February 29, 2012

Before I go further, let’s get down exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to exotica music – defined best, I think, by Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”, which would later become a hit by the so-called “father of exotica”, Martin Denny:

Les Baxter‘s album Ritual of the Savage (Le Sacre du Sauvage) was released in 1952 and would become a cornerstone of exotica. This album featured lush orchestral arrangements along with tribal rhythms and offered such classics as “Quiet Village”, “Jungle River Boat”, “Love Dance”, and “Stone God.” Ritual is the seminal Exotica record, influencing all that came after it. As the 1950s progressed, Baxter carved out a niche in this area, producing a number of titles in this style including “Tamboo!” (1956), “Caribbean Moonlight” (1956), “Ports of Pleasure” (1957), and “The Sacred Idol” (1960). Baxter claimed Ravel and Stravinsky as influences on his work.

In 1957, Martin Denny covered Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village”, with exotic bird calls and a vibraphone instead of strings, which established the sound of the Polynesian styled music. The song reached #2 on Billboard’s charts in 1959 with Denny’s Exotica album reaching #1. Soon the new technology of stereo further opened up the musical palettes of Denny and other prominent exotica artists such as Arthur Lyman and Juan García Esquivel.

The distinctive sound of exotica relies on a variety of instruments: conga, bongos, vibes, Indonesian and Burmese gongs, boo bams (bamboo sticks), Tahitian log, Chinese bell tree and Japanese kotos. Additionally intrinsic to the sound of exotica are bird calls, big-cat roars, and even primate shrieks which invoke the dangers of the jungle. Though there are some standards which contain lyrics, singing is rare. Abstract, sirenish ululations, chants, vocalized animal calls, and guttural growls are common.

Yeah, that’s about right. But if Martin Denny is indeed the “father of exotica”, then surely Baxter has to be the “godfather of exotica”, as without Baxter’s ingenuity and influence, Denny wouldn’t have created a brand of exotica more accessible to dozens of small combos and orchestras worldwide who tout him as their major influence today.

I don’t recall ever seeing a Les Baxter album in our house, though it wouldn’t surprised me if my Auntie Marge and Uncle Don had one in their collection that I might have heard on some occasion. Perhaps it all started with the South Pacific soundtrack LP my parents brought home when I was just a kid, or shortly thereafter, those Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums whose stylish arrangements caught my ear and got me dreaming of warmer and sunnier climes far away from my Tewksbury, Mass. home.

While folks typically associate The Great White Shank’s musical tastes as primarily Beach Boys, Sandals, and surf music driven, there is no music I identify more with, or a genre that moves me more, than exotica.

Sitting on my back patio, cocktail in hand, tiki bar nearby, and watching the palm trees sway above the pool, my surroundings and tastes were a testament to exotica music before I even knew what exotica was. But me and exotica music have much in common: both born during the Cold War years when America, weary from the horrors of World War II and the Korean War and the fears of a nuclear age, sought an escapism tied to exotic and friendly ports of call. Add to that the gifts of an ear for music and a taste for travel to faraway places handed down to me by my parents (my Mom’s side especially, since my Auntie Marge had both as well), and it’s easy to see why The Great White Shank and exotica music were made for each other.

That such a unique art form should have been created during such a dangerous time in the world’s history is no accident, as RJ Smith writes in the liner notes to The Exotic Moods Of Les Baxter:

…these are pieces meant to invoke a boat trip up an African river, or the bustle of a port town, or a pagan dance around a Tiki god. They have little or nothing to do with the genuine music of those places. They are Cold War fantasies of otherness, of a world not armed to the teeth, of a place where everywher Americans go they are liked. …in it you will taste the clash of cultures, yet never spill your drink. This met the needs of a post-war world anxious to be told, over and over again, that it was a small and safe world after all. This was sensuousness devised to overwhelm the senses, to make “commuter man” lose all control.

To me, exotica music is music that, not unlike the Googie architecture of the ’50s and ’60s I’ve written about previously, takes you to faraway places without ever having to worry about leaving your comfort zone. Exotica conjures up imaginitive (and completely unrealistic) images of the South Seas, the Orient, African jungles, or places like India or Morocco in a way no different than what Walt Disney created at Epcot – places that might exist physically, but presented in a completely safe – and, shall I say, American – form where the distance between reality and fantasy is no further than that between your patio chair and the bartender pouring your drinks.

