NYC, and it was the first Hopper I ever hung on a wall (sadly I lost it in my divorce!). This art has long evoked images for me, which I can sum up with two pieces of mixed media: one movie clip and one song.

Scott Joplin’s Solace from The Sting. The Sting won the Academy Award for best motion picture in 1973. It’s a great movie. Great story, great acting, great setting in 1930s Chicago. My favorite scene occurs near the end of the movie, early in the morning of the day of the climactic scene. The mellow rag, Solace, plays as the main characters prepare themselves for the biggest performance of their lives. The mood set by this song, in this setting, reminds me so much of a Hopper painting that it’s scary. The calm before the storm. See for yourself.

Johnny Cash’s Sunday Morning Coming Down. Johnny Cash is America’s greatest musical storyteller. His songs paint pictures with words like nobody else’s. In Sunday  Morning Coming Down, a hungover Cash struggles to get himself ready to face the day. When he sings about “a Sunday Morning sidewalk … a sleeping city sidewalk,” I can picture Johnny Cash walking into the Hopper painting. Listen for yourself.

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Panda’s Musical Journey

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Every life deserves a soundtrack. This is the title of a new short story I’m working on, based on my lifetime love affair with music. It all started with The Beatles, moved through a lot of rock and roll into classical, jazz, blues, and much more.

I’ve catalogued all of my music in a database I started keeping when I was about 18 years old. I thought it would be cool to take a somewhat random sampling of my music collection by looking at every 50th album and picking a song from each. The result is this eclectic collection spanning over 1,150 albums I’ve enjoyed since 1977. It was tough to cut down to the 23 songs on this playlist; I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Here is the playlist:

Panda's Musical Journey Back Cover

And here’s where you can listen to it yourself:

A. Panda’s Exotica Lounge

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So, here we go again, back to A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge for another music mix. This time I’m shooting for a compilation of Exotica and Lounge tunes, many of which I’ve only recently discovered. A lot of these songs are from the heyday of this style of music, the 1950s and 1960s. Many more are by modern-day artists who either revisited old chestnuts or created something new. All of them should fill you with a sense of escape, which is what we’re all about here in the Tiki Lounge.

Now, I’m not an artist or musician, though I really appreciate both. Where I flex my creative muscles is in writing and compiling. That’s why I enjoy this blog, and that’s why I also enjoy making music mixes. It really is an art form, mixing up other peoples’ work into something completely new.

For this particular musical collection, I have Dawn Frasier to thank for the inspiration. Dawn is an amazingly talented artist in Seattle who created the painting that is the cover of this mix. The original artwork is now hanging behind the bar in the Tiki Lounge. I also want to acknowledge some wonderful musicians who are Tiki friends of mine and landed in this mix: Jay Brooks of Clouseaux, Tony Marsico of The Martini Kings, Michael Bridoux of The Left Arm of Buddha, John Bartley of Five-Eaux, Mark Fontana of The Blue Hawaiians, Jim Bacchi of The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison, Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge, and all of the other musicians who made Exotica and Lounge music the treasure that we enjoy today. I hope you enjoy listening to this mix as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. Aloha!

Here’s the playlist in case you want to see what’s in this mix:

A Panda's Exotica Lounge Playlist

And here’s the link to listen to this playlist on 8tracks:

Paradise Lost?

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So, I just finished reading a book about Paul Gaugin called Gaugin: Tahiti. Now I’m not much of an art fan, other than my love of modern Tiki artists (see Tiki Ohana – Artists ,  Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux) and Edward Hopper (see Edward Hopper). I know enough to be dangerous about old-school artists. I never really knew anything about Paul Gaugin and had certainly never seen any of his artwork. When I found out he left France to pursue his late career in French Polynesia, I was intrigued, so I read his story.

Apparently, Gaugin left France because he was disgusted with the traditional art scene, culture and politics in his mother country. He hoped to find a more primitive lifestyle in Tahiti to transform his art. He also had a lust for young ladies, which he partook of in abundance in Tahiti, much to the detriment of his reputation. Many believe it took many years after his death for Gaugin’s art genius to be acknowledged in France because of his horrible character and his outspoken criticism of the French establishment. But that’s another story.

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Gaugin leaves France for French Polynesia in search of a more primitive lifestyle, an escape, if you will. Here’s why I was drawn to this story: it reminds me of Tiki escapism in Mid-Century America and it’s revival today. Gaugin was looking to surround himself with the natural beauty and color of Tahiti to reinvigorate his art. Isn’t that what Tiki does for us now, in a way? We seek an escape through music, art, libations and all things Polynesian, both authentic and faux, to get us to a better place.

