By TAI HAOTING
BEIJING (China Daily Show) – Zhang Li can still remember the first time he heard a Kenny G record.
The 34-year-old was walking past an upmarket duck-neck boutique when he caught the opening strains of ‘Songbird,’ the classic third single from the 56-year-old’s American saxophonist’s breakthrough studio album, Duotones (1986).
“It was flat. Uninspiring, almost,” Zhang recalls. “I have been a lifelong fan ever since.”
Now, every time Zhang wants to catch some Kenny, all he has to do is slip on an overcoat and pop down to his nearest department store.
“It’s great. They play all the classics – all the time!” Zhang enthuses, his foot tapping to the sophisticated weavings of ‘By the Time This Night Is Over.’
“They put the Greatest Hits on a loop, so you never get tired of listening.”
To some extent, the story of Kenny G’s success here mirrors the progress of Western rock n’ roll music in China.
Originally arriving in a wax-sealed container, illicitly floated across the Shenzhen River by Hong Kong human-right activists, the first dakou (‘saw cut’) CD of G Force, 1983’s astonishingly insipid second album, hit China in 1992.
It was swiftly bootlegged, spreading like wildfire around the hip industrial-punk neighbourhoods of Foshan, Guangdong province. Suddenly, Kenny G was big in China – a full decade after he first electrified Western youth.
The announcement, therefore, by Alan Clancy – Vice-President of Operations (Asia Pacific) at Time Warner – that sales, downloads and licensed usage of Kenny G’s popular alto-saxophone ballads have reached their strongest-ever throughout the first quarter of this year should come as no surprise.
While the star of the Seattle-bred saxophonist has somewhat dimmed in the US since the demise of smooth-jazz radio, in the East it burns as bright as ever. This is due, in no small part, to licensing agreements with several major Chinese supermarkets to play the exact same song, all day.
“Kenny’s dulcet tones have long serenaded Chinese listeners during their final moments of shopping, and can be expected to continue blandly ringing in their ears for many more decades of development,” Clancy stated during the call.
Listeners throughout China have grown so accustomed to the transcendently bittersweet stylings of ‘Going Home’ that most shoppers can expect to hear its languorous saxophone arpeggio roughly 4,876 times during their lifetime.
“It feels like every time I hear this song, I’m taken to a different place,” said Jinkelong regular Sun Demin. “One moment, I’m in a hand-made canoe, paddling slowly towards a log cabin on a frosty winter’s morn, there to spend the afternoon wistfully looking through old sepia photographs.
“The next, I’m hustling over to Kitchen Goods before they turn off the escalators. It’s a song to savor.”
Kenny G was recently inducted into Beijing’s ‘Great Hall of the Moderately Prosperous Western Musical Success,’ alongside all surviving members of The Carpenters and the cast of It’s a Chipmunks Christmas.
Asked to explain the abiding popularity of Kenny G in China, long-time fan Zhang observed: “I think people just basically like listening to the same song over and over again.”
Red Rock: soft-rock hits in China
‘Take It Easy’: Sixty-two-year-old school caretaker Peng Damen, who tearfully describes himself as “a child of the Sixties,” says he loves the 1972 Eagles hit precisely because it doesn’t remind him of 1972. “At the same time that record peaked at Number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, I was very much not taking it easy: doing back-breaking gardening at a collective in Yunnan, instead of finishing off my law degree at Peking University!” chuckles Peng of his hippie-farmer days in the Cultural Revolution. “Kicking back and listening to The Eagles, I can forget all about my formative years and just enjoy the moment, man.”
‘Yesterday Once More’: “The lyrics perfectly encapsulate everything that is truthful about the progress of a moderately prosperous developing society,” says shopper Sun Demin of the Carpenters’ classic. “La-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. You see?”
‘My heart will go on’: One of the most popular Western pop hits of all time in China, Celine Dion’s theme song from Titanic endures just as much as the lyrics. “Whenever I hear this song, I too wish I was onboard a doomed ocean liner,” agrees IT worker Pi Zhang.