By contributing writer Michael Traeger

When Kenneth Gorelick first tried out for the high school jazz band, the band’s director passed on the opportunity to include the Brillo Pad-haired boy in his ensemble.

Maybe Kenneth’s lanky appearance kept him out of the jazz band. Maybe Kenneth’s soprano saxophone played out of tune whenever he pressed it to his lips. Maybe the relative proximity of 9-volt batteries to Kenneth’s hair posed a serious fire hazard to the school.

No matter. This boy and his saxophone—and his perm job from hell—had a dream. He had a dream of causing more pain at the dentist’s office than drills. He had a dream of elevator passengers pounding on doors, screaming for help during their 15-second ride from the first to second floor.

In retrospect, the man the world would come to know as “Kenny G”—and as the real-life inspiration for Bart Simpson’s nemesis, Sideshow Bob—somehow became a household name because someone made a terrible, terrible error in judgment. In 1982, Clive Davis (then of Arista Records) heard Kenny G’s smashing rendition of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and clearly thought, “Oh my God, this guy is HOT!”

I sit here, wishing I were making this up. I wish that somehow, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer like Clive Davis, the man who had the vision to sign Aerosmith to their first major record, could resist the temptation to offer a music contract to a man with more curls than Shirley Temple based upon his soprano saxophone rendition of ABBA.

Alas, just like George Washington (never) said, “I cannot tell a lie,” clearly, someone, somewhere, must have gotten his hands on a Kenneth Gorelick audio track—most likely in an Iraqi torture cell—and thought, “Wow, I need to bring this to the President of Arista! What a great gag!”

Let’s back up for a moment and consider, visually and intellectually, three other prominent saxophonists.

Clarence Clemons, from Bruce Springsteen’s “E Street Band”:

John Coltrane, awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his shaping of jazz music:

“Bleeding Gums” Murphy, mentor to Lisa Simpson, and rumored voice of CNN:

Now, consider THIS motherfucker:

The prosecution rests, your Honor.

But somewhere, at some point, the suits at Arista Records had to have convened to discuss whether or not they should pour money into a schmuck named Kenneth Gorelick and his soprano saxophone. SOMEONE at that board meeting must have had the foresight to recognize how the world would suffer 10, 15, 20 years later from the music of Kenneth Gorelick. That person probably lost his or her job after the meeting, but should be canonized for his sacrifice.

Now, before I go any further, I understand that Kenny G made Arista Records a lot of money. But I argue that, at some point, people also thought disco and spandex were good ideas, too. And while these facts are trumped only by the knowledge that Julia Roberts once married Lyle Lovett, I still wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that Arista Records meeting of the musical minds.

(Crazy flashback effects)

(Lightning bolt)

Scene: Morning, top floor of Arista Records. Several men and women in professional business suits enter and treat themselves to coffee, fruit and spread located on a cart adjacent to the boardroom’s main table.

JIM: So, I think I have this new, hot talent that we should really look to sign.
CLIVE: Of course we should sign him if he's hot. We're in the hot signing business! Isn't that right, Angela?
ANGELA: Yes, it's right Clive. We only sign the hottest of the hot.
JIM: Well then, I have just the guy for you. Now, you're going to have to leave your inhibitions at the door for…Kenneth Gorelick.
Whoa, whoa, wait. His name is “Kenneth?” Wait, fuck that—his last name is “Gorelick?”
We’re aware of the name issue, Adam. I have a solution that I’ll discuss later.
Okay, good.
Now, sit back and enjoy.

(Jim inserts the cassette and dims the conference room lights)

(Kenneth Gorelick's rendition of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” begins to play)

ADAM: What the FUCK is this…
JIM: Shhhh! Feel the saxophone.
ADAM: Aha! So THAT is what sounds so awful…wait, is this ABBA?!

(Clive begins to slowly drum his fingers on the table as the song winds down)

JIM: So? What do you think? I realize it's a bit…edgy for the market…
ADAM: You're damn right his stuff is edgy. Razor edgy. Fucking shit makes me want to slit my wrists and kill myself.
TERESA: Jim, Clive: is the American music audience…ready? …For a pop saxophonist?
JIM: I think they're ready for… “Kenny G.”
ADAM: I think I'm ready to vomit…
ANGELA: That's your problem, Adam. You don't have a sophisticated ear for this type of music.
CLIVE: Angela's right, Adam.
ADAM: Okay, fine. Maybe we can build an image around him. What does this guy look like?

(Jim rummages around for some head shots, and passes them around)

JIM: Now, we'll have to work on his image a little…
ANGELA: Wow, this picture just sells itself!
CLIVE: Jim, I think you have a winner. Fly this Kenny J…
JIM: Kenny “G,” Clive. Kenny G.
CLIVE: Right, right, of course: Kenny G it is!

Twenty years later, and society still reaps the whirlwind of that decision. Kenny G has morphed with time, sculpting the curls and hitting the gym like Carrot Top.

Who knows what Arista Records was thinking that morning, long ago. Maybe they had elaborate plans for Kenny G, plans we don’t know about. Maybe they wanted to expand his musical horizons to beat-saxing with Snoop Dogg. After all, he is Kenny “G”.

Hey, stranger things have happened. Clive Davis also signed two men who didn’t sing, Milli Vanilli, to a record contract.

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