While most people I know were preparing for what turned out to be quite a dramatic Verzuz between Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Three-6 Mafia I was queueing up Listening to Kenny G, a documentary about jazz/pop artist Kenny G directed by Penny Lane. The documentary is part of a Music Box series on some of our favorite artists like Alanis Morrisette, DMX and Juice WRLD; new documentaries are dropping throughout the month of December on HBO Max.
Now, in all honestly, I missed both the Verzuz and didn’t make it through the Kenny G doc; I was fighting off a bout of self-diagnosed food poisoning from a decision I now regret. It’s been a man down situation for days. But I did finally finish watching the documentary which is basically an examination of Kenny G and why folks hate him. And one thing that immediately comes across is how likable Kenny G is. I enjoyed the doc as it hit all of the right notes. No pun intended. Music folks, culture critics and academics (and Kenny G himself) discuss every facet of his musical output as well as his cultural resonance—the “why” and “how” of Kenny G is dissected all throughout the film. Hell, I’d even forgotten about the early attempts to reach the Black audiences. It’s worth the watch, trust me.
And that’s what really kills me. You see, I had the chance to be in the film—or at least to be interviewed to possibly be in it—and didn’t because of COVID and now my guitar gently weeps because it seems like the kind of thing writers like myself literally spend their careers hoping to get the call for. I’m crying right now. Le sob.
But let me break it down for you, both for posterity and for me so I have a reminder of that thing I really wanted to do but couldn’t do because of a damned global pandemic. Le sigh.
So back in March 0f 2020, I wrote a piece about a realization I had: as it turns out, maybe I didn’t hate Kenny G’s music as much as I thought I did. I guess I started wrestling with the idea because like most folks, Kenny G has been a staple of my life. If “Songbird” or “Silhouette” comes on, I know the songs from the first notes—immediately. But I’ve also always been baffled by why Kenny G was a thing but I mean, the music is serene and soothing and while it may be missing any real artistic “challenge” in the deeper sense, you can’t deny that this dude made music that folks loved. I guess that’s the great Kenny G experience, lots of people love it, everybody else judges people who love it.
Anyway, discussions about Kenny G are almost always going to bring folks to the yard, milkshake-style. The only people who don’t have an opinion about Kenny G are people who have never heard of him. This statement is probably not true, but it feels true: every Saturday and Sunday in my house as a youth were spent listening to Kenny G. I’ll bet that familiarity and divisive discourse on Kenny is why this doc was green-lit. It’s really a great idea and like I said, I enjoyed it. Dammit.
Well, on August 11, 2020, I got an email from the film’s director, Penny Lane. Now, I get A LOT of emails and requests to do things or be in things or write about things or whatever. A lot. And I’m not saying they’re all quality requests; your cousin Junebug Mookmook Thad Piplington emails me constantly about his new app that will change the game and absolutely will help expand the community and, since I’m lucky, help expand my own profile. Seriously, the amount of people who want me to talk about them to allegedly help me out is alarming. Your cousins are all so kind.
But anyway, in this email Penny laid it out: She loved the two pieces I’d written about Kenny G. She’s directing a doc about Kenny for HBO and wanted to know if would be willing to talk about my evolving views on him? The doc will have a wide audience. She dropped her stats and I looked them up and was like, “wow, this would literally be amazing!”
We talked a few times while we tried to get the logistics set up. But again, we’re in a panini. I’m in Washington, D.C. When we eventually linked up about if I was still able and willing and all that, I’d have needed to come to New York City to be filmed and I guess I should have figured that would be the case. I wasn’t quite comfortable traveling at that time (this is January/February 2021) and I had a brand new baby and a daughter who is immunocompromised. It just didn’t seem like the smartest move on my part. So I graciously bowed out. I was sad but I made the right call.
And then I started seeing the advertisements for the Music Box series, and that it was going to be on HBO Max (she told me HBO to begin with) and that it was being pushed by Bill Simmons’ The Ringer network and then I saw the lineup and then I had all of the decision remorse one could have. You see, I’d almost forgotten about it and now when the world seems a little more open—I’m vaxxed AND boosted at this point and even travelled to the early mecca of ‘Does COVID exist or nah?’...Atlanta—I had all of the regret. It felt like a huge missed opportunity, even if for the right reason.
But I watched the doc and loved it and kept thinking of just how awesome it could have been to see myself in this doc that I know my own parents would watch. Because Kenny G. Kenny G crossed racial and cultural lines. This doc could be seen by folks in nations the world over and I could have had a moment to be present for it. Le sigh.
One thing my life has taught me is that you really never know what could be right around the corner—(mostly) good or (on occasion) bad—so I won’t spend too much time being sad about it. I’ve had the chance to do things I didn’t even realize were on the table, like this doc. So maybe another opportunity will present itself. Shouts out Penny Lane who reached out to me and for directing an amazing documentary.
I will shed a few more thug tears before I move on though. And I will do so as Kenny G’s “Songbird” plays in the background, because that just feels apropos.