Look in the next couple of days for a very special guest offering up his own must-have list of music for creating your own exotica music collection.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:59 | Comment (1)
February 28, 2012

Supermarkets have always been a part of my existence. I have fond memories as a child being taken to the old First National by my grandparents, where they’d shop on Friday night and pay for a bunch of stuff with S & H green stamps. And I always thought the old A & P chain name was cool, because I knew A & P stood for Atlantic and Pacific – two oceans for a kid always fascinatred with salt water.

When I was first out on my own, it took a while to learn that supermarkets are not for shopping, but for buying. Or that you never went to market without a list. Or, the real cardinal sin, going food shopping hungry or on an empty stomach. Lots of people don’t realize that by eating just before you go to market, you’ll naturally save a lot of money.

OK, some people may accuse me of being a raging sexist for saying this, but my worst experiences at supermarkets have always been when I’ve been behind women in line, so I always try to get behind men in the check-out line. It just seems to me with women, there’s always a problem: either something isn’t marked, or they’re questioning the cost of something, or redeeming fistfuls of coupons, or – my personal pet peeve – writing a check for their groceries. More on that in a bit.

And don’t get me started about the kids – just like children don’t belong in Las Vegas, neither do they belong in a supermarket. It’s amazing how many times I see a mother shopping – not buying – with her kids, and asking them what they want her to buy them for food. Like, as if they’ve earned the right to dictate how their parents spend their money! It never ceases to amaze me. I guarantee that never happened when I was growing up.

There ought to be a law against paying for groceries with checks. And the woman (and it’s always a woman, by the way, since no self-respecting man would ever bring a check book into a supermarket) paying by check always seems to be the one with the largest handbag in line. You just know how the next ten minutes will play out: first, she has to fish through that bag to find her check book. Then, she’s looking for a pen. Then she’s asking for the amount – twice – before carefully ripping the check out of the checkbook. Then the cashier has to ask her for a form of ID (which, of course, sends her back to her handbag a third time to find her driver’s licence). Then the cashier has to stamp the back of the check, then carefully write down the lady’s driver’s license number (usually a combination of 140 letters and numbers) before finally terminating the transaction with a two-foot long receipt. With more coupons to boot.

Unlike women, guys by and large don’t go to the supermarket to shop, they go to buy. They have a list, a strategy, a firm goal in mind (usually getting out of said supermarket as soon as possible), typically don’t bring kids along, and don’t bother with detours or details. Forget something on the list when you’re already in line? It’s easier to put it at the top of your list for the next shopping -er, buying – trip. See a sale on chicken pieces? If it’s not on the list it ain’t worth stopping for. And, by and large, men are nicer at the market, and easier to strike up a conversation with. Why? Because they know you know they now and you all know what the whole experience is about.

Having lots of rabbits makes you go to the supermarket a lot more. When we had seven rabbits in the house (hard to believe, it was not that long ago) it seemed like I was going to the local Fry’s every third day for produce. Now we’re down to three rabbits and I could go a whole week without shopping – er, buying. It’s a nice luxury, not to mention a lot cheaper. But I still miss the rabbits, so it’s a trade-off.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:10 | Comments (4)
February 27, 2012

We lost another of our rabbits this weekend, as we found Geronimo passed away in his area yesterday morning. On Saturday night before I went to bed he was munching on hay and a piece of kale as he normally did. As we were falling asleep an hour later we heard a commotion coming from the bunny room, but didn’t think anything of it: Geronimo like to rearrange the cardboard “bunny condo” from time to time, and we figured that was all that was going on. But that’s where Tracey found him in the morning, so there must have been something not so innocuous going on there.


We originally got Geronimo (above, right) back in 2009 from a rabbit rescue with his mate Ginger. They were originally backyard bunnies, and I don’t think their early years were the most pleasant because we noticed Geronimo was very agressive and protective when it came to food (he’d chase Ginger, and later, Butterscotch around the cage when he knew food was coming, and then always position his body between his bunny mate and the food), and he liked to lay next to the water dish, sometimes with one of his big lop ears draped over the dish in the water. I also don’t think he ever saw really well, as he would move his head from side to side (called “tracking”) to see things, and he was very sensitive to people approaching him quickly; it took a long time for us to gain his trust and accept us petting him or kissing him around his head and face.

