Bruce Springsteen’s (Very Tenuous) Connection to Yacht Rock
By David Kamp
What do Bruce Springsteen and Yacht Rock have in common? Well, they have both commanded entire SiriusXM Radio channels to themselves. And Springsteen’s solo part in “We Are the World” is followed immediately by that of Kenny Loggins, a sequence memorably portrayed in the final episode of the Yacht Rock webisode series that posthumously gave the genre its name.
Apart from that, though, not too much.
But when I was interviewing Springsteen this summer for the cover story of the October 2016 issue of Vanity Fair, I chanced upon a super-tenuous and rather obscure but nonetheless charming Springsteen-Yacht connection—not to do with the genre, but, rather, with the original Yacht Rock Internet show.
Springsteen and I were talking about where he found lyrical inspiration in his younger days of songwriting. He described to me his admitted embrace, at times, of “clichéd imagery” of “cars, girls, highways, and lovers on the run—all of the B-movie stuff that I loved so dearly.”
Among the B-movies that he mentioned was Jackson County Jail, from 1976. Springsteen remembered it as “Tommy Lee Jones’s first picture.” It’s actually Jones’s fourth, but it is indeed a classic exploitation film about cars, girls, highways, and lovers on the run, a Roger Corman-produced, proto-Tarantino scuzz-fest in which a junior ad-agency executive, played by Yvette Mimieux, quits her awful job and cheatin’ boyfriend (played by WKRP’s Howard Hesseman) and embarks on a cross-country road trip. After a few hellish encounters in the heartland with lowlife goobers and corrupt local police, she finds solace in the outlaw arms of Jones’s character, Coley, who, with his dark stubble and hollowed-out cheeks, looks not unlike the young Bruce.
Jackson County Jail also happens to be one of the few feature-film credits ever secured by a handsome but not particularly successful actor named Michael Ashe, who died in 2008, at the age of seventy-six. Ashe was a lifelong scrapper, making a living from the 1950s through the 1990s via dinner theater, one-off TV roles, and commercials for Brylcreem and Contac cold medicine. But it wasn’t until 2007, in the second-to-last year of his life, that he achieved proper renown, and among a young audience, no less—via a comedy series on the Web called Cautionary Tales of Swords, which was created by none other than Yacht Rock’s villainous, profane, very shoddily bewigged Oates: Drew Hancock.
Cautionary Tales of Swords, like Yacht Rock, was born on Channel 101, a Web site and film-short competition that gave early exposure not only to your beloved Beyond Yacht Rock pocdast hosts, but also to the Lonely Island guys, Community’s Dan Harmon, Rick & Morty’s Justin Roiland, and Drunk History’s Derek Waters (who played “Gay Batman” opposite Ashe in Cautionary Tales of Swords).
I was so moved by Ashe’s redemptive eleventh-hour moment of professional fulfillment, and his unlikely friendship with the not-at-all-Oates-like Hancock, that I wrote about it for Vanity Fair’s Web site a few years back. I won’t give away the details here; just follow the link. (Minor spoiler alert: Ashe’s memorial party was held in the yard of BYR’s Dave Lyons.)
Ashe’s role in Jackson County Jail is tiny; he appears only in its very first scene, as a plaid-jacketed corporate yes-man. But I suspect that it would have pleased him no end to know that, in one of the few big-screen shots he ever got, Bruce Springsteen, of all people, saw him perform.
David Kamp is a longtime contributing editor for Vanity Fair. He’s on Twitter as @MrKamp