A NIGHT OF BAD SAX
THIS is a true story. It began with a 7.30 am phone call a few weeks back from a close friend.
'I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse,' he said. It was early, at least for me, but even half comatose I am capable of seizing the day if it is set up for me and requires a minimum of effort.
'You mean a tonne of money and endless sex?' Silence.
'I hope not,' the now cool voice replied. 'I called to see if you can take my wife to the Kenny G concert tonight.' My brain froze. There are at least 50,000 great reasons why I would not walk across my living room to hear Kenny G. None came to mind fast enough to weasel my way out. I would happily have taken his lovely wife to a Sha Tin District Board meeting. Or anywhere but a Kenny G concert, which has about the same effect as an evening with Kim Il-sung.
My buddy is generous. He likes to involve his friends in his cultural pursuits. He will buy expensive charity tickets to knockout stuff like the Guangzhou Girls Folk Group at Yuen Long Town Hall and then be too busy to show up, leaving half a dozen close acquaintances snoring in the front row.
The evening began with his wife and I meeting a couple he had also invited at an Italian restaurant for a quick, light, inexpensive snack. The snack might have been quick if the waiters had been in the same mode. It would have been light had it not been covered in high density melted plastic. And it would certainly have been inexpensive save for the $1,200 bill.
On to the Coliseum, that Great Mall of the People where all events start 20 minutes late and important people with mobile phones are still pouring in half an hour after that. And pouring out to the car park before the encore.
Two hours with Kenny G is like being locked in an elevator for a year. Being super-talented, world famous and tedious at the same time is a feat rarely achieved by musicians. Herb Albert and a few others have managed it, although probably not for so long aperiod or to such universal acclaim.
No doubt about it, the man is a phenomenon. If music were an endurance test then Kenny climbs his personal Everest every night. There is great skill in appearing never to take a breath, and Saxophone Ken has mastered it.
Holding a single note for seven minutes (he actually did that) is an amazing achievement and about as significant as breaking the Guinness World Record for talking non-stop for a week with a couple of ferrets down the front of your trousers.
His music is distinguished by not being able to tell one tune from the next. But the ability to play without a break has its down side. It means he just keeps going, leaving no time for an intermission where you can slip out unnoticed for a $35 soft drink and forget to return.
I have limited experience in things musical and I tend to go with Frank Zappa: 'There are only two types of music, good music and bad music.' If it is possible - and Kenny G proves that it is - then a great musician can produce bad music. Lots of it.
Don't ask me how that can be so; you don't see a thousand bad Picassos or a dozen lousy plays and a hundred awful sonnets from Shakespeare.
You have heard of middle-of-the-road music. Well, Kenny G plays middle-of-the-mall music. It is the sort to stuff enjoyed by people who take package holidays to Taipei. In the art world there is art that is expressive and there is decorative art. Same for music. Kenny G is decorative music played to a decorative, detached audience.
Here was a crowd of 10,000 aficionados going wild within the context of the subject matter. The result of their excitement went all the way to a little humming and some light foot-tapping. This was not a group given to any outrageous dancing in the aisles,although I noticed one or two let it all hang out and snap their fingers once or twice as they walked stiffly past on the way to the toilet.
You could easily go to the loo, buy a drink, have a smoke, call the wife, take a return flight to Manila and get back to find old Ken hanging on to that same one note as if an air hose had been inserted into his lower regions, producing, somehow, a steady supply to those magic lips.
It was only when the show was over that I asked the other three how they liked it. Turns out they were only there because their host had bought the tickets. 'We can't stand Kenny G,' they admitted.
'So what are we all doing here,' I ventured.
'Beat's the hell out of me,' replied my pal's exasperated wife. 'My husband doesn't like Kenny G much either.'