Tiki – A D.I.Y. Lifestyle
Be Anything and Anywhere You Want to Be . . . And More!
By Darin Mecher
I have detailed some of the things I like to call “Tiki 101” in my past articles. I told you how I became Tiki obsessed. I gave some tips on bargain Tiki hunting. I discussed music. Now, I would like to get more into the nuts and bolts of the Tiki lifestyle, the way I see them, and hopefully these might give you some inspiration and some direction for your own journey into the spirit of the Tiki.
The Tiki lifestyle is, above all else, a do it yourself lifestyle. There are only guidelines and things that people involved generally enjoy and have passion for. But there is much crossover. And much uniqueness among the denizens of the land of Tiki. Some are purists and try to recreate images they have seen and loved from pictures from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Some add so much modern flare, that the only recognizable thing is the Tiki itself – the central theme and the icon of the lifestyle. And even the Tikis come in all sizes and varieties. There are traditional and modern and whimsical and you name it. So, obviously, this isn’t a lifestyle where you have to have certain things or have to do certain things or have to act a certain way. You can just be yourself and show your own personality and your own place in the Tiki lifestyle. Don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of web sites and message boards and places on the internet where you can see and hear what others are doing and saying. I have found inspiration there and I have also found things that I do not want in my version of the Tiki lifestyle. I have created my own version and my own evolving lifestyle. I encourage you to do the same.
Discussion of Tiki lifestyle often leads to the problematic question “what exactly is the Tiki lifestyle?” This irks me many times because I spent many years of my life trying to explain what rock-a-billy was and you find out that different people have different definitions and that the actual things that define a lifestyle and a culture evolve and change, sometimes extremely quickly. Like any lifestyle, if your goal is to keep up with the Joneses, good luck. But if you really have passion and interest and love certain things – you can have all the lifestyle without all the baggage of envy or coveting another’s tiki.
Ok, so here’s my best at the moment answer to the question, what exactly is the Tiki lifestyle? To me, it encompasses all the pieces of the puzzle that any culture has – you have a physical / spiritual piece, a musical piece, a style piece, a design piece, and an artistic presence that helps define and shape personal attraction to the culture. In other words, Tiki lifestyle would, of course, have to include Tikis. The definition of a Tiki bar is a bar with Tikis in it. So this physical piece is definitely essential or why call it Tiki lifestyle? You have surf music in all its many forms. You have Polynesian history displayed in dress and style and food. You have artists that interpret what the Tiki lifestyle is and you take cues from that. But all of that is the physical manifestation. My true answer is this:
Tiki lifestyle is the lifestyle of representing the vintage era of Polynesian Pop culture through décor, food, music, dress, and art. This vintage era was established by Polynesian restaurant chains, Tiki bars, Tiki lounges and Hollywood art directors who catered to a post World War II desire to bring the exotic home to the mainland featuring modern interpretations of what the Pacific island chains were all about with special emphasis on Hawaii, Tahiti and Easter Island. In the five decades since, revivals of the Tiki culture have added even more mythological aspects – things that we connect to Tiki are more Gilligan’s Island and Trader Vic’s than real historical facts gathered from Pacific island culture through the millennia. Tiki culture is essentially an American mid-century kitsch culture where a mythological god of hedonism calls to the working class and offers a safe harbor from the stresses of mundane everyday living and working for the weekend.
Textbook, right? My non textbook answer is – Tiki is SEXY! That’s right, sexy! Think tropical drinks and exotic food and girls in bikinis and people drunk playing ukuleles. It is the whole idea of the exotic that entices one to the Tiki lifestyle. We all like to imagine we are on a tropical island with our lover sipping exotic drinks and wearing next to nothing as we watch the sun set and hear the natives sing exotic songs over exotic food. You get the picture. I can go somewhere I’ve never actually been. I can time travel to a time I wasn’t even alive. I can become a man in that place and time simply by immersing myself in the ideas and the thoughts that make up the culture. It really does become addictive and before you know it, you are finding like minded people and you are building a Tike room or bar at your house and people are coming over dressed like they are in the 1950s and everyone is drinking drinks that were once made famous by Don the Beachcomber. You have artwork on your walls of pin up girls being chased by big Tikis with lovin’ on their minds. You have friends who excitedly call you up to tell you they have found another Martin Denny album at a flea market WITHOUT A SCRATCH ON IT.
I have heard it likened to being a punk who enjoys relaxing and listening to lounge like music every once in a while. A real cool and chill type feeling that is chased and caught every time you enter a Tiki bar or a Tiki room or even just put on the cool sounds of the islands.
So, if you were hoping for a step by step tutorial, I don’t have one. I didn’t use one. I went to a Tiki lounge one day. I started collecting Tikis. I got into the music and the scene, as it were. Before I knew it, I knew all the artists and had made new friends and people were telling me about Polynesian restaurants and Tiki festivals around the country and on and on and on. Now I have a room in my house that when people enter it they feel like they have traveled back in time. People pick up the Tiki mugs and we talk about the certain drinks that came in them and we show pictures of people in the past who dressed up to go drink and carouse and suddenly we want to do that to. We want to make eating out an event. We want to create new exotic concoctions. We want to decorate a room in thatch and bamboo and make it our “island getaway” at home. We find new ways to display our collections. We find new ways to express our passion. We live it. The Tiki lifestyle. On our own terms and in our own way. Anyone and Everyone can join in. So grab a mug, get some grog, and let’s start a party!
Need I say more?