Exotica Was A Thing

I occasionally rise early enough on Sunday mornings to hear “The Retro Cocktail Hour” bounce off the ionosphere from Radio New Zealand – 7AM ET – 11:00 UTC – on 7245 kHz. Your AM radio dial only goes up to 1600 kHz so you have to receive shortwave to hear it.

This morning the host was featuring an assortment of “Exotica” tunes. Exotica, as your friendly Wikipedia will tell you, “. . . is a musical genre, named after the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same name that was popular during the 1950s to mid-1960s with Americans who came of age during World War II.”

Exotica was not the musical cup of tea for my Boomer generation, and the main reason I am familiar with it is that, as a young adult, I worked at radio stations that played standards or “Middle-Of-The-Road” music.

I remember comedian/musician Steve Allen on TV making fun of the genre. He would let loose from behind the keyboard with a loud “smock-smock” to imitate the cheesy exotic bird calls heard on the Denny recordings. He even released a silly take-off called “Mah-Mah Limbo.”

I feel certain that some of the interest in exotica sprang from the introduction of stereo sound reproduction. Record labels were looking for music that showcased the gimmick of wide stereo separation, and what better than a jungle full of wild animals bouncing from the left and right speakers? Home hi-fi enthusiasts were quick to snatch up records more for their sound effects than their musical content.

The blooming of exotica coincided with the popularity of the “Tiki” culture. Think Tiki torches, faux Tiki god icons, coconuts, leis, and sweet “south sea” cocktail concoctions. Nearly every town had a Tiki lounge/restaurant incarnation. If you saw one, you had seen them all, exactly like the “Luau Room” at Louisville’s Standiford Field (now Muhammed Ali International.)

Luau Room – Photo University of Louisville Archives

Sometimes music takes a quirky, weird turn. Novelties, it seems, have always existed; from screwball vaudeville to the CB radio craze. Goofy stuff creeps into our music and becomes a thing.

Thought In Memory Of Thomas Brown

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common — this is my symphony.

William Henry Channing

Semi-Normal

My wife and I did something yesterday that we had not done in years. We went to a shopping mall. It was delightful. There was that unique mall aroma of American consumerism; plastic, fabric, and perfume. Hard to describe, but you know it when you smell it.

I know there’s talk of recession and low consumer confidence, but the parking lots were nearly full, stores had plenty of merchandise, and shoppers were carrying purchases. My eyes saw a much brighter economic story than the ones I had heard. I will borrow the old Yogi Berra meme “No one’s going to the mall anymore – it’s too crowded.”

Over the past few days, we reached a few milestones in the return to semi-normalcy. My wife is putting in more work days at her office building and just left on a business flight to D.C. We ate indoors at a restaurant. I shopped maskless at a home improvement store. Those may not sound like much to those of you who chose to enter the post-COVID wild months ago, but for this hyper-cautious couple, they are significant steps.

One or both of us may eventually get a case of the virus. We trust our vaccinations will keep us out of the hospital. We still fear long COVID and will continue to wear a mask in risky indoor situations. But, for now, we are enjoying the newfound freedom.

Thought In Memory Of Thomas Brown

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.

Leo Tolstoy

Don’t Waste Your Breath

There is a kerfuffle in the Louisville area over some programming changes at one of our local public radio stations. Some people and formats have been dismissed and replaced with new hosts and sounds. If not for social media, it would have happened without my knowledge because I seldom listen to public radio these days, streaming or terrestrial. It has changed so much over the years that I barely recognize it. 

Our local public station’s snazzy logo. (Not jazzy, they’ve dropped jazz.)

I have enjoyed the intelligent quirkiness of public radio since my college days. I have grown older, and leaving has been a slow process. The Radio Reader died. Bob Edwards was fired. Garrison Keillor was fired. NPR news twisted itself into a both-siderism pretzel to treat lies the same as truth. Karl Kasell died. Funding credit announcer Frank Tavares was fired, and hyper-articulating Jessica Hansen was hired. Ira Glass’s vocal fry became the rage. David Dye left The World Cafe. Driveway Moments dwindled. The Splendid Table lost its splendor. Commercial programmer Jarl Mohn tinkered with everything, as he did when he was my boss. The voice of the host of All Things Considered continually reminded me of Kermit The Frog. The Louisville stations spent a small fortune on a five-note audio signature (a jingle) and could have derived similar results by opening it up as a competition among local creators. Before I stopped listening, I was tempted to offer a large money grant during pledge week only on the condition that no local announcer ever again pronounce the letter W as dub-ya.

From moaning over pet pronunciation peeves to grousing about technical shortcomings, the list of my personal irritations seemed endless, none of which were likely to change no matter how much money I pledged. After many years of gritting my teeth, it became evident that I was no longer the target audience for public radio. No honest broadcaster or streaming service will admit to considering the tastes of anyone over the age of 54, with 18 to 49 the sweet spot. I decided to leave rather than complain. Anyway, constantly griping about what the young folks are doing will get you branded as Grandpa Simpson.

As an ex-broadcaster and even a stint as a radio program director, I am keenly aware of the pressure to make changes and how angry listeners get when one plays programming chess with their favorite format or air personality. I have never mentioned my complaints to the local stations. I have dear friends who work there in both on-air and management positions. Besides, many of the things that irk me are at the national level, over which the locals have no control.

So, I left. They won’t miss me, and what I miss, well, that’s been gone for a long time. And that’s OK. I have more choices now than ever before. 

Thought In Memory Of Thomas Brown

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes