Sunday, November 29, 2009
Last night I channel surfed past a PBS station in time to catch the entertainer Yanni playing with a sixty eight piece orchestra in some awesome place like the Pass of Thermopylae or The Gramd Canyon. He was standing between phalanxes of keyboards, four on his right, four on his left, and as the orchestra pumped out vigorous but empty musical calories, Yanni stretched his arms straight out to either side and played the keyboards. He threw his hair back, arched his body in a spasm of ersatz passion. He wore an all white costume with puffy sleeves; the shirt was unbottoned to show his hairy chest. He was gallantly crucifying himself, ascending in resurrected bliss on a cascade of idiot dramatic crap New Age muzak fit only for hair salons and supermarkets. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not jealous of this man’s success. (Oh no.) He undoubtedly works very hard. But the insult of indulging in such silly and obvious showmanship only diminishes his besotted audience. Showmanship is a wonderful thing. Especially when it is connected to genuine talent or profound ideas. I recently saw a vintage film of the Count Basie Band. The drummer, Sonny Payne, twirled and juggled his sticks while executing a wildly complex solo. I watched him pass the sticks under his legs and around his back. He threw them into the air so they landed on the snare drum in perfect time and bounced back into his hands, and all the while he held and stomped on the beat until he cued the band back into a great bellowing riff that lead to the tune's head. THAT is showmanship. In Hell, Yanni will be a toothless bald man gesticulating wildly in front of a three piece band of Borscht Belt hacks who can barely wheeze in tune, let alone play music. He will repeat the same phrase over and over again, “Aren’t I wonderful?” and a thin, bored applause will leak up from a cigarette strewn linoleum dance floor that stretches to infinity.