Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quiet Night, Aloha Night

Does a holiday known for snow and ice mix well with white sands and palm trees? I believe it does. Christmastime is sneaking up on us again, and I've been filling up my MP3 player with tiki-appropriate holiday music. I've waded through a lot of junk to come up with a few gems, and I thought I'd share the best of what I found (so far) here on the blog.

Arthur Lyman's "Merry Christmas (Mele Kalikimaka)," from 1959, is a solid choice. Some tracks aren't quite as Exotica-infused as you'd expect, but others seem a perfect hybrid of Hawaii and the holidays. But you can never go too far wrong with Lyman at the helm. His take on "Winter Wonderland," may, in fact, be the best example of Christmas Exotica ever created. This album has also been re-released on CD as "With A Christmas Vibe," (with a fetching wahine on the cover,) but some find the re-editing on that version a little off-putting. I'd suggest sticking with versions of the album featuring the green (shown above) or silver "Christmas present" covers, which are essentially the original album without significant tinkering.
For straightforward hapa haole Christmas music, try Christmas In Hawaii by country music legend turned Hawaiian steel guitar revivalist Jerry Bird. (Some of you may already know Byrd from his take on the theme to "Adventures in Paradise.") This is fine instrumental background music, featuring holiday standards tasetefully rendered in ukulele, steel guitar, etc., along with a smattering of songs specifically written to evoke Christmas in the islands. I'm told this is a 2003 release, but it's pretty timeless.

Two specific tracks essential for your Tiki Christmas mix can be found on Christmas Cocktails, Part 2, which is part of the now-classic Ultra-Lounge series of compilations from Capitol Records. (Yes, the series was revived recently in the form of new digital downloads, but the new incarnation doesn't measure up.) Notably, Christmas Cocktails, Part 2 features "Christmas Island" by Bob Atcher and the Dinning Sisters (kitschy, but fun), and "Exotic Night," which was Martin Denny's take on the traditional "Greensleeves"/"What Child Is This?" -- complete with his usual orchestration style and semi-exotic instrumentation, but happily without his usual bird calls. It's not one of Denny's best, but it's probably mandatory for any self-respecting list of tiki-fied Christmas songs.
I'd also like to point out a few individual songs that fit in well with this mix. "We Four Kings," by the Blue Hawaiians (from their album Christmas on the Big Island) is a successful mashup of the carol "We Three Kings" with the Pyramids' instrumental surf-rock classic, "Penetration." In a similar retro surf rock vein is King of Hawaii's take on "Greensleeves" (from the album Mele Kalikimaka). Normally I'm not a big fan of mixing surf rock with tracks from the likes of Arthur Lyman and Martin Denny -- But I think these are two exceptions that work pretty well. But maybe that's just the eggnog talking.

And finally, what would a pseudo-Hawaiian-style Christmas be without Bing Crosby's classic version of "Mele Kalikimaka," from his Merry Christmas (now renamed White Christmas) album? Der Bingle has been making people dream about spending the holidays in paradise since 1945!
I hope this helps give you a jump start on your aloha holiday listening this year.
By the way, I'll probably be at the International Tiki Marketplace event at Don the Beachcombers' in Huntington Beach, California this Sunday, Dec. 2nd. It will run from 11am to 4pm, and there will be live entertainment and over 30 vendors of all things tiki. If you see me, stop me and say hello.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Arthur K. Snyder (1932-2012)

Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach/Sunset Beach, California just posted the following:
"We are saddened to bring such news, but this morning Arthur Snyder passed away in his sleep at 79 years old. He was a United States Marine, a USC Law Graduate, a politician, a restauranteur, but most importantly, a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather. He will leave a legacy for ages to come but what he left in everyone's hearts will last a lifetime. Burial information will be posted soon. We will be holding a celebration of his life this Saturday at Don the Beachcomber in the Longboard Room from 3pm - 8pm. For more information please email We ask that during this time of grieving you do not try to contact the family or staff at Don the Beachcomber. More information will be posted shortly."
Sad and shocking news, indeed. Art was a significant and charming personality in the recent chapters of the tiki revival. He and his wife, Delia, have done amazing things in a very short time with the former Sam's Seafood, somehow restoring and preserving one of the last palaces of tiki (Sam's) while simultaneously creating a whole new one (Don's) at the same location.
Art with Holden Westland of Tiki Farm last June at Don's.
Art was born in Los Angeles in 1932 and went to school there all the way up through his law degree from USC. He was clearly never afraid to try a new line of work, and over his lifetime he was everything from a ditch digger, to a private investigator, to a PR man, to a lawyer, to a legal officer in the U.S. Marines, to a politician -- serving from 1967 to 1985 on the Los Angeles City Council. I knew him only in his last incarnation: Genial restauranteur and stand-in for the legendary Donn Beach.

A few months ago, Art took me on a personal tour of Don's, including the legendary basement, which features a mysterious tunnel leading toward the lagoons behind the property. Art said the basement was haunted, and asked that I be respectful and not too noisy. He also asked that I NOT take photographs, which was a far more difficult assignment. In any case, it was an interesting look at what was undoubtedly a smuggling tunnel back when brothers Sam and George Arvenitis owned the place. (No connection to Prohibition, however, since nothing was built on the property until the 1940s.) Anyway, Art was interested that I was a historian and that I'd already done a bunch of research on Sam's. I, in turn, was very grateful for the tour and information he shared with me.
Art with members of the O.C. Historical Society's board, planning a luau over mai tais.
A couple years ago, Art also helped me (and the rest of the Orange County Historical Society) plan a big luau event for the "Hidden Village" room at Don's. The event was a huge success and the place was packed right up to the fire marshall's limit. At our planning meeting, Art unexpectedly picked up the tab for our dinners. Sure, it was an investment in a larger business opportunity -- But it was something he clearly didn't have to do to clinch the deal. It was just the sort of generous gesture I later came to know as Art's "standard operating procedure": Going the extra mile for customers.

Art's funeral will be held Wed., Nov. 14, 9am, at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles. (Drive to Old North Church once inside the cemetery.) Reception following interment at the Hall of Liberty. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that you consider making a donation in Art's name to: Solheim Lutheran Home in Los Angeles.

Mahalo for being a great host, Art, and for all you've done to keep tiki alive and well. A lot of people are very grateful.