Thursday, June 18, 2015

Magic Kingdom on South Pine

Far out, man, I went to a happening.

Dig it, I didn't know when I decided to go that it would be a happening. I thought I was going to "Interpretations from the Disney Songbook" on soprano sax at Vinyl Conflict records in Oregon Hill. The event promised "experimental deconstruction" and "extended techniques."

But what everyone was commenting about was that he'd be deconstructing the art of Walt Disney. People, especially of a certain age, were practically twitterpated at the thought that he might deconstruct a personal favorite, say something from "The Lion King."

Personally, I was hoping he'd aim further back in the Disney catalog for something more classic to re-imagine. Over the past few days, the "going" tally on Facebook had climbed to 167 and the miniscule record store knew they'd have to move the performance outside to accommodate everyone.

After my hired mouth dined with two fellow music lovers, we plunged into the bowels of O-Hill to see what was being wrought. While cooling our heels on the sidewalk lively with other Disney lovers, assorted dogs and even a few people in quasi-costume or mouse ears, we were instructed to go to the parking lot.

Jamison Williams and his sax soon took the makeshift stage against the record store and began talking. And talking. And talking. He began by saying that his home state (Florida) provided no support whatsoever for what he did for a living. "None at all," he clarified.

He rambled about turning 40 and doing what he wanted to do. With no clear destination, his sentences and presumed points wandered all over, only occasionally resulting in a story being finished. More than a few in the audience seemed confused by his lengthy soliloquy.

On the plus side, the shadows of the nearby plant life adorned the wall behind him, resembling the undergrowth in a Rousseau painting, a seductive background in the last of the day's light.

After eventually admitting to OCD tendencies, he finally put the sax to his lips and began blowing. If it was related to Disney, you couldn't have proven it by the crowd's reaction.

There were exceptions. The two little girls in front of us turned around in amazement, enormous smiles on their faces that seemed to say, "Isn't it funny all that racket he's making? Is that allowed?" They might have been the only ones smiling.

The music, more likely labeled "noise" by sticklers for their place in the music pantheon, continued. You could almost see people's ears straining like in a cartoon to pay attention and make sense of the sounds. It was just so far removed from any sort of song structure or even vaguely melodic that it came across as pure dissonance.

After coming out of a squawking note, he'd let out a couple of pleasing notes to suck everybody in and then return to the most challenging kind of jazz improv. If there could be such a thing, he was producing feedback from his sax.

The audience didn't know what to make of it.  A few people dipped out. Many more re-focused their attention on their phones, ignoring it to the extent they could. People began filming it, barely containing their laughter. Somewhere, Walt was probably rolling his eyes.

That's when it hit me. This was performance art. This guy may have spent 100 hours learning the complete Disney catalog, but his goal was not to get you humming "Hakuna Matata," it was to perplex you to the point that you stayed to see how bad it might get or how long it might last.

We listened for the better part of an hour, people discreetly leaving, laughing or documenting, before I decided to poll my compatriots and make a fast break. In less than a block's walk we had a consensus: he was a most talented musician, playing multiple notes at one time and creating harmonics effortlessly, but Disney was dead to him. Or if he still had any rodent's breath left in him, it was buried so far down that our untrained ears were unable to grasp it.

I had no qualms about leaving because I'd come to the conclusion that he was going to play as long as one person remained to play to. There wasn't a point to this happening beyond that something was happening. Once I "got" it, I'd had enough of it.

After parting company with my companions, I got the online scoop about what all those heads buried in phones had been doing with their thumbs. Commentary was rife on the event page.

Holy WHAT?

This was undoubtedly the most common reaction as millennnials expecting a feel-good night that recalled their childhoods were instead assaulted with a genre  - jazz- they probably don't care for and a style - wildly improvisational and dissonant - that made no sense to their auto-tuned ears.

Bringing you the loosest of interpretations.

This had to come from a musician who could at least admit that yes, the guy knew Disney and was reworking it from the vantage point of another century and an OCD mind.

Mind = blown.

I prefer to think that this poster had lost brain matter to the sheer surprise of naively expecting what they wanted without doing any research that might have indicated a more bizarre purpose. Absent that, I can see where a happening virgin's mind could be blown attending their first happening, a situation meant to be considered art.

Too early to say best gig of the summer?

Humor gets me every time.

We all need to take a leaf from this man's book. Who's staying for autographs?

Ditto. My only wish is that someone actually did get his autograph.

Not the hero we need, but the one we deserve.

And, ding, ding, ding, we have a winner, boys and girls. If what it takes to get 167 or even 67 people to come outside on a muggy Thursday night to hear a soprano saxophonist play is to dangle the promise of Disney music in front of media-addled millennials and they're there, they really do deserve this.

That their bubble was burst when they didn't hear jazzy variations on "Whistle While You Work" will be seen as one more letdown in their post-modern lives when what they should appreciate is coming together to experience something totally off the wall just for the "whatever" of it.

Bambi in the bulls-eye, it's brilliant. Not too early to say best happening of the summer. If I'd stayed to the end, I'd be enthusiastically snapping my fingers right now.


  1. .i wasn't presence however i may surmise..[juz maybe] ..there are moments when performance art gives "art" itself a bad name -- too much hot air !!

    4 Christ's SAkE iT'S sUmMER....


  2. Some people left with a migraine...