Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hoola Boola

Thanks to our pal Sven Kirsten for drawing my attention to "Hoola Boola" (1941), a wonderful South-Seas-themed "Puppetoon" stop-motion feature from the studios of George Pal.

Some of the stop-motion animation was done by the famed Ray Harryhausen. If IMDb is to be believed, the voice actors included Rex Ingram, Victor Jory, Patrick McGeehan, Eloise Rawitzer, Sam Edwards, and (providing the voices of the cannibals) Mel BlancDorothy Lamour provided the inspiration for island girl Sarong Sarong.

Sections of this short were re-cycled into Pal's "The Little Broadcast" Puppetoon in 1943. Pal was an animator and film maker known for such sci-fi flicks as "When Worlds Collide," "The War of the Worlds" (1953), "The Time Machine" (1960), and (in collaboration with Robert Heinlein) "Destination Moon" (1950). Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas on Christmas Island

I've been hearing the old novelty song "Christmas Island" a lot more these past couple Decembers, and I thought it was high time to find out where it came from. First, here are the lyrics...
Let's get away from sleigh bells
Let's get away from snow
Let's make a break some Christmas
I know the place to go
How'd ya like to spend Christmas
On Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to spend the holiday
Away across the sea?
How'd ya like to spend Christmas
On Christmas Island?
How'd ya like to hang a stocking
On a great big coconut tree?

How'd ya like to stay up late
Like the islanders do?
Wait for Santa to sail
In with your presents in a canoe
If you ever spend Christmas
On Christmas Island
You will never stray for everyday
Your Christmas dreams come true

The song was written by Lyle Moraine (1914-1988) in 1946 and was first recorded that same year by the Andrews Sisters, backed by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. It made it to #7 on the pop charts that year and stayed in the public eye throughout the 1940s. It's been recorded by a number of other folks over the decades. (The recent version I keep hearing on "Musak" is from Jimmy Buffett.)

Moraine had lots of bit parts in movies, but never became a star. He also wrote other songs, but "Christmas Island" was his most noteworthy hit.

So, how WOULD ya like to spend Christmas on the actual Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean?

That depends. But it seems unlikely that "your Christmas dreams" would come true." 

Discovered on Christmas Day in 1643, by an English East India Company ship, tiny Christmas Island is now home to just over 2,000 people and scads of horrifying-looking "coconut crabs" -- the largest land-living arthropod on earth. They have powerful claws and can climb trees. (So there might be several right above your head just waiting to drop down on you!) They are also known as "robber crabs" which lead me to believe they may have long arrest records we should be concerned about.
A coconut crab looking for Christmas leftovers. Ho, ho, ho!
 If that weren't enough, another 100 million red crabs migrate across Christmas Island each year in one enormous herd, or gaggle,... or whatever you call a large group of crabs. (I think a "floozie of crabs" has a certain ring to it.)

And once you get past the fauna, you'll find that only a minority of Christmas Island residents even celebrate Christmas. Although it's a territory of Australia, the population is mostly of Chinese descent. The religious break-down is about 75% Buddhist, 12% Christian, and 10% Muslim.

But those who do celebrate the day do so with a combination of Christian and Micronesian traditions that include multiple days of dance and choir performances.

No, you won't see "Santa sail in with your presents in a canoe." But you may meet some Asian refugees who've drifted around the ocean in various rickety boats. These days, Christmas Island is largely known as a way-station and detention center for refugees wanting to come to Australia.

And although, as a Southern Californian, I'm all in favor of a sunny Christmas, it does seem like there should be a little snap in the air during the holidays. You won't find that on Christmas Island either. The average low temperature is 65 degrees, and the average high temperature is in the low 80s,... all month,... every month.

In short, you're probably better off enjoying Christmas wherever you already live. Please do so.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tiki Talk Tomorrow!

It's strange to post about myself in the third person, but here's the blurb that's being used...

Chris Jepsen will speak about the history of the "Polynesian Pop" phenomenon of the 1950s and '60s as it applied to Orange County, California at the Garden Grove Historical Society, 12174 Euclid Ave., Garden Grove, (tomorrow!) Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 7:00 p.m . Island attire is encouraged but not mandatory. The event is open to everyone -- not just Society members.

From architecture, décor and music, to literature, theme parks and backyard luaus, the South Seas was a wildly popular theme throughout Mid-Century America. This was especially true in sunny Orange County, where primitive carved figures, grass huts, 'Aloha shirts,' and lush jungle landscaping seemed right at home.

Chris Jepsen is a local historian, Assistant Archivist at the Orange County Archives, and president of the Orange County Historical Society. He also writes the "Ask the O.C. Answer Man" column for Orange Coast Magazine and operates two blogs: The O.C. History Roundup and Tiki Lagoon.

(Note: The photo above was shot in Dana Point, overlooking San Juan Capistrano and Old SaddlebackThe tiki is bit of original 1960s backyard décor that has been in the same family for many decades now.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I stumbled across Ixtahuele's EP, ""The Exotic Sounds Of Ìxtahuele" in 2012, and was pleasantly shocked to discover a modern group that truly captured the classic sound of exotica.

