Tag Archives: community

Genrefication, yacht rock & the BBC’s I Can Go For That: The Smooth World of Yacht Rock

I rather enjoyed the BBC’s two-part series on yacht rock, broadcast over consecutive Friday nights recently on BBC Four.

Katie Puckrik was an engaging presenter, and while her insights weren’t massively original (the argument that America turned away from let’s-change-the-world music to songs of comfort and consolation in response to the failure of the counterculture, the election of Nixon and, a bit further down the line, the 1973 oil crisis is one many critics have advanced before, not least Barney Hoskyns, who was one of the interviewees), I’d not argue with anything she said over the course of the two episodes. And if the director overdid it a bit with the golden-hour lighting, the soft focus and the slow-mo montages of Puckrik roller skating, at least the films had an aesthetic (so few music documentaries do).

What I wanted to talk about was the validity of the genre label “yacht rock” itself, as fully 15 years after it was coined, there still seems to be some resistance to it. In the documentary, the talking head most aggrieved by the term was Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, who still appears quite offended by the label and the Yacht Rock IFC show that gave rise to the term in the first place (“it started with the bad YouTube thing”).

That there was a seam of music that played as pop but consisted of equal parts white rock and black R&B influences seems to me entirely self-evident. That a lot of it was made in the same LA studios by the same musicians is unarguable point of fact. That in the digital age, as an act of librarianship, music fans should choose to categorise this music together after the fact is also, to me anyway, completely unobjectionable.

The name that was settled on commented upon the music’s well-upholstered lushness and its semi-implied visual aesthetic. Which was, I guess, a little cheeky of JD Ryznar and Hunter Stair (the men behind the Yacht Rock series – Steve Lukather’s “bad YouTube thing”*), but no more than the moment Dave Godin decided to call the semi-obscure pre-disco R&B and pop that he loved “northern soul”.

Northern soul is, of course, the defining instance of after-the-fact genrefication in pop music. The “north” in question wasn’t even in the country where that stuff was written and recorded. The term gained traction in the UK because it filled a linguistic need felt keenly by the people who loved that music and didn’t have a satisfactory name for it. All neologisms take off because they fill a gap in the lexicon; to fight that is a losing battle. The same is now true of “yacht rock” – fans, critics and professors who would be baffled by a reference to Koko’s lucky harpoon have all adopted it as a useful shorthand without knowing where it came from.

The thing that’s a little unfortunate is that Lukather seems to feel (as I think some of his peers have too) that it’s being used a term of ridicule. I don’t think anything could be further from the truth, actually. Yeah, the original films were knowingly ridiculous, but their deliberate amateurism and shaggy-dog origin stories for songs like Rosanna and What a Fool Believes quite clearly come from a place of love. They satirise the music fan’s fantasy that songs are all written as very literal responses to actual situations. It’s not the actual music that’s the target of the mockery; it’s evident whenever JD Ryznar talks about this music how much he loves it.

So anyway, I’d recommend the BBC show (it’s called I Can Go for That: The Smooth World of Yacht Rock), and if you’re curious, I’d recommend the Yacht Rock series, too. It’s great, very silly, fun.

H&O
Yacht Rock’s breakout characters: Hall & Oates

*Yacht Rock, the series, was not made for YouTube but instead premiered at Channel 101, a monthly short film festival devised by Dan Harmon, the creator of Community and Rick & Morty. Harmon didn’t like Yacht Rock, but the format of Channel 101 was that the shows that got the best response got to come back in a “prime time” slot, so its creators, JD Ryznar (Michael McDonald), Hunter Stair (Kenny Loggins) and Dave Lyons (Koko), kept making more. They even got Harmon to appear in one eventually, as Doobie Brothers/Van Halen producer Ted Templeman.

International parkrun Day

Yesterday was International parkrun Day.

Fourteen years ago, 13 amateur runners and a handful of volunteers led by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, gathered in Bushy Park, West London, to run a 5km course on a Saturday morning. Sinton-Hewitt was a keen runner but, injured at the time, was unable to run, and was looking for a way to keep running as a central part of his life while he was injured while giving something back to the community he loved and valued so highly.

The Bushy parkrun grew so popular that in 2007 Sinton-Hewitt eventually gave in to those who kept asking him whether it could be trialled at other venues, too. There are now more than 500 parkruns in the UK, and more than 1600 worldwide. Since April, there has been one in the park next to my road, which is hugely lucky for me; running tends to drift in and out of my life based on. how busy I am with music and work, so momentum is everything. At the moment, I’m in the habit of running twice a week, and I hope to keep it that way. A Saturday-morning parkrun less than five minutes’ walk from my front door is a godsend.

I don’t want to be an awful bore or a fitness bully, so I’m not writing this to badger anyone into taking part; I enjoy running, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to. For me, going for a run is not just about keeping fit and healthy; it’s a celebration. Six years ago, I couldn’t run at all, and it looked likely that I never would again. So the fact that I now can is something I cherish. I love the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of strength and above all else the feeling of movement itself.

While my reasons for going along are perhaps a little unusual, what’s great about parkrun is that any reason for doing it is as valid as any other. I’ve taken part in organised running events elsewhere (as recently as this morning), and while they’ve been well organised and friendly, the spirit at them is different. parkrun is very explicitly a run, not a race. Of course, many people who take part want to push themselves and go faster and get PBs, but parkrun is no more geared to the club athletes who run sub-20 than it is the people who want to jog slowly, or even walk, around the course while having a natter with a friend. All are welcome. And because the volunteer roster at each Parkrun includes a tail walker, no one comes last.

I understand those who dislike organised exercise, and find it a bit too much like school PE lessons. But for me, parkrun is the easiest way to see the best parts of humanity. Crucially, it’s free and Sinton-Hewitt vows it always will be, and it inspires an obvious sense of community in those who turn out. People take their turn at volunteering, and runners unfailingly thank the volunteer marshals and timekeepers (I lost count of how many people said “Thank you, marshal” as they ran past me yesterday when, really, my sole contribution to their run hadn’t been to wear a hi-vis jacket, clap and occasionally whoop, and acknowledge those pushing buggies round the course as “buggy dudes”). At a parkrun, runners congratulate and encourage each other, staying behind after they finish to clap and cheer others as they come in. You see smiles and hear laughter everywhere.

Yesterday, I didn’t run, as I’d already committed to a 10k in my hometown of Southend today, so I volunteered as a way of being involved. Like many acts of volunteering – or possibly all – it wasn’t entirely altruistic. I did it because parkrun depends on volunteers, since it doesn’t charge for participation (or for anything), so it needs volunteers, and doing it once in a while is a quid pro quo. But even more than that, I wanted to be there because nothing else I do locally makes me feel more a part of my community than parkrun, and nothing else I’m involved in is such a pure social good with, as far as I can tell, absolutely no down side.

For more information about parkrun, go here (if you’re in the UK) or here.