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:

Moana

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I had a feeling about this movie. We’ve known for over 2 years that Disney was working on a new, animated, feature-length film with a Polynesian theme. This was good news, as Disney has been a strong player in the Tiki ohana (see Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit).

The last 2 years have been filled with anticipation as the Disney marketing machine built up to the eventual release of Moana this Thanksgiving weekend. There were news releases when they picked the cast. There were previews, which we Tiki geeks faithfully promoted on our Facebook pages. There was the merchandise, which in typical Disney fashion, was available months before the movie came out. There was even a special pre-release event at our local Disney store, which I happily attended with a bunch of small children, not embarrassed at all to join in the fun. I soaked it all up!

So, of course I went to see Moana as soon as it was released, on Wednesday November 23rd. Thanksgiving eve. My wife, son and I donned our 3D glasses as we found our seats in the surprisingly uncrowded theatre. I had to post the event as a check-in on my Facebook page, because, well, this was a big deal. To me.


Now, for full disclosure, we don’t go out to the movies much. I usually prefer to wait for a movie to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray and watch it from the comfort of home. But this was different. I needed to experience Moana on a big movie screen, in 3D, with full theatre sound. I was not disappointed. I love this movie. A lot.

Moana was transformational for me. I’ll leave the reviewing for others (here’s a good one if you’re interested: #PopCulturePundit), but let me just say this was one amazing movie! I found myself getting choked up as the movie ended, with full-blown tears streaming down my cheeks. It’s a little embarrassing to have my 11-year old son see my crying, but I couldn’t help myself, it was very emotional. There was a happy ending, of course, but the message this movie sends you is much more than that.

Moana is a strong female character I would be proud for my daughters to emulate. She’s headstrong for sure, but respects her elders and loves nature. Moana’ attraction to the sea is central to the movie, and her rediscovery of her Polynesian ancestors’ wayfinding skills is key to resolving the plot of the movie.


After I watched this movie for the first time, I rediscovered a modern-day, real-life voyage I had only casually followed previously: the Mālama Honua worldwide voyage of Hōkūle’a. I was originally attracted to the story of this group of explorers because of my love of all things Polynesian, and I followed them on Facebook without really understanding what they were all about. After seeing Moana, I felt inspired to understand Mālama Honua in more depth, and my eyes were really opened. Their mission is to sail the world and find examples of people helping each other and the environment, with the common thread being the ocean that connects us all. What a beautiful idea, come to life! I had to support and share this message with my Facebook family. I hope you will check it out too.


So, apparently art does imitate life. Moana, as it turns out, is based on some actual Polynesian legends, and is pretty faithful to the stories of Polynesian people. Disney has crafted a masterpiece with this movie, and if it could raise the environmental consciousness of at least one person, than it has told a wonderful story indeed. I’ve already gone to see it again, this time with my mother-in-law. It was her turn to see me cry. Oh, well, I’m not ashamed to show my joy and love for Moana. Go see this movie.

Tiki Ohana – Authors

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So, as I review my blog series on the Tiki ohana from last year, and after I updated the Artists list with a Part Deux, I realize there’s a new category I need to acknowledge: Authors. I’ve touched on Tiki books in some of my past posts, e.g. Thor Heyerdahl’s landmark Kon-Tiki (Tiki 101and Sven Kirsten’s seminal work, The Book of Tiki (Tiki Ohana – Builders). I’ve also hinted at several other people who were working on new books. Well, over the past few years, we’ve seen some pretty amazing new books published by the Tiki ohana. Please consider the following books as must-haves to start or expand your collection of Tiki literature.

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry: Potions of the Caribbean. Beachbum Berry is the single most important figure in the revival of the Tiki cocktail (Tiki Ohana – Cocktails). His work in researching the origins of Tiki drinks led him to discover that most of them were actually recipes from bars throughout the Caribbean, borrowed and repackaged by Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic in the 1930s-50s. Bum’s book traces the history of rum going back to 1492, and expertly intertwines world history with the rise and fall and rebirth of rum as the important spirit it is. Potions of the Caribbean also includes a boatload of recipes for rum drinks throughout history, many of which were resurrected by Beachbum Berry himself via interviews with the bartenders who would have otherwise taken these once-secret recipes to their graves. If you’re a fan of history and Tiki, you must read this book. I don’t say this often, but I couldn’t put it down. Mahalo, Bum, okole maluna!

Sven Kirsten: Tiki Pop. What else can I say about Sven Kirsten? He is the undisputed king of the Tiki revival. Sven has published multiple books to this point, but here is something new. Tiki Pop is the companion volume to an exhibition he curated in 2014 at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. My first thought was that it would be tough to build upon The Book of Tiki. I was wrong. By tailoring his message to an international audience, Sven Kirsten was able to expand upon his original masterpiece with an entirely new perspective on what drove the rise of Tiki culture in America. It works. Merci, Sven.

