Marquel, TPVs Times Exit correspond?ent missed his own mother’s celebration because he could not believe this New York Times headline: China Says Goodbye in the Key of G: Kenny G.
“Going Home” played in markets, schools, restrooms, factories, gyms, to indicate closing time. For years, Kenny Gs saxophone instrumental Going Home has been piped into shopping malls, and train stations in China as a signal to the public that it is time, indeed, to go.
This was indeed news. Kenny G! The last I heard that name was in connection with a news item about pharmaceuticals. Sleeping Pills, I think. One group of subjects received the pill and one received Kenny G. The pharmaceutical wasn’t nearly as effective, if I remember correctly.
Now they are using it to evacuate buildings, train stations, libraries, gyms, even rest rooms! I shouldn’t say now. Apparently this one song by Kenny G, which has absolutely no words, has been used for twenty years or more as a signal that the premises are closing. I couldn’t afford to fly to China and was sort of at a loss. I could go to the consul but instead I chose my neighborhood Szechuan joint.
“Mufi,” I said to the chef, “what’s this with Kenny G?”
Mufi didn’t hesitate, “closing time.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“Kenny G means its closing time.” He looked me as if I were an idiot. “Buns?”
“Sure,” I said. “extra peppers??”
He shook his head. The line cooks looked at me approvingly. A real man, they thought.
“So,” I asked, “how in the world did this happen? Kenny G?”
“I don’t think anyone really knows. All I can say,” he tried to explain,” is that they played it at the end of school, at the end of gym, library closings, everything. When you hear that song, you get out.”
“Is it because it’s so soothing?” I asked.
“No. It’s offensive.” He corrected me. “Nobody stays when they here that endless tape.”
“Endless tape?” I asked again, “what do you mean?”
“It’s not a very long song. It’s on a tape that repeats over and over. In a mall they’ll start anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. It goes on and on.”
“And people leave to escape the music?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you?” Mufi asked.
“Actually, if you just told me it was about to start, I’d get out.” I answered.
“That’s interesting.” He said. “So if Kenny G ever wants to get royalties for this, they could avoid It by just announcing they were about to play Kenny G. I think that would work.”
“But in fact Kenny G doesn’t get any royalties. In China that’s almost an impossible task.” I said.
One of the cooks came over to us and told me, “Did you hear about his first concert in China? He is very popular. Certainly the most popular instrumentalist. His concerts are packed. Well, in a sense.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I was thinking of his first concert. The whole country was talking about it.” said the cook, “He knew that was his most popular song and started his concert with it.”
“And?” I asked.
“Everybody left while ‘Going Home’ was playing.” He told me. “He never made that mistake again. He plays it at the end. No encores for Kenny G.”
“And no one knows how it started, eh?” I asked. “That’s so strange.”
“Not a clue. They used to play it in the army.”
“For what?” I asked.
“Retreat.” He said.
“Are you serious? They play Kenny G on the battlefield when they retreat?” I asked
“It’s more effective than anything. You could shoot machine guns at us and we’d stand our ground. But play Kenny G, and believe me, we’re going home.” He said.
I went home to think and returned the next day with a small tape player of Kenny G’s ‘Going Home.’ I sat down for dinner and watched the kitchen. They were busy, chopping, pouring, frying. I turned on the tape. The volume was down but I saw the kitchen change. Aprons came off, knives and implements were rinsed and put away, the dishwasher was turned on for the last time. Before anyone left, I turned it off and walked out discreetly.
Wow. That’s strong conditioning, I thought. How else could I test it? I went to the UN and saw that China was speaking in the General Assembly. I got in with my handwritten press pass, and sat in the press section. When the Chinese ambassador took the lectern, I waited and then pressed the button. He looked up, folded his notes, and walked off the stage.
I didn’t know what to make of it. Is it just a cultural artifact or does it show something more basic about human behavior? Or is it something peculiar to the Chinese? I had one more test to perform. I was able to afford a trip to the West Coast. Kenny G was performing in the outdoor stadium. It was easy to bring my boom box in.
Kenny played some horrible tunes and the crowd cheered. He played even more horrible tunes. The crowd swooned. I could tell the next one was going to be even more horribly offensive than the preceding, because that seemed to be how he and the crowd liked it. Time to press “play.” At full volume. People around me stared. They fumed. They tore their hair out. But they didn’t threaten me. I had counted on that. They were Kenny G fans, after all. “Going Home” was playing full tilt now, and I watched Kenny G. He took his instrument out of his mouth, pulled the reed out, put it in the case, disassembled the clarinet and put it in the case, too. And then he walked off the stage.
I concluded it wasn’t a general human reaction and certainly not limited to one ethnic group. It was Kenny G. His music is timeless and useless. Unless you have to evacuate a city in a hurry.
How Do You Say Goodbye in Chinese? Kenny G