THE REBIRTH OF COOL

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In the mid-Nineties, the Lounge Movement that was percolating in L.A. among young hipsters finally hit the surface in some marginally big ways: “Swingers” had been released in theaters, the “Ultra Lounge” CD compilation had started its rollout by Capitol Records, Atomic magazine was gearing up for its first issue and Otto Von Stroheim was publishing his Tiki News to international acclaim. Lounge rode the Retro wave that the first true Rat Rod underground had stirred up and there was just a ton of cross-pollination that manifested itself in some great ways – and we’re still benefitting from it some twenty years later.

The general freakout among young twenty-somethings over mid-century American popular culture was a force to be reckoned with in that just-pre-web era: Swing music, tiki, revival hot rods, vintage clothing, mid-century furniture and interior design…it was all just cast-away stuff that was cheap and plentiful. Sure, a fella had a long search for XL sizes in front of him if he was trying to squeeze into a late-Fifties Penney’s sharkskin suit, but there just wasn’t a ton of competition at the second-hand stores and Goodwills for the stuff. Yet.

And one of the great rediscovered treasures of Lounge was the cover girl for a dozen Martin Denny albums, Sandy Warner.

Denny’s first instrumental record was titled “Exotica” and the name became the tag for the style of music that Les Baxter had first introduced to the brand new tiki lounge concept in 1951 with his “Ritual Of The Savage” album. The islands of the South Pacific that returning WWII vets had grown to love so much while on active duty had inspired Tiki culture in Southern California and it spread over the post-war U.S. like a blue flame across a Scorpion Bowl. And the soundtrack for it all was a collection of exotic instrumentals, complete with wild animal calls and waterfall sound effects.

It was all about fantasy. Tiki had less to do with the culture from which the name came, but the nomenclature of Space Age Pop and Exotica sure did fit the bill: lounges in new suburbs complete with thatched interior roofs and running streams and lit torches, girls in well-placed coconuts, guys in active-wear slacks and Hawaiian shirts-of-many-colors, blue drinks goosed with so much alcohol they begged to be set on fire…the music in the background just had to support the escapism of the day. And Sandy’s stunning beauty, combined with her ability to seemingly shape-shift among record covershoots, made her a perfect choice to represent the scene.

Warner was not only a model, but an actress and vocalist in her own right. She made a career out of dozens of album covers, bit parts on television series into the Sixties, a few more major roles in film and even her own record. Through it all, she was adept at changing her entire look from gig to gig and even Denny, himself, once had a hard time recognizing her in the audience at one of his shows when she called him over to her table.

As far as we know, Sandra is still with us. Where? We have no idea. But we’re working on that. But the girl of Exotica, Tiki, Space Age Pop and the face on faded album covers in just about every self-respecting hipster’s LP collection is alive and well in her mid-century trim. We’re constantly searching for the Sandy of our generation, but there’s just no girl who could ever replace her.

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