Martin and Rebecca Cate: Smuggler’s Cove. I just finished reading this book, and all I can say is: wow! Martin Cate is the proprietor of a Tiki bar in the SF Bay Area by the same name (Tiki Ohana – Cocktails), but Smuggler’s Cove the book is more than just an homage to the bar. Martin and Rebecca Cate have given us a how-to instruction manual on immersing yourself in the world of Tiki. This book chronicles their journey, but it does so much more. Here we have a thorough history of rum, it’s production methods, and numerous recipes with tips on how to select the proper rums and mixers. Martin and Rebecca have also educated us on how to throw a Tiki party, what the most important Tiki drinks are and how to make them, where to find the best Tiki temples in America (including Smuggler’s Cove) and how they were created. This book has quickly become my indispensable reference for the Tiki lifestyle. Ho’omaika’i ‘ana and well done, Mr. and Mrs. Cate!

Tim “Swanky” Glazner: Mai-Kai – History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Here is the newest book to arrive in the Tiki Lounge, hot off the presses this Summer. Tim Glazner was the cofounder of The Hukilau and was instrumental in making The Mai-Kai the focal point of this annual celebration. His love of this greatest Tiki temple of them all is illustrated in his beautiful new book, which tells the early history of how two brothers from Chicago moved to Florida and brought their vast Tiki knowledge with them. Tim used his access to The Mai-Kai and its owners to paint a picture of an amazing place, including beautiful pictures, intriguing characters, and a reverence shared by the Tiki ohana around the world. If you’ve never been to The Mai-Kai, you must go. My first visit was a Tiki epiphany (Aloha Spirit: The Mai-Kai). If you can’t physically go, Tim Glazner’s book will take you there in spirit. Mahalo, Swanky!

Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux

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About a year-and-a-half ago, I kicked off a series of posts on the Tiki ohana, kind of a who’s who in the Tiki world. My first post was Tiki Ohana – Artists, featuring the artists I had come to admire by that time. Well, I’ve grown in my Tiki knowledge over the past 18 months, and “discovered” and met some more pretty cool artists along the way. Here they are, the second wave of artists to grace the Tiki Lounge.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I got to know this wonderful artist the way I meet a lot of Tiki people: on the Internet. KJ checked out my page, I checked out his, and the rest is history. He was kind enough to appear on my podcast, where we talked about his beginnings as a sports artist, doing commission work for famous athletes and celebrities, before finally becoming a Disney master artist. Kevin-john has branched out into purely Tiki art as well. I got to meet him in-person at Tikiman Steve’s TikiFest 2016, which was held at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort. Please check out KJ’s amazing art for yourself: http://kevinjohnstudio.com/

img_1176Dawn Frasier. Sophista-tiki is the name of this talented artist’s studio in Seattle WA. Dawn Frasier is a multi-faceted Tiki artist, creating everything from water color paintings, rugs, handmade clothing from exclusively designed fabrics, and Tiki decor in many shapes and sizes. One of her watercolors was featured on Page 6 of Smuggler’s Cove, the wonderful new book from Martin and Rebecca Cate. I’m proud to have a print of that amazing watercolor hanging on the wall in the Tiki Lounge. Please check out Dawn Frasier’s wide variety of work here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sophistatiki

Chaunine Joy Landeau. This talented lady’s art isn’t exactly Tiki (yet), but Chaunine Joy’s work puts her squarely on the periphery. She’s a big fan of Disney and Tiki, and it’s just a matter of time until we get her to drink the Mai-Tai and start painting something Polynesian. Chaunine specializes in whimsical watercolors painted on a page from an actual book, which is pretty cool. She and I are working on a piece of art for the Tiki Lounge, and I already have the wall space ready for it. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please check out Chaunine Joy’s studio here: http://chauninejoy.tictail.com/

Tiki tOny Murphy. Tiki tOny is an artist I’ve just begun to follow. I saw some of his artwork at the aforementioned TikiFest 2016, both on the walls of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and on t-shirts worn by a few of my fellow revelers. I also covet some of the custom-painted Vans I saw on his website – they will be mine, oh yes, they will be mine! Tiki tOny was just named the official artist for The Hukilau 2017, and some of the initial sketches he’s shared on his Facebook page look amazing. Please check out his website for those Vans and other cool Tiki stuff here: http://www.tikitony.com/

Panda’s Happy Happy Joy Joy!