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Unfortunately, when Gaugin first arrived in Tahiti in 1891, he was disillusioned by what he found. The French government had beaten him there by at least 50 years, and the colonizers and missionaries did a great deal to subjugate and evangelize the local population. What Gaugin had hoped to find, a primitive culture and people, had become a lot like what he was trying to escape in France. His behavior, both regarding his disdain of the local government and appetite for Tahitian girls, put Gaugin at odds with the Tahitian authorities. Some escape!

Tiki’s original downfall in the late 1960s had a similar story. This so-called “escape” was decried by the hippie generation as a completely artificial and unnatural world. There was some truth to this narrative. Original Tiki did borrow from Polynesian culture in a very loose sense, which some people then (and even to this day) saw as an exploitation of these native lands. Was it wrong or disrespectful to appropriate sacred carved Tikis as gods for a new culture of escapism?

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For Gaugin, his desire to get back to a more primitive state of nature had a noble cause: to improve his art. It’s sad that his own baggage dragged him down, and the colonization of Tahiti demoralized him even further. Gaugin was only human, after all, and human nature in both his own case and the French occupiers of this Polynesian paradise ultimately defeated his ideal. Broken, both emotionally and physically (years of STDs had taken a toll on his body), Gaugin relocated to the more remote Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in 1901 before passing away there in 1903.

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The revival of Tiki culture beginning at the turn of the 21st Century also had a noble cause: the rediscovery of a lost culture in its purest form. Yes, Tiki culture is as much artifice as it is art, but we current Tiki enthusiasts don’t make excuses for this or pretend this escape is something more than just that: an escape. In addition, the broad scope of Tiki culture can lead (and has led for me) to a much deeper dive into its various elements. The differences in Tiki carving styles among the different Polynesian islands. The origin of Tiki drinks from humble beginnings in the Caribbean to exotic cocktails painstakingly crafted by expert mixologists. The architecture and design of lush Tiki temples all over the world.

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Again, there is no need to make any excuses for enjoying the Tiki lifestyle. When I was troubled recently by a video mocking the American occupation of the Hawai’ian islands, my friend George Jenkins responded: “Good luck finding a square inch of this planet that doesn’t have some nasty history associated with it.” Truth. We humans have a nasty habit of fucking up our world through our greed and lust for power. But we can still be positive about Tiki and our brand of escapism, as long as we are respectful of others. Added my friend Scott Deeter: “Hawaii has a very complicated history for sure, Andy. But there is amazing beauty in both the land and the culture there. Don’t be an ugly tourist–just like visiting anywhere.” Wise words from my fellow Tiki enthusiasts.

So, while your enjoying a Mai-Tai, think about all of those who came before us in this escape we call Tiki. Paul Gaugin would be happy to join us there!

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Panda’s Tribute: 1965

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1965. It was a very good year. I wrote about this a few years ago as I was just about to turn 50 (It Was A Very Good Year). Ten years prior, for my 40th birthday, I put together a compilation of music popular in that important year. Now, I’m sharing that playlist with all of you who weren’t at my 40th birthday party. I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's 40th Tribute CD

You can listen to this playlist here:

Panda’s In Love – Songs for Jess

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Jessica Montero is my wife. My ladyfriend. My lover. My best friend. My confidante. My soulmate.

When I met Jess, she was the beautiful chick in the short skirt and long jacket. She hasn’t changed much in the 16 years I’ve known her. Today is her birthday. She’s a little older than 21, but she still gets carded. A lot.

I put this music compilation together for her, and now the whole world can know how I feel about her. Here you go.

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You can hear this musical love letter for yourself here:

A. Panda’s Christmas Lounge

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Back in 2011, I decided to make my 3rd Christmas playlist. This one was inspired by the music I enjoy listening to in A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge. This is a mix of classic and contemporary lounge crooners, jazzy numbers, surf and Tiki tunes, and some straight-up Christmas classics. Throw in some cool SHAG art and a cup of egg nog and you’re ready to enjoy the holidays in Mid-Century Modern style!

I also decided to turn this into a podcast, which you can check out here: apandatikipod.podbean.com

Here’s the back of the CD case with the track listing.

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You can also listen to the playlist on my web radio: