Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Grunge, desert storm, and why George H.W. Bush is personally responsible for the decline of the Sax Solo in American music

Hahaha. I found this in my draft folder on my work computer. I wrote it awhile back when I asked people to give me writing prompts. I'm pretty certain a friend of mine submitted the thought, something about the decline in popularity of sax music. The inside of my head is a disturbing place to visit.

The saxophone has long been an instrument rich in sound and culture. With roots that date back to the jazz age it managed to survive even the disco era to reach a newfound popularity in the 70s and 80s. Foreigner, Bruce Springsteen, CCR, and of course Kenny G. ushered in a new trend of having a saxophone on steady rotation as part of your musical repertoire. During the 80s it was King to be a sax player. No longer regulated to play the occasional jazz toot they had finally come into their own! Kenny G's flowing locks were a testament to the respect and adoration that would soon be theirs. Or would it?

The Me generation of the 80s, known for its love of excess, hedonism, and over the top in everything was slowly being pushed aside for the Cynicism to come of the 90s. Reagan gave way to the first Bush. The peace of the end of the Cold War gave way to the first Iraq war, Desert Storm. Upbeat, synthy pop not afraid to be frivolous gave way to the angry, guitar heavy, oh so serious Grunge music. 

The world was angry, disenchanted. People were dying in a war no one thought was justified and those coming of age were raised by beatnik hippies that were NOT going to take it anymore.  That anger and rebellion translated to their music. Loud, shrill, shredding guitar solos and words screamed into the mic or halfway muttered under their breath quickly replaced the bright, soothing, dance ready 80s songs filled with sax and jazz.

Playing a sax in anger is an impossible task. Playing it with a detached air of irony is even more impossible. It's an instrument that reeks of Trying. It screams Making an Effort. With every bleat and blatt it broadcasts to the world that you care enough about something to learn. You can't appear to lazily strum. It requires not only both hands and your mouth but also your whole body. It moves with you and you with it. There's no sulking or angrily hitting the strings. It's fingers furiously moving, your face going red with exertion, cheeks puffing and sweat dripping down your forehead. Can you imagine Kurt Cobain with a sax in his hands?

No, the 90s were no place for the saxophone. Not with grunge, heavy metal, and angry chick rock dominating the air waves. It almost had a second chance with the brief popularity of swing and ska music but even that remained fringe. It briefly appear on the airwaves following the Presidency of Bill Clinton and with his sax and under the desk bjs. It almost seemed as if America was ready for a revival but much like Lewinsky it was there and then it was gone.

Today, with both Sr. and Jr. Bush gone from the White House and our everyday lives we have had a few brief puffs of sax heavy songs topping the charts. Katy Perry did it complete with an appearance from the Sax man himself, Kenny G. Lady Gaga did it without the tongue in cheek wink and a nod we got from Perry.  With the second war in the Middle East officially over and another Dorky Dad Cool Democrat in the White House maybe we are finally ready for the happy go lucky sax rips that we used to be so fond of. There's less anger and more optimism. We aren't afraid to have fun. We aren't afraid to dust off our dancing shoes and do The Carlton.


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