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Sing. Dance. Laugh. Cry. Hope. Ill teach you to be happy! These are the words I used to describe this playlist, one I put together back in 2010. To this day, it’s the CD I listen to the most in my car. The reason? It is full of emotion, the kind of emotion that makes me really feel this music. I’ve been listening to this a lot lately, and making mental notes on the emotion each song brings to me. Here, then, is a summary of those notes.

Cake: The Distance. The first popular single from my favorite band. This is the perfect way to start this playlist, with a sense of optimism right out of the starting gate. Reluctantly crouched at the starting line, engines pumping and thumping in time…

The Apples In Stereo: Sunndal Song. Happy. What can I say? This song makes me bounce around when I hear its uplifting chorus, especially when they invoke the moon. I love me some moon.

MercyMe: God With Us. I have faith. I’m not terribly religious these days, because I’m tired of the hate that fills too many churches today. I do love Jesus Christ, and I believe he’s really upset with what he sees said and done in his name. This song does him proud.

Liz Phair: Extraordinary. This is a powerful female anthem, balancing strength and sexy. Liz Phair tends to be pretty racy with her lyrics, but she tones it down a bit here. There’s a reason this song was used in commercials promoting female power. It’s that good.

XTC: Making Plans for Nigel. One of my favorite 80s bands, XTC’s songs typically had a sharp edge to them (remember Dear God?). This song was different, and was the reason I always wanted to name my firstborn son Nigel. Ryan my boy, you’re lucky we don’t live in England!

Green Day: Waiting. A happy song of hope from an otherwise gritty band. Green Day rocks hard, but they sure do write some mean pop hooks. This is another song that has me bouncing around inside the car when it comes on.

Chris Isaak: Wicked Game. Sexy. Chris Isaak’s voice is enough to make you melt, but when you pair it with a haunting guitar and seductive lyrics, you’ve got trouble. It doesn’t hurt that the girl he was pursuing in the video was smoking hot!

The B52s: Strobe Light. Speaking of sexy, who hasn’t fantasized about making love under a strobe light? Fred Schneider is no Chris Isaak, but his silly voice and driving beat do the trick here. I wanna kiss your…pineapple!

The Beatles: If I Fell. Love. The Beatles wrote a lot of love songs, and this is my favorite. John and Paul’s harmonizing on the chorus blew my mind as a teenager. I used to walk down the street with a friend, and we would try to replicate the harmony. I always sang the high part. Good times.

U2: Love Is Blindness. Speaking of love, U2 nails it with this song of devotion. What starts like a church hymn winds its way into your heart. This hypnotic tune makes me feel the love in it’s darkness.

Van Halen: Ice Cream Man. Shifting gears, we have David Lee Roth at the height of his showmanship with this fun song full of double entendres. Say what you will about Eddie and Alex and Sammy Hagar – David Lee Roth was the soul of Van Halen. End of story.

Blind Boys of Alabama: Amazing Grace. What do you get when you take a bunch of older black fellas and have them sing a traditional spiritual song to the tune of House of the Rising Sun? You get one powerful piece of music! I still get goosebumps when I hear it.

Don Ho: Hukilau. I am a Tiki guy, after all, so I had to slip at least one Hawai’ian song into this mix. It doesn’t get much more Hawai’ian than Don Ho! Instant good feeling in paradise. We throw our nets out into the sea…

Fantastic Plastic Machine: Bachelor Pad. Dance, right now! This catchy tune from the Pink Panther’s Penthouse Party is what I would always play in my basement Tiki Lounge to get my pre-teen kids to dance. And dance they did – like nobody was watching.

Live: The Beauty of Gray. This is an anthem for tolerance, which we really need in this day and age of polarization and hatred. Ed Kowalczyk was never afraid to wear his heart and his politics on his sleeve, which is quite refreshing to hear. Uplifting.

Squirrel Nut Zippers: Prince Nez. What a fun band, with a sound that’s difficult to classify. They sound old-fashioned but this song is very young at heart. It always reminds me of my first dog, Barney the beagle. I don’t know why, but that makes me happy.

The Oasis Band: You Are Beautiful. Another tribute to Jesus, this time by the incredibly talented Brently Groshong and the contemporary worship band from First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem. I miss hearing his inspirational music live on Sundays.

The Rolling Stones: Happy. A classic Stones tune, and one of the few sung by Keith Richards in the lead. This is a happy love song in its own way. I had to put it in this mix just for the title song! I need a love to keep me happy.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: Go Daddy-O. I said dance, bitches! If this song doesn’t make you want to dance, it’s because you can’t. I can never forget the climactic scene in Swingers where John Favreau and Heather Graham find each other to this song. Inspired.