We weren’t sure after losing Ginger back in 2010 how Geronimo would take to getting a new mate, but he sucked it up big time during a week-long bunny “speed dating” engagement, and gradually came to accept the younger and more skittish Butterscotch as a part of his world. While not exactly showering her with affection during their time together, it was clear he accepted her and enjoyed her company nevertheless.

The fact that Geronimo spent his last day doing what he always did during his time here: munching contentedly on timothy hay, shredding a telephone book, and making it a challenge for Butterscotch to get to her food tells me he was just an old rabbit whose time had come. That’s the problem with getting rabbits from rabbit rescues: because it’s difficult (if not downright impossible) to tell how old rabbits are once they get past their adolescence, you never really know how much time you’re going to have with them. And, as hard as it is when it comes to say goodbye (and this is the fifth straight year we’ve lost a rabbit), all you can do is cherish the time they spend with you, and at least in the case of Geronimo, know he didn’t suffer and passed away surrounded by all the safe and familiar sights, sounds and smells he knew as his bunny world.

Rest in peace, Geronimo – you were a good guy and we’ll miss you.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:47 | Comment (1)
February 26, 2012

feathery_acacia You know spring has come to the Valley of the Sun when the acacia starts blooming in all bright radiant yellow. In some ways, it’s just like in New New England when the jonquils and forsythia are the first to bloom, also in yellow. Our feathery acacia is typically the first to bloom in the spring, but this year, without any freeze whatsoever, our bougainvillea are still in bloom from last year (you can see them over the wall) and even some of our lantana are already flowering.

Like just about everywhere else in the U.S. this was a strange winter. We had exactly one and a half days of light rain back in December, and then nothing. January and February have been bone dry, and since those are considered our wet months we may have to wait another 4-5 months and the monsson season for our next rainfall. You can really tell the strength of the sun these past couple of weeks, so the heat isn’t far behind.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:34 | Comments Off on Spring Has Sprung
February 25, 2012

I’m reading Mark D. Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and as good as it is (and it’s very good!), much like all books dealing with theology and the Church I’ve tried to read since I’ve been out here in Arizona, it kinda hurts to read, for it brings back a lot of memories of that eight year period from 1994-2002 where I was pursuing the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in the dioceses of Massachusetts and Kentucky. It was a period where I truly felt “touched”; where all my energies and spiritual cylinders were running at their most optimal speed.

As Dickens once wrote, those were definitely “the best of times and the worst of times”. So many highs, a few real lows. And I mean real lows – like, lows that would have wrecked most people’s lives for good; it was that bad. As intense as the seminary experience was (I was doing theological studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) in the morning, playing database administrator at UPS in the afternoons, and writing papers at night into the wee small hours of the morning), I nevertheless loved it deeply and never felt so alive and physically, mentally, and theologically challenged as I was then. I look back and can’t even recognize who that person was; it was that much of an otherworldly experience. And life since then pales in comparison.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about what might have been. There’s a part of me that thinks the greatest mistake I ever made was to not accept the offer of LPTS’s Dean to convert to Presbyterianism and accept her offer of a full scholorship in their Master of Divinity program (as a committed Anglo-Catholic I turned her down). There’s also a part of me that accepts the fact that – for reasons not worth getting into here – I was turned down for the priesthood by the Episcopal bishops of Massachusetts and Kentucky for reasons beyond my control. That being said, fact is, I’m willing to accept the hard truth that it was my fault I failed to meet their requirements (rightly or wrongly) as to their interpretation of what God’s calling truly meant, and in that regard the hard truth is, I was a dismal failure. I wasn’t good enough.

In the cool of the evening, under happy pineapple lights on the patio and looking up at star-filled skies as nearby palm trees rustle in the northeast breeze, I know my own weaknesses, ego, and inadequacies are as much to blame as anything else, and therefore none of this was ever meant to be. My life journey is what it is – no more, no less. I sometimes wonder whether it was God’s will that I not be a priest because He knew I would have given so much of myself that there would have been nothing left for those who love and care for me. Maybe there is such a thing as too much intensity.

