It’s official. No one can clear a room like Kenny G.
Nobody ever claimed Kenny G’s music (often branded ‘elevator music’ by critics) could match the hard-driving improvisation demonstrated by jazz titans like Joe Lovano and Wayne Shorter. His world record for playing the longest single note ever recorded on a saxophone (45 minutes and 47 seconds of Eb, if you’re wondering) only reinforces that fact. But this new revelation has to cut deep.
Kenny G’s 1989 hit “Going Home” has become the official anthem for closing time in China. When shops, malls, and other establishments play it over their loudspeakers, it’s taken as a polite request (or rather command) for patrons to leave immediately, according to a study by The New York Times.
When asked about the strange and ubiquitous presence of “Going Home” in Chinese society, no one could explain how or why it’s found gracing the speakers of everything from a bank to a library when it’s time to close up shop. In Beijing’s own Panjiayuan Antiques Market, the song plays on a loop for the last 90 minutes of business, with one person interviewed saying: “Whenever I hear ‘Going Home,’ I finish things faster.” I imagine many jazz critics have a similar response to his music. This response to the song is almost Pavlovian, perfectly demonstrating decades of social engineering distilled down into the only socially acceptable and non-confrontational way say ‘get the hell out of my store’ in China.
One ethnomusicologist also commented that many Chinese songs favor literal meanings. So the title of the song, which is now very well-known, is more likely to be the social cue rather than the music itself.
Even though the song is played daily by almost every shop in major Chinese cities at closing time, Kenny G, real name Kenny Gorelick, doesn’t receive regular pay their use of the song. “I surrender to the fact that that’s the way things go there,” he told the Times. He reported hearing “Going Home” everywhere from Tiananmen Square to the golf course on his last visit to China, and he has no idea why that is – Nor is he looking for the answer. “I don’t ask questions because I like to leave some of the mystery.”
Naturally, the tune makes the set list every time he performs in China, but he’s quick to jest: “I save it for last. Because I don’t want everyone going home early.”
Watch The New York Times video report on “Going Home” below: