Amoeblog

The Nature Boy and The Island-aire: Digging Exotica's Wild Roving Mystics

Posted by Kells, October 10, 2012 03:32pm | Post a Comment

If there's one thing an appreciation of music micro-genres has taught me it's this: work in a record store long enough and you'll eventually get into everything. Being predisposed to an appreciation of all things nautical by nature and developing a fondness for "theme" restaurants during my formative years it was only a matter of time before I would incur an full-on addiction to Exotica. At first I admit I mostly overlooked the jazz elements inherent to the genre, however pleasantly tropical, but obsession has a funny way of broadening ones taste for the far flung and curiously obscure. While I cannot trace my collection back to one single acquisition I can proclaim without a doubt that this squaw has stalked the warpath for Exotica, in all it's varied and as-yet-unconfirmed aspects, for quite some time. I'm so hot for it I'm on fire and, with that admonition out of the way, I'm pleased to report that a vinyl reissue of Eden Ahbez's seminal contribution to the genre, Eden's Island: The Music of an Enchanted Isle (out on Moi J'Connais/Black Sweat via Mississippi Records), is once again gracing the selections in Amoeba Music's Lounge section at long last!


A beach-bummin' beatnik guru by nature, Eden Ahbez was famous for three things: penning the pop/jazz standard "Nature Boy" (made famous by one Nat King Cole), looking a lot like Jesus (both on the original Eden's Island cover art, circa 1960 above on the left, as well as the updated screen-printed jacket housing the current reissue pictured above right), and thriving on a diet consisting of  raw fruit and vegetables, living outdoors with his family beneath the first L of the Hollywood sign in the grassy Los Angeles wilderness. His music is a strange arrangement of piano, flute, and exotic percussion instruments fused with nature sounds (rolling surf, the creak of a wood-masted sailboat, squawking birds, breezy gusts of wind), and features a mixed chorus or Ahbez's own cheesy vocal musings, waxing poetic about a snake-chasing mongoose, living in an old shack by the sea, fires on the beach, and knowing "the thrill of loneliness" -- charming, to the last.

Eden Ahbez - "Full Moon"


It's difficult to think of any other artist alive that qualifies as sounding similar to Eden Ahbez (vibe-wise, free-spiritied surfer/singer/songwriter Little Wings might be his closest contemporary), but there is another wayfaring purveyor of Exotica's far-out Polynesian pop-tones who also made his way in L.A. and whose vinyl legacy that is even harder to hunt down than that of a Hollywood hill-dwelling proto-hippie. I speaking of course (of course?) of Mr. Paul Page.


The Hapa-Haole strains of Paul Page and his Island-aires earned the inclusion of two tracks on urban archeologist and Tiki godfather Sven A. Kirsten's momentous, seventeen-song Sound of Tiki compilation (Bear Family Records) -- an action that not only speaks of the high regard Exotica enthusiasts, Lounge lizards, and Tiki-philes alike ought to impart to Page and co. but also presents evidence to the relative shortness of their songs which are really more like little odes to a succession of fantasized South Seas daydreams. Kirsten himself lauds Page's unsung hero status as an early proponent of the castaway aesthetic, bolstering America's mid-century fascination with the Pacific Islands and inspiring aspiring restauranteurs to bring a driftwood and fishnet flotilla festooned paradise to the mainland.

Paul Page, like Eden Ahbez, narrates more than he sings, rhapsodizing simple island pleasures with a deep, lazy resonance that sounds like Johnny Cash doing his best William Shatner impression after downing a couple of Mai Tais. Simple percussion and lilting pedal steel cut with the sounds of, yes, rolling surf and seagulls, Page lays down some of the most naïve "aloha" lyrics ever uttered, some of them don't even make a lick of sense (i.e. "when Sam goes back to Samoa/ he'll have to change all his wicky-wacky-woo/ for to swing and sway the island way/means rock-a-hula, baby I love you"). What's more, the record was released under four differing titles meant to promote the four individual Polynesian restaurants that proffered his tunes once upon a time. You'd think that four issues of the same record, differing titles or no, would mean it'd be four times as easy to locate the damn thing, right? Riiight?

Wrong! Castaway, Ports O' Call, Pieces of Eight, Reef is Calling -- I've searched for them all for so long it seems as though the quest itself attained a sort of Holy Grail level of devotion. As luck would have it, my years-long quest ended quite recently while on vacation in Hawaii. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Sven A. Kirsten and other informants (such as this site) I was fully aware of Page's split career living as a model and entertainer in both L.A. and Honolulu (and his owning up to bedding "over 400 women"), but having never visited the Hawaiian islands before, and therefore being fully blinded by her charms and distracted by my own search for all things Tiki, I never imagined I'd find a lonely copy of Ports O' Call lurking behind a rack of musty muumuus in the depths of a darkened Kapahulu vintage boutique. Total score! The only thing that could've one upped this fateful exhumation (despite the holiday in Oahu, mind you) would have to be finding this record at Amoeba Music where, without a doubt, it would be concealed within the confines of the clearance vinyl hoard yet glowing knowingly like the treasure of Tutenkhamun's tomb, to be had for the princely sum of one dollar.

Paul Page - "Castaway"

Vinyl dreams can and do come true, people -- here's my Ports O' Call victory shot to prove it; keep digging, diggers!

And if you ever find yourself daunted by the quest to procure that which you most desire please keep in mind that record collecting is, at the very least, a waltz with fate what occasionally trips and falls on dumb luck. It's an unpredictable, exciting pursuit whether you fancy yourself a serious record, poker-faced record collector or, as Paul Page puts it, "just a derelict on the foam" -- I like to think of myself as a hybrid of the two. 

Below are a few images I captured during my recent adventures in Hawaii. Needless to say, I can't wait to go back -- it really is an Exotica addicts' fix. Aloha!




Trip to Hawai'i: Part 4

Posted by Job O Brother, August 24, 2011 02:52pm | Post a Comment


The vaguely menacing charm of vintage postcards.


When on vacation, I am a social snob. It breaks down this way: If you are a resident of where I’m vacationing or its surrounding area, I’ll love to talk with you. Whether banal chit-chat, deep, psychological explorations, or wildly unfounded and ignorant political positioning, I love hob-knobbing with a local of Anytown, Planet Earth.

However, if you are a tourist like me, every second I spend in your presence is like chalk being scrapped down my gutted and exposed spine. Ever seen the movie Somewhere in Time? There’s a moment where the hero discovers a reminder of where he comes from, and it shatters the paradise he’s discovered. That’s what another tourist’s face is to me: a shinny penny sucking me into a loveless present where the only escape is death.

“What do I do for a living? Apparently, I suffer fools gladly. And you?”

Make no mistake: I am not proud of this. It doesn’t come from a sense of elitism, rather, a jealous and desperate need for freedom from the burden of self-identification. I am often exhausted being me, and vacationing offers a rare moment where I get to be a different fellow. If I’m constantly having to re-establish myself to others as “a writer from Los Angeles,” etcetera, it won’t matter that I’m fiendishly clever and dashingly handsome – I’ll still be sick of my effing face.

The boyfriend doesn’t have this problem. Though technically an introvert, according to the Keirsey Temperament Scale, he can navigate most any social situation with aplomb. A master at multi-tasking, he’s capable of satisfying endless rounds of small talk by using them as an opportunity to gather useful information and think about what he needs to do at the office the next day. I, on the other hand, am locked into whatever conversation I’m having, heart and soul – so if it’s small talk, I start to suffer from claustrophobia.

Continue reading...

Trip to Hawai'i: Part 3

Posted by Job O Brother, August 8, 2011 01:37pm | Post a Comment


"But, are they organic?"


When I go somewhere, I like to linger for over a week in the same area – as opposed to globe-trotting – because experience has taught me it takes a good while to get one’s bearings. The first week in a new location is what I call the “expensive week”, because you end up spending a lot of money before you learn how to do things like a local. It’s important to plan ahead and be aware of this: no impulse buying for the first week, and remain flexible for meal planning and lounging locations; most importantly of all, ask as many locals in whatever location you are for where they go, what they eat, what they like; it never fails that, without emphasizing your interest in their preferences, you are going to be led to the same few tourist traps all outsiders are, and they'll be an expensive shadow of the real thing.

Here’s some red-flag words: plush, decadent, local-style, distilled, anything served on ‘skewers’. These are buzz-words that may alert you to the fact that you have been caught in a tourist trap. DON’T PANIC! If it’s too late to leave, just keep ordering down to a minimum (you can always eat again afterwards) and for the love of God, don’t buy anything you can wear (especially if the price tag looks ‘home-made’), or purchase anything you can clean/perfume your body with (beware of soap bars cut into irregular shapes!), or condiments that come in a tiny jar, i.e., raw honey with truffle, jasmine sugar pearls, or virgin priestess eyelashes candied in unicorn mustard.


