Friday, September 5, 2008

Just the Two of Us

Western musical acts are no longer novel in China since a bouffanted George Michael and Andrew Ridgley of Wham! (Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go)baffled 15,000 Beijing youth and their connected cadre parents in 1985, so when I happened to see an ad last week for an Al Jarreau, George Benson "Just The Two of Us" concert, it just kinda came and went with me.

Though I once faked admiration for Benson in a telephone interview with him about 25 years go, I was never a fan and usually slept through or threw a shoe at whatever device was playing Masquerade or Greatest Love of All. Al Jarreau I respected, but not enough to pay to hear him.

Then I was offered four free tickets to their show by my curious Chinese editor who'd received them from the concert hall, the Beijing Exhibition Theater. "They are famous?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah," I assured her sounding like Voice of America. "American jazz and soul legends. In fact, I interviewed George Benson once."

"Oh!" she gushed. "Perhaps again? Today? For our paper? He will remember you, of course!"

"Mmm, no, unfortunately," I said. "It doesn't really work like that and it was a long, long time ago. (Pause) But thanks for the tickets!"

I found an musically opened minded US expat pal, Dave, to accompany me and gave the other two to a young Chinese reporter I'll call Wang who'd once asked me for a primer on American jazz and blues.

The best I could do at the time was hand him a stack of CDs, write down some names and pray the CDs got back to me undamaged. Not like when I did the same for another novice Western rock Chinese fan who'd returned my Zeppelin, Neil Young, Beatles, Stones and Nirvana discs 6 months later looking and sounding as if they'd been used as chew toys for weasels. To add unintended insult to indifference he told me the only songs he'd liked were Heart of Gold, Yesterday and As Tears Go By. "All others are too CRAZY! ... Do you have California Hotel and Every Shing-a-Ling?" (His decomposed unidentified remains were found 8 months later with a Carpenter's Greatest Hits disc jammed up what remained of his left nostril ....)

But I digress. Wang, a somber, wry fellow who rarely shows emotion, thanked me sincerely and I promised to check back with him after the show to see how he'd fared. Dave and I found the hall and joined a crush of mostly young and middle aged Chinese being squeezed through one of about 20 entrances and a security check.

"What's with the metal detectors?" I asked. "It's not like we're going to an East Coast vs West Coast, 2Pac vs Suge Knight kinda deal."

"I dunno," Dave mused. "I hear Benson and Jarreau been dissing (sickingly cute mainland China female pop idol) Han Xue, saying she puts out for Tibet separatists...This could get ugly."

The show was pretty damn good, though I can still die perfectly happy if I never hear Summer Breeze or Greatest Love of All again. Still Jarreau and Benson (when he bothered to play guitar rather than croon) had the hall jumping, such as usually undemonstrative Chinese audience do, unless commanded and then about half a beat off the rhythm.

I spotted Wang as we left to beat the post-encore rush. He was sweating and grinning, clapping happily off rhythm and ectastic. I leaned into his ear and said: "Well? How is it? You like it?"

His grin got larger. "F..F..F-f-fu###ing GREAT!" he yelled.

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. My job was done.

No comments: