Jack Johnson was the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, and his 1910 bout with James J. Jeffries—dubbed "the Fight of the Century"—provoked race riots across the country. He's an absolute titan in American history, but if you Google his name, you have to scroll through a half-dozen other results before finding first mention of him.
The boxer has been overshadowed by a surfer-turned-musician of the same name, a white guy who grew up in Hawaii and became a teenage professional surfer with a Quiksilver sponsorship. This Johnson bumped his noggin after tumbling on a wave and began to write frat-boy odes on an acoustic guitar during his recovery. He now has an unfathomably huge audience for his ultra-mellow barefoot jams—"kickback" music for timid suburbanites for whom Dave Matthews rocks a bit too hard and John Mayer seems too bluesy. Johnson's story is one of riches to riches, a celebration of a perverse but common mutation of the American dream: That you, too, can achieve happiness by accumulating vast amounts of money with minimal effort and spend your days chillaxin' on a tropical beach somewhere.
Jimmy Buffett did it first, and more brazenly, and with at least a passing knowledge of the genres of Caribbean calypso and American country. Johnson's humorless soft-rock, meanwhile, is the faux-funk of G. Love boiled down to a sad bastard murmur, like Nick Drake for the date-rape set. It's music absolutely devoid of temperature and even the most funkified of Johnson's jamz will do nothing to raise one's heartbeat.
After providing the soundtrack to a movie about a CGI monkey—not King Kong, the bad one, Curious George—Johnson released his fifth album, whose title, Sleep Through the Static, seems appropriately narcoleptic. It topped the charts on its release in February, so, obviously, flocks of Americans are hearing something through their SUV speakers that completely eludes me. Is this just a case of cooler-than-thou hipster elitism, or sour grapes at his mind-boggling success? It's possible. But I prefer to think that life's simply too short to listen to boring music.