By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Friday, November 13, 2015
Kenny G remains an incredibly popular Emmy winning musician, courtesy of the dulcet tones of his soft jazz soprano saxophone sound that landed him on the pop charts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A quarter century later, he remains suitably successful and has no problem making fun of himself.
Earlier this month, he appeared on HBO’s “Late Week Tonight With John Oliver” where he played his 1989 hit “Coming Home” to “calm” the Chinese, who were saber rattling over the United States supposedly “invading” their sea lanes. That song has inexplicably become a popular “end of the workday” tune in China.
“Kenny G is clearly our secret weapon,” Oliver said on the program. “He has an uncommon ability to make the people of China stop what they’re doing and go home to relax. If we can only harness that power of subliminal suggestion for good, we can all live in a slightly safer world!”
In an interview, Kenny G (real name Kenneth Gorelick) said he was psyched to be invited to Oliver. “He’s my favorite late-night host,” he said. “I was so pleased how funny it was.”
He is also a charitable being. At the behest of the Parents Television Council, a Los Angeles-based non-profit which aims to protect children from the harmful effects of sexual content in the media, he will be the entertainment at a Buckhead Theatre fundraiser November 21 for the organization. (Buy tickets here.)
“I’m not saying their views are exactly my views but generally speaking, I’m all for doing what’s necessary to protect kids,” said Kenny G, who has two sons himself, now 18 and 22.
Steve Hester, a Chick-Fil-A executive and long-time benefactor for PTC, helped put the fundraiser together. “The media is trying to steal children’s innocence,” Hester said. “There’s so much junk on TV now.”
The group’s influence has waned in recent years as TV viewing has become increasingly on demand and programming has exploded well beyond its initial target of prime-time broadcast networks. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission, which has limited jurisdiction over broadcast networks (and not cable or Netflix) has virtually stopped fining broadcasting networks over indecency issues.
PTC relies on donations and grants for its survival. It brought in about $3.2 million in 2013, according to its government 990 filings, down from a peak of $5.2 million in 2006, in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl breast exposure controversy.
With this fundraiser, PTC executive director Tim Winter is seeking more donors so they can fund more research and create campaigns against specific programs or networks. “The entertainment landscape has become so toxic for children,” he said. “We are there trying to do something about it.”
It recently took partial credit for ABC’s recent announcement it would revamp its new “Muppets” series, which PTC criticized for being too raunchy for the 8 p.m. hour. It also wants basic cable network FX to move to a subscription model because of programs such as “American Horror Story,” which recently featured children killing adults and drinking their blood.
“People might not agree with everything we do,” Winter said. “But there’s probably something we do that they like.”
He is aware that children can now access all sorts of nasty stuff on the Internet, that “we can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” But that doesn’t mean parents have to give up, he said. He hopes by placing pressure on advertisers as well as the content producers, the PTC can help allow “kids to be kids” even just a bit longer.
The PTC website offers daily “family friendly” TV suggestions, including CBS’s “Supergirl,” Food Network’s “Chopped” and ABC’s “The Middle.”
Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said for a time in the mid-2000s, he would be paired up all the time with a PTC rep on cable TV discussing censorship and sexual content on TV. Nowadays, he said he hardly hears much about them.
“I think it’s harder for them to find a focus” without the FCC enforcing indecency rules, he said. But he has no qualms about their current mission, which he feels is pretty unassailable: “If the council can raise the consciousness of parents on how they can monitor the viewing of their very young children, that’s a great purpose.”
In my conversation with Kenny G, whose music clearly could not offend any parent since it involves no lyrics at all, we addressed a few other issues as well:
On his golf game: He loves golf and likes to do Pro-Ams but said he’s only so so. He was recently in South Korea for a couple of concerts and was invited to a pro golf tournament so he got to rub shoulders with the likes of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson (and Johnson’s squeeze Paulina Gretzy, too). “I just watched them play,” he said. “They make it look so easy it.” He said he’s taking lessons and is changing his form. “The good thing is performing in front of people is my strength. If there’s pressure making a putt, it’s not going to stop me from making it.”
His 2014 Funny & Die video: He pretends to be an imaginary friend with comic Jon Daly:
“It was funny enough,” Kenny G said. “If we could do it again, I’d change a few things. I thought it was okay.”
His Warren G/Kenny G mash-up on Jimmy Kimmel last year:
“That worked,” he said. “There was a lot of good musicianship on that stage. It was very easy to do.”
Random side note: While we were talking, a cop motioned to him not to use his phone in his hand. He said this reminded him of a time years ago when he landed in jail for a few hours for arguing with a cop. He said the policeman had pulled him over and asked him about some papers in his passenger seat. Instead of showing them to him, he got indignant and said he had rights. “Next thing you know I’m out of the car and going to jail,” he said. “My car got impounded. I really proved a point wasting five hours of my life!” His lesson now is to be fully compliant with cops no matter what.
Breaking his own record: In 1997, he used his own circular breathing through his nose to hold a note for 45 minutes a Guinness Book of World Record. He would like to beat that in a few months once he trains a bit. And he wants to do it on an airplane. He won’t say which airline he’d do it on just yet. It’s not finalized. He realizes the challenges of holding a note on an airplane, where the air is much thinner.
Based on his previous experience, he said it starts hurting at the 30-minute point. “I realized at that point that I better really start concentrating or I’d lose it real fast,” he said. “I went for 40 and kept going But my note cracked at 45 minutes. I don’t know how it happened. It just did!”