One of my very first film jobs was working for Yanni. It was a night I’ll never forget. Let me put it this way, the man knew how to fist pump.
It was in Marin County, at the Civic Center Auditorium (which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — where Gattaca was filmed). Yanni put on a concert that night. A full house. I was one of 20 production assistants shuttling magazines of film back-and-forth between camera crews and film loaders. Whenever a magazine was spent (that is, when there was no more unexposed film left in the cartridge), I’d sprint with it backstage to a loader hunched over a table and a film changing tent, who then handed me a fresh magazine, which I’d take back to the camera crew as quickly as I could. Then I’d wait for the next magazine of film to be exhausted so I could do the whole thing all over again.
The job, therefore, afforded me opportunities to see Yanni do his thing from many different vantage points, wherever the camera crews were set up. I saw him up close. I saw him from the wings of the stage. I saw him from the mezzanine and from the rafters. More importantly, I saw his audience. I was embedded in this audience. And the audience loved him. They worshipped him.
Women went crazy that night, THROWING themselves at the stage. These weren’t rock ’n’ roll chicks. They were department store ladies and art gallery patrons, overcome with emotion, ready to risk it all. There were men too, but not many. Whatever it was that they had pent up inside, they arrived at the concert lusting for its release. There was a palpable fervor hanging in the air. Everyone could feel it. I could see people swaying and waving their arms, from the front row all the way to the top of the arena.
The scene was hard to fathom but it evoked the kind of devotion you hear about in revival churches. This one, however, had a light show and a full-scale symphony orchestra and instead of an electric piano, Yanni brought his arsenal of synthesizers.
Every song hit the same notes and told the same narrative, starting in darkness with hushed expectations but ending in triumph and a stage ablaze in light and color. Yanni took his audience on a proverbial journey of wandering amongst the reeds until they arrived before a vision of unspeakable beauty and his fans adored him for it, for tenderly guiding them to these ecstatic moments where they can bloom in his musical garden of Eden.
And yes, the man could fist pump. He stood center stage, dressed entirely in white, straddling the space between decks of keyboards, that strutting male cock stance, a mane of long black hair, and the million dollar ‘stashe. Arms extended, with one hand playing notes on his synth, the other hand playing the crowd, he threw fist pump after fist pump. He tossed his hair back, rocked his head forward, and threw it back again. He grinned and the audience, they swooned.
And then it got wild. With equal vigor, he grinned and fist pumped to the heaving masses of women bouncing in the orchestra seats in front of him as well as to the portly man up in the highest balcony, dancing in his tie-dye shirt. That grin. The hair, those big white teeth flashing under that ‘stashe of abundance. That indomitable fist pump.
This went on for hours, this feeding frenzy of lust and unchecked feelings of affection, as Yanni lured them into an orgy of global muzak that seemed singularly tailored for tantric new age lovemaking, but not the kind you’d imagine Sting having. Far worse. It was madness. I assumed everyone was on acid. There was no other way to explain the delirium.
He gave his fans everything they wanted, and gave me visions I could never unsee and for months thereafter, I had the worst nightmares of my life. Women grinding up against the back of chairs. Men debasing themselves in ways I can’t describe. I won’t describe, other than to say that this is what people do when they think no one is looking. It’s what they allow themselves to be in those unguarded moments when predatory desire and greed transcend decorum.
I’m pretty sure most of the film crew felt the same way. We were shocked. In awe. And I felt filthy.
“What a show,” said our producer, shaking her head. “What a show.”
As I drove home that night, I thought about the legend associated with the Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, how he met the devil on a lonely crossroads in Southern Mississippi, and was then presented with a tantalizing choice that would forever change his destiny… you probably know the rest of the story.
If the devil exists, then one can only imagine that decades later, he met Yanni behind a stage somewhere in Northern California, not only to offer him a moustache that would be the envy of all others but also to grant him dominion over the realm of pure lust, a deal which no mortal man, let alone Yanni, could turn down. One can only wonder what the devil got in return.
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