Kenny G, the poodle-haired smooth jazz saxophonist, has seriously jeopardized his status as the most popular closing act no one in China has heard of by joining in democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Up until today, Kenny G was almost certainly the most listened-to Western artiste in the whole of China. This is because, for well over a decade, his sultry easy-listening jazz anthem Closing Time has become the equivalent of clocking off siren for office workers across the land.
Few Chinese know Kenny G’s name. Even fewer know that it stands for Kenneth Gorelick. But almost everyone knows that tune.
Everywhere from bars, train stations and shopping malls to gyms and golf courses, Kenny G’s silken parping is used as a signal that the day is over and that it’s time to go home.
So elevated is the Chinese threshold for aural torture that according to a New York Times report earlier this year, Closing Time was played on a loop for over an hour and a half one Saturday afternoon at Beijing’s Panjiayuan Antiques Market. According to the market’s manager, this has been standard practice since 2000.
Kenny G himself reports having heard the song in Tiananmen Square, Shanghai, a golf course and a “restroom in the middle of nowhere,” says Rolling Stone. It also accounts for four of the top ten videos played on China’s video-sharing site Youku.
But now all this agony may be brought to a sudden end as a result of Kenny G’s unlikely venture into political activism.
In true Kenny G style, he tried to keep things bland and inoffensive when he posed for photographs at the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and tweeted: “In Hong Kong at the sight of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.” [The spelling of “site” is all Kenny’s own]
However, this was enough to infuriate the Chinese authorities and may lead to a furious backlash from the Chinese people.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press conference: “Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear. We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.”
According to the South China Morning Post several Chinese and Taiwanese musicians and actors who have supported the protests have faced widespread criticism on social media, with calls for them to be blacklisted from working in China.
The Chinese may not be yet aware of it but after twenty or more years of prolonged sax torture, they may be about to experience the greatest liberation from cruel and unusual suffering since the end of the Cultural Revolution.