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Clark: Boat show goes overboard by throwing us THAT line

Tue., Jan. 29, 2013

This time of year drives me crazy.

And I’m NOT talking about the snow or the annoying preoccupation that TV news crews have with slip-sliding automotive mishaps.

Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself about winter, I just think of my friends in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The chill up there this time of year can get so ridiculously bitter that a tossed cup of boiling water will never hit the ground.

The liquid will just “FOOSH” into an icy fog.

That’s what they tell me, anyway.

No, I’m becoming stark-drooling daffy because of four little words.

“Only in a Boat.”

That’s the title of the theme song for the big Spokane National Boat Show, which sets sail Friday at the county fairgrounds and runs through Feb. 9.

“Only in a boat” carries most of the song’s lyrics, as in:

“Only in a boat, only in a boat, only in a …”

Not exactly Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” huh?

But with its reggae bounce and stellar production value, “Only in a Boat” is about as diabolically infectious as any jingle ever gets.

For the third year in a row, “Only in a Boat” is being played and played and played over the advertising airwaves.

And for the third year in a row, “Only in a Boat” is boring a deep hole into my brain like some parasitic thing that has missed too many meals.

Soon I will not be able to dress or feed myself. You’ll find me sitting in a rubber room at some stark institution, muttering “only in a boat” in endless replays.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

Go to The song will commence shortly after you open the website.

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

People either “love it or hate it,” confirmed Scott Thompson, who manages the boat show and has “Only in a Boat” as the ringtone on his cellphone.

I’ve never met Thompson. But I pegged him as one smart cookie when he told me the story of how he acquired the rights to this pitch-perfect anthem for Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana.

A Midwest ad agency sent him the song out of the blue with a simple request: Call us if you like it.

Thompson called.

The song, he said, took him to a “happy place.” You know, like sitting in the middle of a lake in a boat with the engine shut off, drinking some coffee and maybe reading the Sunday paper.

I can totally identify with that.

“Only in a Boat” had me smiling the first time I heard it.

By the third time I was tapping my foot and humming along with the impressive singer.

A dozen or so plays later I became possessed like that brat in “The Shining.”

“Dougie’s not here, Mrs. Torrance.”

Sunday morning I began bellowing it while soaping in the shower.

“NOOOO!!!” screamed my lovely wife, Sherry, from the bedroom. “Don’t you dare put that into my head.”

That shut me up for at least a minute or so.

Then I started whistling the damn thing.

“Some people don’t want to be infected,” observed Thompson.

No kidding.

One man from North Idaho loathed “Only in a Boat” on a visceral level. He sent Thompson a scathing email, spelling out his contempt and threatening to come to the fairgrounds and give the manager the what-for.

Thompson said he spent much of last year’s boat show looking over his shoulder, wondering if the next stranger he met would be that “North Idaho guy.”

The “earworm” is no new phenomenon.

That’s the term used to describe a song or musical fragment that is so deliciously catchy that it crawls inside your cranium and lays eggs that later hatch into melodic echoes.

Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is an earworm, as is the whistling theme to the “Andy Griffith Show.”

“See the USA in your Chevrolet” and “You deserve a break today” are earworm commercials for General Motors and McDonald’s.

Do the tone deaf suffer from earworms?

Can’t say. But everyone else sure seems to be fair game.

Want an example closer to home?

If you were living in Spokane from 1953 to 1973, I’m betting you can fill in the rest of the following.

“When you need coal or oil …”

All together now:

“Calllllll Boyle!”

(No. I’m not going into the telephone number. I don’t want this back in my head, either.)

The Boyle Fuel Co. jingle was played ad nauseam in commercials and, more importantly, on our televised local talent show, “Starlit Stairway.”

“Only in a Boat” is more like an ear piranha.

The government could interrogate terrorists with it. Just lock ’em in a room and crank it up through loudspeakers.

They won’t last two days.

And think of the other uses.

Washington’s burgeoning marijuana industry could gain a lot of support by having the song rerecorded with slightly different lyrics.

“Come and toke some dope …”

I tracked “Only in a Boat” to Barry Volk’s Sound Advantage, a studio in Stinson Beach, Calif., near San Francisco.

I left messages that weren’t returned, which is a bummer.

I wanted to find out who was responsible for such a masterful bit of music so I could offer my respect.

And know whom to sue for emotional pain and suffering.

Too bad the Titanic’s band wasn’t playing “Only in a Boat” on that night to remember.

I know I’d have felt a lot better about having to take an unexpected dip with you know what going through my head.

“Only in a boat, only in a boat, only in a …”


Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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