Yacht Rock: The Legacy

December 23, 2006


Rampant are the personal mythologies about your favorite showbiz icons. It doesn’t stop at VH1 nostalgia trips—you even see whole feature films dedicated to aggrandizing stars by giving them important struggles to overcome on the road to vast material wealth, e.g. 8 Mile or Get Rich or Die Tryin’. How delicious to see so much rich historical detail in mythologies not about contemporary rappers but instead obsolete soft-rockers.

The Yacht Rock team had minimal wherewithal to make their Internet TV shows, but the no-budget style has plenty of appeal. In Los Angeles, it must not be hard to find the necessities for five-minute Internet TV programs: a camera, a crew of enthusiastic and underemployed actors, a brilliant editor (Lane Farnham), and a sackful of fake mustaches. Yacht Rock drops some zany storytelling while probing the pop music most often found in the dollar bin of record stores. Its heroes are Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Toto and Christopher Cross.

As cheeky as the program may be, it conveys realistic ideas about communities of artists and how they form a style. Competition within their ranks, like the spat between Loggins and McDonald, yields to better and more refined output, a honing of what it means to Yacht Rock. They are also pushed to heights by outside challenges, like Steve Porcaro’s attempt to woo Rosanna Arquette (Episode 3), and from Hall & Oates (a geographic/class-oriented rivalry), and Van Halen and the Eagles, whose antagonism derives from their clashing sounds. Hard rock is presented as the main challenge to smooth music, and the two camps define themselves in relation to one another, while constantly flirting with the barrier that divides the two genres. The artists connive and fret about their success, and in dizzying sequences of brilliant productivity, give birth to beautiful creations like Michael Jackson’s “Believe In It” and the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”

The two camps employ supernatural means to thwart each other, first when Michael Jackson has “the smooth spooked into him” in Episode 5, and then in Episode 9 when David Lee Roth hypnotizes Ted Templeman and shows him visions of a harpooned Koko Goldstein (Episode 9).

A powerful actor in the creation of smooth music is the producer. Ted Templeman is perceived to have committed a horrible betrayal when he agrees to produce hard-rocking Van Halen. The producer imbues raw music with qualities of hardness or smoothness, and thus catalyzes the greatness of authentic Yacht Rock.

Even the smallest taste of smoothness can fill the characters with appreciation, as when Michael McDonald hands Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of the Doobie Brothers the sheet music for his new song “What a Fool Believes” (Episode 1). Skunk takes one look at the music and nods with satisfaction.

It’s this relentless pacing and sharp editing that helps Yacht Rock tack into the wind. Narratives overlap, characters are fleshed out, feuds arise and get put to bed in episodes that only last five minutes. Yacht Rock moves at the pace of animated sitcoms like The Simpsons.


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