Mid-Century Modern

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If you’re into Tiki like me, you hear a lot about the Mid-Century Modern era in America. But what exactly does that mean? And what does it have to do with Tiki?

According to Wikipedia, Mid-Century Modern is a term that “generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965.” So, our first clue of the connection is the timeline. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened his first Don the Beachcomber’s bar in Hollywood in 1933, and the first great wave of Tiki lasted until about 1967, when the Summer of Love aesthetic supplanted Tiki as the primary means of escapism in America.

So, was Tiki a part of Mid-Century Modern design? Not really. Tiki art and architecture were more primitive and natural than MCM, which was more clean, crisp and futuristic. However, they occupied the same space in America’s history, and co-existed quite nicely. Think The Jetsons meet The Flintstones!

But why should I care about Mid-Century Modern? Because it was the backdrop against which Tiki occurred, and there were many connections between the two besides timing. I like to think of SHAG’s art when I envision this era in American history. SHAG incorporates a lot of the MCM design aesthetic in his artwork, much of which recalls the 1950s-60s of Palm Springs: architecture, artwork, cocktail culture. And SHAG paints a lot of Tikis as well. These are the things he knows.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll explore the different elements of the Mid-Century Modern era. I’ll be learning along with you as we go in more depth into this important topic. Aloha.

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Tiki Music: Hawai’ian

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Hawai’ian. Hapa Haole. Tahitian. Be it native or blended, this music captivates my soul and carries me off to a Polynesian island when I hear it. That’s why I love it so much.

America’s love for Hawai’ian music predates the Mid-Century Tiki craze, and actually began in the early 20th Century. On the heels of the Polynesian-inspired art of Paul Gauguin, the writings of Jack London, and the early motion pictures of 1920s Hollywood, Hawai’ian music became very popular with the coming of age of the radio and record industries. People were mad for music made with ukuleles and steel guitars, and an entire business sprung up to teach folks how to play these exotic instruments. What started as a purely Polynesian sound slowly morphed into a Western phenomenon.

Hapa Haole music is music of Hawai’ian origin that has been Americanized with English lyrics and rhythms. Like Tiki, Hapa Haole is a blending of Polynesian and American cultures. Most of the “Hawai’ian” music I’ve come to love over the years is actually Hapa Haole, with a few exceptions. Here are the albums I’ve had in my rotation over the past 10 years of my Tiki obsession.

Byrd of Paradise

Jerry Byrd: Byrd of Paradise (1961). One of the pioneers of steel guitar in Hawai’ian music, Jerry Byrd was also a teacher of this distinctive style of guitar to Country and Rock & Roll musicians. I borrowed this CD from the library to acquaint myself with early Hapa Haole music. Classic stuff.

 

Chants Et Danses De Tahiti Chants et Danses de Tahiti (1987). Now this is authentic Polynesian music, with no Western influence to speak of. I was fortunate to pick up a copy of this out-of-print CD on eBay from somebody in England. Many of these tracks were featured on the old music loop played at The Polynesian Resort in WDW, which is why I was looking for this album. Merci Tahiti!

 

Waikiki's Greatest Hits. Now! Roland Cazimero: Waikiki’s Greatest Hits, Now! (1990). Here is modern Hawai’ian music at its finest. Roland Cazimero melds the 12-string guitar with his native island music in a style that is distinctly Hawai’ian and Western. This was another find from The Polynesian Resort music playlist.

 

The Pahinui Bros. The Pahinui Brothers (1992). Yet another band from The Polynesian Resort’s music, The Pahinui Brothers play a nice mix of native Hawai’ian music and Western pop tunes. Their vocal harmonies add a layer of complexity to this style of music.

 

Hawaiian Favorites Don Ho: Hawaiian Favorites (1994). Don Ho is the undisputed king of Hawai’ian music. His crooning style transcended the music of his native land and landed him in the rarified air of Las Vegas stars like Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, and Elvis. Don Ho’s Tiny Bubbles is the perfect blend of Hawai’ian and Lounge music.

 

Ka Mea Ho'okani 'Ukulele Ohta-San: Ka Mea Ho’okani ‘Ukelele (1996). Herb “Ohta-San” Ohta is a Hawai’ian ukulele virtuoso who began performing at the age of 9. His style of music is diverse, and has been categorized as Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, as well as Hawai’ian. His nickname “Ohta-San” was bestowed upon him in Japan, where he played many times and his music is revered. Did I mention I also picked up his music while searching for artists from a The Polynesian Resort’s music loop?

 

Luau In December King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis: Luau in December (2008). Speaking of ukulele music, few artists have as much fun with this instrument as Denny Moynahan, a/k/a King Kukulele. His blend of humor, storytelling, singing and playing make him the perfect host for any Tiki event. I was fortunate to see King Kukulele live at this year’s Hukilau, an event he’s emceed for years. Thanks for the wonderful entertainment, KK!

So I’ve always liked Hawai’ian music, but it took a couple of stays at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort to make me love it enough to search out more of it.  In trying to recreate the playlist from my happy place, I discovered a much deeper world of music from Polynesia. Now I can send myself to the South Pacific whenever I crank up my tunes. Aloha from Paradise!

Panda’s at Rest

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Have you ever pictured your own funeral? It’s only natural, I think. I’ve been there, and one thing I know: the music’s going to be great. Why? Because I’ve already picked it out. That’s right – just like Mozart writing his own Requiem, I’ve put together a mix of music I want played at my funeral. And I listen to it all of the time.

So what makes for a good soundtrack for your own funeral? It’s got to be music that represents you. For me, that’s a pretty eclectic mix, but it starts with the classics, from both the Classical and Romantic periods.

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Mozart’s Requiem. Ever since the movie Amadeus, I’ve loved the story of this piece. Even if it’s not historically accurate, it makes for a great story, and fits my story, since I’m also writing my own death mass, so to speak!

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Dvorák’s 9th Symphony. My favorite classical composer. Ever. Maybe it’s my Slavic roots, or the melding of Old World and American melodies in Dvorák’s music. I’ve chosen the 4th movement, because the opening always reminds me of the theme from the movie Jaws. Very dramatic.

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Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. Again a movie reference, this time from my favorite movie of all-time, Excalibur. There’s something about the haunting refrain from Wagner’s Siegfried’s Funeral Music and Final Scene that gets to me, every time I watch King Arthur dying in battle and being carried off on a boat into the sunset of Avalon. Perfect way to end it all!

Lest I come off as too pretentious, I’ve also mixed in a bunch of 20th century music. Less dramatic, but more reflective. Songs like The Beatles’ In My Life, The Rolling Stones’ No Expectations, Frank Sinatra’s It Was A Very Good Year. The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith round out my high school years, while I also threw in some of my more recent favorites by Cake, Chris Isaak, Liz Phair and Nirvana. Plus a few other surprises.

All of these songs speak to me, and speak from my heart. I hope that when you hear them, you’ll think of me. Even before I’m dead. Mahalo!

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