Regardless, there will always be in me a huge empty space: the space of what might have been but never was and never can be. Which is not anything close to a tragedy – after all, I’m no different from millions of people who live out their earthly lives dealing with the “what is” vs. the “what could have been”. You’ll have to excuse me: it’s late and I only write this after watching “Tin Cup” and hearing Bruce Hornsby’s “Nobody But Me” – a song that, for whatever reason, has always struck a particular chord in my soul:

Oh I wish I could laugh
When I look way back
To find out who stole all my dreams
Whoa I wish it was easy
To face the fact, there’s nobody there but me

Not sure what else is left to say. I think as long as I avoid theological books in the future I’ll be OK and able to escape a darkness I find very difficult to handle. It’s not God’s or the Church’s or anyone else’s fault – if there is anyone to blame, to quote Bruce Hornsby, there’s nobody there but me. And that’s OK, it is what it is. I just wish it didn’t hurt so.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:07 | Comments (2)
February 24, 2012

And as far as I’m concerned it can’t cometh too soon.

If this theory is true, then judging by the hemlines we saw in Vegas all during our recent Goodboys weekend we should be at 0% unemployment. Yes, they were that short.

Reading assignment for Lent: Mark D. Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels?: Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Since everything Roberts writes is always good, I expect this to be no different and an excellent read.

Here’s a band for frequent commenter Jana – check out The Tikiyaki Orchestra, and get all their CDs pronto. Aloha, Baby! and Stereoexotique are the best of the lot. They’re a real find – think a combination of lounge and exotica with an occasional splash of surf. They’re certain to be heavily featured in my in-progress exotica music compilation. (More on that to come!)

Watched the GOP debate Wednesday night on CNN, broadcasting from next door in Mesa, AZ. I don’t know who won – the consensus appears to be Newt Gingrich – but I’ve stopped caring who wins these stupid made-for-TV events and the insipid questions asked by so-called “gotcha journalists”. I’m tired of the debates and just want to get the election to unseat Barack Obama underway. We’re gonna get stuck with Mitt Romney, anyways, so why bother?

Tiger Woods misses an easy six-foot putt to lose his Accenture World Match Play round against a very beatable Nick Watney. As I’ve said before, until Tiger does something to prove me wrong, he looks like just another ordinary good golfer out there. Sure, he’ll win an event or two down the line, but neither he or his game strike fear into anyone anymore on the PGA Tour.

R.I.P Medulla Oblongata. We had you for only eight months, but you were a good fish (or at least as good as fish is capable of being). We haven’t yet gotten the hang of how to care for beta fish, maybe one of these days we’ll give it another try…

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:57 | Comment (1)
February 23, 2012

I’m glad Keegan Bradley has apologized for his repeated spitting during the Sunday finale of the Northern Trust Open, but he wasn’t the only offender – Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez were shown doing the same thing, and repeatedly. Look, I know on today’s PGA Tour they have bigger fish to fry, but golf is, after all, supposed to be a gentleman’s game, and last I checked no one’s forcing these guys to play on a stage where people are watching how they act and behave up close. This ain’t baseball, and you’d think the ever-image concious Commish Tim Finchem would tell the guys to elevate their games and habits a little bit. There’s already a code of dress out there; there should be a code of behavior as well. And spitting should be a part of that code. It’s gross, and it turns people off.

That being said, CBS Sports has really had some great golf to televise during the California swing – the Tiger / Phil finale at Pebble Beach, then the Phil / Keegan / Bill Haas classic last Sunday. It was great golf to watch at a beautiful venue.

At the WGC Match Play Tiger looked exceedingly vulnerable, but he definitely caught a break with Bill Haas being upset in the first round.

Filed in: Golf & Sports by The Great White Shank at 00:47 | Comments Off on Chip Shots
February 22, 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday, which begins the holy season of Lent. After sprucing myself up health-wise with my January diet (I haven’t gained any of the pounds back yet, even with my Vegas weekend!), I’ve been looking forward to the arrival of Lent as a time for some much-needed introspection and a taking stock of where I am spiritually. Lots of people find the season a perfect opportunity for prayer and introspection, and I’m no different. Recognizing the temptations in your life that threaten to distance you from God and God’s desire for your life is a focal point of Lent, and Fr. Joseph Pellegrino’s homily on this topic is offered in a spirit of hope and confidence in God being there for us whenever we need Him – if we’re willing to swallow our pride and ego, and recognize that without God we are powerless in the face of sin and temptation:

As we begin Lent and relate the forty days the Lord spent in the desert to the forty days of Lent, we also can relate tests that we have had or may still have in our lives. Perhaps some of us can say that we were strengthened by a successful fight against temptation. Now, we shouldn’t go around looking for temptation, that would be putting ourselves in the occasion of sin, but if we ever are tempted, we are ready. We have beaten it off before and we can beat it off again. We need to have confidence in ourselves, and more important, confidence in the Lord who is preparing us to do battle for Him.

