When I was seventeen I left my tiny, snowbound hometown and enrolled as a freshman at UCLA. There were as many students in my Psych 101 class as there had been in my entire high school. This was, of course, why I'd elected to go there: L.A. represented The Outside World I had heard so much about.
One thing I didn't expect, however, were the non-stop celebrity sightings. Now of course I knew that L.A. (or Hollywood, wherever that was) was the Celebrity Capitol of the World. And I'd heard of people catching a glimpse of, say, Sylvester Stallone, shopping for a diamond tie pin on Rodeo Drive. But I hadn't prepared myself for the daily encounters with the semi-famous, the B-listers, the dude who stands in front of you in line for a Tommy Burger and makes you think: I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to know who this guy is... he's the guy from... And whether he's the guy who played the best friend of the star in that lame romantic comedy or not, he will act as if he is Marlon Brando. So it can be confusing. I had prepared myself to act nonchalant in the presence of, say, Robert De Niro. But Suzanne Somers? It had never crossed my mind.
Early on in my freshman year, my roommate's mother came down to visit from Burlingame. This woman was incredible: she predated and predicted the force of nature that is Fran Drescher, from the dyed black hair to the long red nails to the unforgettable voice. She was a nice lady and she wanted to show her daughter and her daughter's friend (me) a good time -- one that we could otherwise never afford -- so she took us out to dinner in Beverly Hills.
I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was 1988, the height (or was it depth?) of the California Cuisine fad, and apparently that's what this place was famous for. Everything was white: the walls, the linens, the customers. One of them in particular caught my eye: not only was he wearing all white (was this a cult?), but he looked like... that guy... from... nope, I couldn't place him. But I couldn't stop staring, either. He had a deep tan and a dark beard and mustache that really stood out against his flowing white shirt-and-pants ensemble. I was about to ask my roommate for help in identifying him when the waiter appeared and presented him with his appetizer: "chilled cantaloupe soup." This was a pale orange puddle nestled in the biggest, widest, shallowest soup bowl I had ever seen. It was the size of a hubcap. A huge, white, porcelain hubcap. Chilled cantaloupe soup? I know, I know; it's passé now. But in 1988 to a seventeen year-old from the High Sierras, it was freaky.
And that's when I figured it out. The soup's sipper was... Kenny Loggins. I felt simultaneously thrilled and disappointed. Kenny Loggins? That's the best the universe can do for me? I thought. Kenny Friggin' Loggins. Mr. "Footloose." Kenny "I'm Alright" Loggins. With his chilled cantaloupe soup. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had just experienced my Ultimate Eighties Moment.
I suppose every era has its cheeseballs, but the Eighties seemed to have more than its fair share, and it was my luck to be in L.A. for the tail end of them. What I didn't realize then was that a lot of the Eighties cheesers were just coasting through that decade on the momentum of the Late Seventies, and Kenny Loggins was a case in point.
All this -- even the chilled cantaloupe soup -- was brought back to me in nauseating detail as I watched a truly bizarre internet-only "sitcom" on Yacht Rock. This ten-episode faux-rockumentary purports to chronicle the clubby career moves of the 1970's session musicians responsible for the "Yacht Rock" genre; people like Michael "What a Fool Believes" McDonald, Christopher "Sailing" Cross, and our friend Kenny Loggins. These were guys who turned their music-industry connections as songwriters, arrangers, and producers into bona fide solo careers as singers of smooth, highly produced L.A. light rock that was best enjoyed on the deck of a boat while sipping rosé wine or perhaps a Tequila Sunrise.
Yacht Rock shows us the cutthroat competition at the heart of these fluffy tunes; the commitment to all things smooth that this tight-knit group of scenesters shared, and the truly offensive sartorial sensibility it encouraged. Is this a strange concept for a sitcom? I don't know -- did you ever see Cop Rock? At least the Yacht Rockers can actually sing. So, in case you're still confused, here's the summary: Yacht Rock is a fictional Behind the Music-type show focusing on the careers of Late Seventies easy-listening rockers, featuring the actual, no doubt copyright-infringed-upon songs themselves, which you may find disturbingly appealing (I did -- remember "Taking it to the Streets?").
The short (5-10 min) episodes star many not-so-great comic actors and the plots are more notable for their attention to historic detail (the "real" story behind Hall and Oates's songwriting process, for example) than for their polished execution (the man chiefly responsible for Yacht Rock is J.D. Ryznar). Perhaps the best single element of Yacht Rock is the obligatory Intro/Outro by someone named "Hollywood" Steve Huey, a stereoptypical rock critic (long hair, bad complexion, wire-rimmed glasses) who looks like he could guest host Wayne's World in a pinch. This is brilliant, I thought: they really nailed the dorky rock guy. Then I found out Steve Huey is playing himself -- a real rock critic in L.A! I still don't know how I feel about that.
It's ridiculous and hilarious and pretty awful all at once. But Yacht Rock and other lo-fi productions like it, screening on YouTube and other outlets, do provide a pleasingly gritty and DIY aesthetic to an otherwise too-shiny interface. And while the turf wars between Loggins and various Doobie Brothers may be surprisingly harsh (sort of), I'll always have my own private vision of Kenny: tanned, spotlessly white, and cantaloupe soup-sipping into eternity.
Get hooked on Yacht Rock, watch the first episode, chronicling the inspiration behind Michael McDonald's hit "What a Fool Believes." WARNING: The songs are so familiar, they'll probably force themselves back into your head for the next few weeks. May cause semi-permanent emotional and (especially) musical damage. Yacht Rock can be addictive and is only safe in small doses.