Hollywood Dreams

The saga of Billy Yeager, a wannabe rock star who turned rejection and hoaxes into an art form. Now his story has become a feature-length movie. We think.

By any standard Yeager is a proficient musician. After all, his song writing is original enough to have attracted the attention of Bruce Hornsby. His early independent releases were serviceable efforts of their time and nothing to be ashamed of. Even the bogus "Bolero Tapes," for all their Hendrixian affectations, reveal Yeager's unique compositional vision, if not a funky swing that could have been bred only on the streets of South Florida.

As heard anew in film, his voice is a malleable instrument, by turns raw and sweet. In general his work suffers all the pitfalls befuddling the self-produced. But Yeager's guitar gently weeps, and it squeals and it roars, always lyric, always saying something. It may not be perfect, but people have gotten signed on much worse. Listen to the radio sometime. The Darwinian attrition of demos submitted to record labels is severe. Very rarely is a song ever listened to in its entirety. With no second chances, this is a very fragile moment upon which to hang one's hopes.

Yeager describes one such session he attended back in his demo-pushing days: "The guy had the volume so low he couldn't even hear it, and the whole time he talked about how they wanted to sign rap and grunge acts."

Yeager's only inside supporter to date, Bruce Hornsby, suffered similar rejection for years until the demo of his noncommercial-sounding song "The Way It Is" was accidentally heard and recognized as a hit. Success stories like these fuel the dreams of those who would be stars, but Yeager's determination comes from something more.

The do-it-yourself quest for fame is a genetic predisposition for Yeager. His father Ray built a guitar out of a dresser drawer and wrote a song about it called "Country Boy" that was almost a minor hit in the Fifties. Columbia offered him a deal, but Ray Yeager claims he had become entangled with twelve different managers by then. Closer to a deal than his son would ever get, he couldn't sign on the dotted line, and this opportunity passed. Even after settling down into a career of law enforcement in Dania Beach and raising a family, the senior Yeager kept at his dream, promoting himself as "The Singing Cop."

Of no less importance to Billy Yeager's approach is his aunt, Bunny Yeager, well known the world over as the former Playboy model who got behind the camera and reinvented the cheesecake ethic of the Fifties. She brought to the male-dominated viewpoint a feminine perspective that included designing her own swimsuits; crafting exotic, nature-infused settings; and discovering pin-up queen and kitsch bondage icon Betty Page.

The family influence on Yeager is revealed in the film in quick, subtle ways. He learns to play on his dad's bulky homemade instrument but hungers for an electric. When the new instrument is secured, Yeager puts away the guitar made out of a dresser drawer only to plug in to a homemade amp he built out of his sister's dresser.

Where Yeager's determined desire to control every aspect of his image might come from is evidenced by the act that Bunny insisted on shooting and directing her own appearance in her nephew's film, much to the chagrin of her nephew. Her posed shots, complete with potted palms, are precious.

In the movie's most poignant scene, Billy jams with his father as both pickers work out on their respective guitars. The elder Yeager, who claims he never worked as hard at his music as his son does, croaks through a hole in his larynx. "I always had a good voice" he says, by way of explaining his rapid but fleeting arc toward fame. A victim of throat cancer, Ray entreats viewers to quit smoking. Moments like these undercut any of the film's overwrought contrivances.

Once, when young Billy accompanied his dad to a meeting about a potential record deal as a country artist, he was amazed how Ray suddenly adopted a hillbilly drawl and bumbling demeanor. It isn't hard to see where the younger Yeager might have picked up his penchant for affecting voices, for impersonating his own manager on the phone, for all the compulsive artifice that has overshadowed his music for so long.

Billy Yeager greeted 1996 with a successful media hoax to his credit and not much else. He pushed a broom for several hours each day in Boca, and that paid the rent, but whither his quest for fame? As always, he labored creatively in his funky apartment, the place where he had hatched so many schemes. Having long since forsaken the grind of playing in bands at clubs as "boring," even his self-contained music making had mellowed, his songs becoming melancholy and reflective. The beach boy was aging and the mileage showed.

One thing was certain: He had been the son of Jimi Hendrix for a fleeting moment. It was a character Yeager understood, and he wrote a dramatic screenplay about such a fictional son, the story of Jimmy Story if Jimmy Story had really existed. He had hours of video footage covering every minute and aspect of the hoax and used it to help pitch this movie concept to anyone who'd listen.

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