Many other modern takes on musical exotica diverge from the sound (if not he spirit) of their inspiration. Often the instrumentation is off (e.g. synthesizers), the songs are indistinguishable from one another (i.e. the "New Age" effect), or it's merged with some other form of music like surf rock. Some of this updated exotica is excellent in its own right, but it often does not transport you to the heyday of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman.
Ìxtahuele, however, is exactly on target. They write their own material and perform it, expertly, on good old fashioned musical instruments. The group includes vibraphonists/percussionists Wictor Lind and Mattias Uneback, percussionist Johan Hjalmarsson, pianist Carl Turesson Bernehed, and bassist Henrik Nilsson.

The group hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, which is not the locale that comes to mind while listening to their music. But what better enviornment to dream up tropical landscapes than in a place that commonly drops to 23 degrees in the winter? Escapism has long been a key factor in Polynesian Pop. Anyway, if Thor Heyerdahl, Sven Kirsten and Christopher Lars Jepsen are any indicator -- Northern European types have a natural affinity for all that relates to tiki.
In May 2013, Ìxtahuele released their first full album, "Pagan Rites." If anything, it's even better than their EP. It's been in "heavy rotation" on my MP3 player for several months now. Like the best of Martin Denny's work, it doesn't grow stale with repeated listening. If you didn't know better, you'd swear "Pagan Rites" was a lost, Mid-Century classic of the genre.

Tracks include Black Sand, Rarohengan Dance, Brugmansia, Stone Gods of Bimini, Orust Luau, Lotus Eaters, Searching For Souq, Huahine, Dengue Fever, and Gardens of Mu. A few of these also appeared on the EP, but get somewhat different arrangements for the album.

A quick search of the Interwebs will turn up several ways to purchase the album. I bought the actual CD, and I'm glad I did. The recording quality is good, and I can only assume that it would loose something in MP3 format.

Ìxtahuele's appearance at this year's Hukilau in Florida was well received. If there's any justice in the world, these gifted fellows should soon be wildly popular in the tiki/exotica revival scene.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don the Beachcomber Goes to War

I discovered an interesting new bit of Don the Beachcomber lore, and wasn't sure where to share it. It could have ended up on either this blog or my Orange County History Roundup blog. The other blog won out this time, but tiki fans will want to read the story too. Here's a link: "Keeping Costa Mesa Safe For Democracy, One Mai Tai at a Time."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Trans-Pacific Musical Mish-MASH

Hawaiian shirts in Uijeongbu, Korea, as seen in the first episode of M*A*S*H.
I just started reading Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music, edited by Philip Hayward, and while the writing style is often as dry as packing peanuts, it includes a lot of excellent food for thought regarding all the kinds of music we associate with tiki: Exotica, hapa haole, faux-Asian, etc. All of these styles of music blend familiar sounds with sounds of far-off lands. Martin Denny's music, for instance, mixes popular music styles of the 1950s with bird calls, Asian instrumentation, and percussion that hinted at mysterious jungles.

About the same time I started the book, I happened to catch a M*A*S*H marathon (both the movie and the TV show), it dawned on me that the music played over the 4077th's P.A. system would fit perfectly into the "tiki mix." Most of these songs were sung in Japanese (i.e. the "exotic" element), but many were popular songs from the U.S. A few were recent hits of the early 1950s, like "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo." But most were well-worn tunes by the start of the Korean War: "My Blue Heaven," "Happy Days Are Here Again," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo,"  "The Darktown Strutters' Ball," etc. The camp's familiar pole-mounted speaker also played "G.I. Songs" from occupied Japan, like "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy," by Teruko Akatsuki.
"Attention all personnel. Due to circumstances beyond our control, lunch will be served today."
The idea in M*A*S*H seemed to be either that 1) G.I.s were bringing these records back to camp after being on leave in Tokyo, or 2) Radios in Korea could pick up stations from Japan.

Sadly, I can't seem to find these recordings anywhere. I suspect they may exist only in the Fox Studios, or perhaps in thift shop LP bins somewhere in Japan. The closest I've come across is Tokie Tamaki’s version of "Sayonara (Japanese Farewell Song)" on Amazon. (As I continued reading Widening The Horizon, I found that contributor Shuhei Hosokawa even mentions this song's appearance in the series, albeit peformed by another artist.)

If anyone knows where I can get copies of these background tracks, I'd certainly appreciate it. It may be unorthodox, but a few of these songs sprinkled into a mix of more traditional choices could really liven up the luau. In the cultural hodgepodge of Polynesian Pop, what blends in better than American songs, sung in Japanese, from a TV show set in Korea, which was really an extended metaphor for Vietnam?
Hawkeye, wearing a lei, auctions off a trip to Tokyo with Lt. Dish.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Kahiki Remembered

Columbus Ohio's late, lamented Kahiki Supper Club is the subject of the latest entry on Jan Whitaker's brilliant blog, Restaurant-ing Through History. Click on over and check it out!