Thursday, August 2, 2018

Summer Man (6) the vexed yacht rock question

"Yacht Rock" is a great name for a genre of music. It's such a great name that you immediately want to be part of "the yacht rock scene" even though it's an imaginary genre. There is a problem though. The guys who came up with the name don't think Jimmy Buffett is yacht rock.
Lyons: We kept talking about the stories that we never got to tell, one of them being Footloose. And I hate Jimmy Buffett‘s music; I think it’s a soundtrack to date rape. I think it’s garbage music for people who have no interest in listening to anything good.

Ryznar: We portrayed parrotheads being brainwashed idiots. You kind of have to be if you’re into Jimmy Buffett. Or just want to be so tuned out of life, that like hey, whatever — kick back with flip flops, drink some margs, listen to some sweet Jimmy Buffett music and let him paint a rosy picture of a reality that does not exist.

Lyons: I always like that artists like Bertie Higgins, Rupert Holmes and Andy Kim have an authentic longing in their music. Buffett is a rich dude getting richer off of the lack of taste of the poor and stupid. He represents the lowest common denominator in music, even worse than country singers profiting off of 9/11. To summarize: I’m not really a fan.

Ryznar: You might be able to argue that Jimmy Buffett music is about escaping from a dark place, but there’s no soul in there. So we just wanted to make him an absolute idiot. Our good friend Vatche Panos, who is super funny, really hit a home run with that one.
Why is that a problem? It's their genre can't they can define it any way they want? Well, no. The problem is that words have meaning. The relevant word here is "yacht". If you found yourself forced the higher a skipper for a yacht that was going to sail through potentially dangerous waters and your only choices were the members of Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, or Toto or Kenny Loggins, David Foster, Jay Graydon or Jimmy Buffett, Buffett is the one to choose.

And the yachting crowd in the 1970s and early 1980s knew this. I was there. Even before he became famous, sailors packed Buffett's live shows. Any list of "yacht rock" compiled by people who actually were yachtsmen and women in the late 1970s and early 1980s would have included Jimmy Buffett.

I've written about this before and the issue has long interested me. I wouldn't say it has troubled me. I just had the feeling that there was something interesting hiding in the subject. Last week, I realized what it was. Amy and I were staying with some cousins of hers on the east coast and we spent a fair amount of time driving between various yacht clubs I'd visited when I was a kid growing up on the east coast. As we drove, I had a playlist of Steely Dan playing. I like Steely Dan. I like Steely Dan a lot. But it was just wrong in that culture. It didn't fit.

Inspired by their success with Yacht Rock, the guys had a podcast called "Beyond Yacht Rock". I say "had a podcast" even thought it still gets updated now and then. They have given up on the notion of creating more imaginary genres though. The lightning only struck once. If you listen to it, though, you'll begin to catch a sense of what really drove the genre: loserdom. Because these guys are, losers.

Not from the outside. Any objective observer would describe them as successful. But they don't feel like winners to themselves. And being a loser is a recurrent theme in the music they call yacht rock: "What a Fool Believes", "Deacon Blues", "After the Love is Gone", "Human Nature". Steely Dan were all about losers even bore they started making "Yacht Rock": "Do it Again", "Don't Take me Alive", "Dirty Work".  Here is a nice summary of the issues:
Yacht rock themes usually reflect the ennui of the era; the end of relationships, futile, fleeting hookups with pretty young things, drugs and booze, nostalgia for the simple pleasures of the early ‘60s, and longing to leave it all behind and escape to someplace warm and exotic. The Fool is the protagonist of many of the songs.
And that is a very accurate account of how that era felt for many people. It's especially accurate for for nerdy guys who were clumsy with women and spent a lot of time alone in their rooms listening to music and imagining "a better world where the sort of music they like would get its due".

I put that last bit in scare quotes not just because this "better world" would, like all imagined worlds, be more of a dystopia. The other problem is that I don't think they really like this music as much as they believe they do. Why do I say that? Because it's music that they think will buy them the status they don't feel they have in real life.

Yacht club kids didn't think that way. And you can hate me for this if you want but I know because I was one of them. To be continued ...

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