Mid-century retro goes by many names — Retro culture; Atomic culture — and it sometimes overlaps with many other subcultures like kustom kulture (i.e. hot rod & rockabilly fans); tiki culture, and even Goth. My preferred term for this subculture is Lounge Revival.
To the outside observer, it would seem that the only thing your average Lounge Revivalist is interested in is dressing up in old clothes and drinking himself silly in a bar that has seen better days. And while Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s popular cocktail books would reinforce that idea, in truth not every lush is a Lounge Revivalist. (And not every Lounge Revivalist is a lush.)
No, regardless of their chosen flourishes — rockabilly, tiki, noir, what lies in the heart of a true Lounge Revivalist is a romantic streak and a wistful love of things others have discarded. You can see it in the woman wearing a Jackie Kennedy pill box hat, in the man sporting a pair of leopard creepers, or even in the noirish goth-a-billy guy buying old Esquivel! records at the thrift store for $10 a stack. Australian DJ Koop Kooper would call all these people members of Cocktail Nation.
Kooper himself is a man who lives the Cocktail Nation life full-time, wearing vintage attire, living in a penthouse bachelor pad, and driving the Australian equivalent of an early 60s Plymouth Valiant. He hosts Cocktail Nation, the podcast, and provides the rest of the globe with the best in new and vintage Exotica and Lounge music each week. Kooper’s new book, “Cocktail Nation: The Interviews,” culls the best celebrity conversations from his show and introduces us to some familiar and not-so-familiar names that make the Lounge Revival life so interesting.
The obvious interviewees are the musicians, past and present, whose music has appeared on Kooper’s podcast. You’ll find the usual suspects: The Martini Kings; Waitiki 7; Don Tiki; and three separate interviews with members of Combustible Edison. My personal favorites were the lesser-known Jimmy Vargas — the spirit-calling crooner who injects noir and the supernatural into his music and visual presentations — and, of course, “Mister Bongo” himself, Jack Costanzo.
More intriguing are the non-musicians interviewed. Here Kooper presents a cross-section of many of the key people who make up and define today’s Lounge Revival scene: Marina, The Fire-Eating Mermaid — pin-up model and aquatic performer at The Wreck bar in Florida; mixologist Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry; and Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, publisher of vintage mystery and crime fiction; Because of my background in the visual arts, my personal favorites were Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker, low-brow artist and illustrator; and Holden Westland of Tiki Farm studios, the premiere makers of tiki mugs today.
Overall, this book is an insightful and entertaining read. You’ll be turned on to some cool cats you’d never heard of before and find new avenues of exploring the scene. When you’ve got the hi-fi on, your drink is already mixed, and you’ve finished the new issue of Bachelor Pad magazine, pick up “Cocktail Nation: The Interviews.”
Self-published on Amazon Kindle
$13.79 US; Available internationally
Disclosure: Ultra Swank was provided a free copy of the reviewed book by the author. “Cocktail Nation: The Interviews” is available only through Amazon Kindle. Click the link to purchase a copy.
Update 28 January 2013:
Cocktail Nation is now available in a print version from Bear Manor Media.