We’re ready, but we are not ready just because we say so. We are ready because we have been given the power to withstand all assaults on our spiritual lives. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is presented after the devil left as being with the wild beasts as the angel’s ministered to him. Perhaps there is a reflection here of Psalm 91:11-13: For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon.

Maybe Mark is addressing his gospel to the Christians at Rome who had already experienced the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul and the persecution of Nero, and is saying to them, “even among these beasts of Romans, God is protecting you.” What the Lord is telling us is that in the face of forces wishing to destroy our spiritual lives, there is an infinitely stronger force who will protect us. Leopards, wild boars, bears and jackals roamed the desert where the Lord was praying but they couldn’t hurt him. The angels ministered to him. Materialism, hedonism, and religious indifference roam the places where we live and are tested. But no forces can destroy our spiritual lives. The Power of Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit who was with Jesus in the wilderness is with us. Nothing can take the spiritual from us. We can only give it away by giving up and giving in.

And speaking of Mark’s Gospel, if this is true that would make for a pretty exciting discovery. Can’t wait to see how it all pans out. Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.

My prayers go out to all for a holy and blessed Lenten season. May God open all our hearts and minds to draw strength from Him and allow His love and mercy to draw us closer to Him in every way!

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 00:51 | Comments Off on Entering Lent
February 21, 2012

Those who have frequented this blog since its start know my fondness for exotica music and tiki culture in general. Maybe it’s because of the restless bones I was born with, or something in my genetic makeup, but I love the music and the feeling of the South Seas and the tropics, and the culture that grew up around it back in the ’40s and ’50s. There are few pleasures better than nursing a boat drink in surroundings that take you away to another place and time, allowing fantasy to take over if only for an hour or two.

So it’s with great sadness that I have to announce the closure of two very cool places in nearby Scottsdale that provided wonderful venues for tiki culture, food, and drink – the wonderful Trader Vic’s at the Hotel Valley Ho, and the Drift Lounge. While we never got the chance to check out the Drift, I’m told it was a very cool place. But I find it hard to believe it could have been any cooler than Trader Vic’s, which was the place to go – not just for great tropical drinks and good food, but surroundings that took you away on vacation the moment you stepped inside their doors.

I know what you folks back home in New England are thinking: why not just check out some local Chinese restaurants to see if there’s anything like the Kowloon up on Route 1 in Saugus. You don’t understand – that’s just not how they do Chinese here in the Valley of the Sun. That unique mix of tiki culture and food that you find in New England for some reason never really took hold here; maybe it’s because we live in a sun culture where, if you want to see palm trees and swimming pools, just hang around your back yard or apartment complex – most, after all, have both.

Fortunately, there appears to be one place remaining in Phoenix worth checking out – Hula’s Modern Tiki, which we hope to check out this weekend. Judging from their website, I’m not hopeful: it looks like any other trendy place for young people to hang out, barely distinguishable from dozens of other restaurants you see in Phoenix and Scottsdale. But in this case, beggars can’t be choosers.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:44 | Comments Off on Tiki Tragedy
February 20, 2012

A week ago last night a few of the Goodboys and I went into the Fremont Street / downtown area of Las Vegas. To tell you the truth, it didn’t grow on me much: if I’m going to Vegas I like the flash and the dash, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect Las Vegas’ past – in many ways it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than anything the Strip has to offer. But I enjoyed taking a few photos because when it comes to neon and the legacy of “old” Las Vegas, it’s good enough for me:

I love martini-themed neon signs. One of these days, Tracey and will start our own combination martini bar / tiki lounge; we’ll call it The MarTiki Room, borrow money from frequent commenter Jana to help get it off the ground, and then collectively lose our shirts. 🙂



Aren’t those pictures great. We also saw the legendary El Cortez Hotel (one of the very first Las Vegas hotel/casinos), complete with (as the sign said) “forced steam heat”. And, here’s the place where some guy actually had a heart attack last week. But it’s not the restaurant’s fault; it’s more the fellow’s lifestyle history and maybe even genetics, I think…


And what would a visit to old Las Vegas be without Elvis impersonators? That night you had your choice between a circa 1968-70 Elvis and the 1973-75 edition. I went with the former. How do you like my new thin look?


Just like I said earlier this week, I already miss the place and wish I was back there. There’s no place like Las Vegas!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:40 | Comments (5)


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