The Doors: Take It As It Comes. I’m building to the end of the playlist, and Jim Morrison inspires a sense of urgency with this tune. Although the lyrics seem to be telling you to slow down, I believe this song is more a call to action. At least that’s how it makes me feel.

Warren Zevon: Keep Me in Your Heart. Before David Bowie famously wrote his own requiem, there was Warren Zevon, creating his final album while he was dying. This is the last song on the album, a love song to his wife. It makes me cry every time. So sad. Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house, maybe you’ll think of me and smile…

There you have it. 21 songs that evoke strong emotions in me. I hope they do the same for you. Aloha.

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Follow this link to listen to this playlist via 8tracks:

The Wide, Wild World of Tiki.

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Tiki does not exist in a vacuum. It was born out of the need for escape, and it both feeds and is fed by that need.

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I can trace the roots of Tiki culture back at least to the 1890s, when Paul Gaugin left France for Polynesia, looking to escape the constraints of Impressionist painting in search of a more primitive lifestyle to feed his art. The Hawai’ian music craze of the 1920s in America further fueled our desire for a world of faraway ocean breezes and swaying palm trees. The 1930s saw the invention of the Tiki drink and the nautical flotsam and jetsam-themed bars of Don The Beachcomber. In the 1940s Trader Vic’s upped the ante with full-blown Polynesian restaurants and the creation of the greatest Tiki drink of all: the Mai-Tai. The 1950s brought the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of WWII and the rise of backyard luaus and basement Tiki bars. Tiki culture peaked with the admission of Hawai’i as the 50th state in 1959.

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In the Mid-1960s, it all started falling apart. The Summer of Love ushered in the drug and hippie culture. America had a new means of escape, as the children of the Tiki culture banished their parents’ artificial paradise in favor of a more natural (albeit drug-fueled) release. This back-to-nature movement continued through the 1970s.

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Another culture sprung up in the late 1970s to add insult to Tiki’s injury. Jimmy Buffet introduced Margaritaville, moving the tropical escape to the Caribbean and creating a more-accessible and dumbed-down version of Tiki to the world. Well-crafted cocktails were replaced with alcoholic slushies. Hawai’ian and Exotica music faded to catchy tunes about boat drinks and cheeseburgers in paradise. Carved Tikis and authentic nautical decor gave way to parrots and brightly-colored party decorations. It was enough to make Donn Beach roll over in his grave!

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The 1990s saw the beginning of the resurgence of Tiki culture. Like-minded enthusiasts, brought together by the rise of the Internet, resurrected the lost civilization from Mid-Century America in all of its artificial glory. Today, Tiki bars are opening with well-crafted cocktails made from rescued recipes. Basements are once again adorned with authentic nautical decor, lowbrow artwork, and real Tikis painstakingly carved by modern-day savages. New Exotica bands have brought back the music that was the soundtrack to the original Tiki craze.

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It is here that I should introduce the concept of the Tiki purist. Many of the folks who helped bring Tiki back are very protective of their work, and with good reason. We don’t want to see this wonderful escape relegated to the ash heap of history again. As Tiki gains in popularity, it runs the risk of jumping the shark and being watered down, like Margaritaville. This is why the tight-knit Tiki ohana tends to be wary of newcomers to the scene, until they can be vetted for their “Tiki cred.”


I am not a Tiki purist. Although I’ve been descending slowly down this rabbit hole for over 10 years now, I still value the eclectic nature of my journey. A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge has many of the purist Tiki elements I value most, like carved Tikis, bac-bac matting, bamboo, and cool artwork. I also mix up some pretty authentic Tiki drinks using many different rums and fresh ingredients. However, I’m not above mixing in atypical items to my Tiki space, like pink flamingos, a few tacky decorations, and of course the ubiquitous pandas! If my mother-in-law cross-stitches a sign for me that says “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere”on it, then I display it proudly at the bar.


I belong to several Facebook groups devoted to Tiki ephemera like SHAG’s art, cocktails, exotica music, and home Tiki bar builds. Some of these groups are led by pretty hardcore purists, and that’s okay. I still enjoy being a part of these groups, but I’ve learned through a few intense but civil interactions that folks take their Tiki pretty seriously. It’s all good, as I can appreciate wanting to preserve the traditional elements that made Tiki great the first time around. I just hope that the newfound popularity of Tiki doesn’t lead to its second downfall. That would be ironic, don’tcha think?

Tiki has always been, and continues to be, an escape. It’s not the only game in town. But to Tiki enthusiasts, both purists and serious newcomers, I believe it’s the best. For an artificial creation to become such an all-encompassing passion, through music, art, drink, and decor, it could only happen in America. Happy Independence Day, mahalo and okole maluna!