Every once in a while, somebody asks me the question: “Andy, how did you get into all of this Tiki stuff?” The answer lies in my love of music and the intersection of creativity and anal retentiveness. Allow me to explain.
I really started getting into music in the mid-1970s, around the time I hit junior high. It started with The Beatles, then progressed into more current rock bands like Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. My best friend Bruce and I used to go back and forth picking up the latest record albums (remember those?). We also used to enjoy making mix tapes on cassettes (another dying medium). Over the years, my musical horizons expanded into classical, blues, jazz, big band and zydeco music. As my discography grew, so did my zeal for keeping it all catalogued and organized. I created, expanded and still maintain my own, custom database of my music collection to this day, complete with digitized cover art for over 1,000 albums.
So, what does this have to do with Tiki culture? Stay with me, grasshoppers!
Fast-forward 30 years to the mid-2000s. With the advent of digital music, CD burners and iTunes, I decided it was time to rekindle my love of making mix tapes. Only now, cassette tapes had gone the way of the dinosaurs, and it was so much easier to make playlists on my Mac and burn them onto CDs. But where to start?
I decided to make a compilation of music singing the praises of drinking. I had really been getting into lounge music, from my early love of Sinatra to the more contemporary crooning of Harry Conick, Jr. and the big band stylings of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I blame the movies for this turn in my musical taste. Swingers was responsible for introducing the Jump Blues style (think Louis Prima) to a new generation. Four Rooms brought me one step closer to the Tiki world by turning me on to the Space-Age Bachelor Pad music of Esquivel and Combustible Edison.
Okay, we’re almost there folks, please indulge me for another paragraph or two!
Once I picked a theme for my first modern music compilation, the next step was to design a cool album cover for the CD jacket liner. You see, I’m a very aesthetic person, and being the anal-retentive sort, I was destined to spend hours agonizing over this seemingly minor detail. Thank God (or Al Gore) for the Internet!
I started searching online for some artwork to complement my finely crafted music mix. I decided to name it Panda’s Swinging Cocktail Hour (Andy Panda is my long-time nickname and another whole story!). While doing a Google search using the phrase “cocktail art,” I stumbled upon the work of an artist named SHAG. It was love at first sight! Here’s what that first album cover became:
SHAG is the nom de guerre of Josh Agle, a lowbrow artist from Southern California. My obsession with SHAG could (and probably will) fill an entire blog post, so I’ll summarize. His art features well-heeled women and men drinking, smoking and enjoying life. SHAG’s characters are typically found in chic or exotic surroundings, and he often features Tikis in his art. Here’s the first limited-edition SHAG print I acquired:
I’ve gone on to acquire 10 more SHAG prints and many other pieces of his swag since starting with The Big Mug. In the process, I’ve learned much about the Tiki culture of the 1950s-60s in America. I have a whole basement full of Tiki mugs and statues, Hawaiian shirts and leis, and lots of Polynesian music and movies I enjoy. My man cave is the physical manifestation of A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, but it goes beyond that. Tiki seems to find me in the strangest of places!
Finally, here’s one more story to bring it home – worlds colliding!
In 2011, SHAG released a new print of one of his paintings, honoring the wonderful Kahiki supper club in Columbus, OH:
I bought this print and was immediately curious about the story of this Mid-Century Tiki temple. In doing some research on the Kahiki, I found out it had been torn down in 2000 to make way for a Walgreens pharmacy. How sad! Anyway, the very same week I got SHAG’s Last Days of Kahiki, two other seemingly unrelated things happened. First, I got an email of new releases from a music company I follow that included a new album of old recordings from 1965:
It turns out The Beachcomber Trio was the house band at The Kahiki, and these recordings from the year of my birth (coincidence?) had just been rediscovered. Of course, I bought the album immediately! Second, and even more unlikely, was an RFP I received at work that week (I’m an energy sales rep by day). My company was asked to bid on the natural gas supply for Kahiki Foods out of Columbus, OH. Kahiki Foods? Really?!? Could there be a connection?
Sure enough, with a little more research I discovered that Kahiki Foods was owned by the family of Michael Tsao, the owner of The Kahiki supper club. After the restaurant was torn down, the Tsao family decided to focus on selling frozen versions of the Asian food The Kahiki had been known for. Unfortunately, we did not win their gas supply business, but I did run out to the store and picked up some tasty Kahiki General Tso’s Chicken!
So there you have it. My love of Tiki culture was fueled by music, ignited by art, and has continued to burn brightly for the past 10 years. Going back even further, I was probably born to live the Tiki lifestyle. 1965 was the tail end of the first wave of backyard Polynesia in America. How fortunate that I’m now able to participate in Tiki’s resurgence in the prime of my life. Mahalo!