Absolutely not.


Call me crazy, but unless there’s something vaguely suspicious about local sellers, I don’t buy. Yes, you read that right. If it’s jarred food, I need to think there’s a good chance it was prepared in a kitchen that isn’t up to code. Trinkets, crafts, homemade souvenirs – these should be sold by the person who made them, or their disinterested offspring, and if the maker describes them, they should do so in emotional terms, not technical terms:

“See how this one makes a face like he’s eaten something sour? I love that!” is good.

“It’s constructed with 10 inch wire, so it’s stable. And it’s secured with these brackets here,”  can often be translated as, “I didn’t make these, I took them of out a box shipped from Korea.” What’s wrong with that, you may ask. Well, it means that you yourself could order it from Korea, eliminate the middle-man at a savings to you, and use that savings to support true, local crafts and food. Just saying.

Continue reading...

Trip to Hawai'i: Part 2

Posted by Job O Brother, August 1, 2011 01:28pm | Post a Comment

Waking up on a Hawaiian Island is pretty much the radliest, so I was happy to do it; happier still to begin my first full day on Maui. My brain was brimming with ideas for fun and adventurous activities I could postpone in lieu of doing nothing, but for this I first needed calories I wouldn’t burn.

They don’t make better calories than in Hawaii. It’s all about salty, sweet, and fat, with a side of the freshest, juiciest fruit you’ve ever had. Talk about mixed messages: Here you go, tummy, a meal of simple, raw, nutrient-rich papaya and pineapple. Oh, and also here’s some SPAM fried in noodles with sugar gravy, mayonnaise pork and buttery, buttered butter in butter sauce with butter butter salt butter salted sugar butter. Side of butter. (Salt.)

The boyfriend and I decided to put on some clothing (after repeated, negative breakfast experiences without it) and made our way to the buffet at our hotel. We found a table overlooking the Pacific. Between us and it was a walking trek that many people were using for jogging. How… insensitive. Didn’t they know I was trying to punch as many macadamia nut pancakes down my gullet as possible? And their obnoxious exercise routine was bumming my trip, man – reminding me I was a gross slob with nary a single definable “ab”. But this coconut syrup isn’t going to drink itself, people!

As the boyfriend went out in search of an iced soy latte (you can take the Angelino out of LA, but you can’t LA out of an Angelino), I drank my drip and marveled at the simple beauty of the double-rainbow that stretched from the middle of the turquoise water to the clouds above Kauai. How perfect… how poetic…

Continue reading...

Trip to Hawai'i: Part 1

Posted by Job O Brother, July 7, 2011 01:10pm | Post a Comment


Aloha, bitches! The boyfriend and I have just returned from a luxuriously lengthy leisure-time in Moku’āina o Hawai’i – specifically, the islands of Maui and Moloka’i. What will follow, over a course of weeks, is my travelogue. SPOILER ALERT: I survive to write this paragraph you’re reading.

Thursday. June 16, 2011.

Nothing makes me wistful for days gone by like traveling by plane. I’m old enough to remember a time when you could escape your reasonably comfortable seat for a small, smoking lounge and make small-talk with other passengers. Meals were included and expected, complimentary playing cards were practically forced on you, and bathrooms were more than one square inch larger than my skeleton.

Traveling by plane was a luxury, like taking a limo, pre-ordering a soufflé, or soaking in salt crystals made from blood diamonds. There was an implied dignity – it was something to look forward to: to be seated and be served.


Before the terrorists won.

Cut to: me and my boyfriend frantically racing to gut our backpacks and pockets of anything shiny and throwing them in large, grey tubs – Will my lip balm set off the alarm? Better throw it in, just in case…; stripping ourselves of shoes and spectacles, praying to a God that doesn’t exist we aren’t targeted to be put through the x-ray, knowing we’d refuse and have to succumb to the most unfulfilling massage imaginable; finally making it to our gate to find the two flights before us have been delayed since dawn, so the terminal is as absolutely packed with weary bodies, looking like some alternative concentration camp where people actually gained weight.

Continue reading...
<<  1  2  >>  NEXT