Graded on a Curve:
Yanni,
Optimystique

There was a time when Yanni was the best keyboardist in jazz. “First time I heard him play,” said Thelonious Monk, “I about set fire to my piano.” McCoy Tyner told the music critic Leonard Feather, “John [Coltrane] took me aside one day and said, ‘Frankly, McCoy? If Yanni was available you’d be out of the quartet.’” Even the intergalactic Sun Ra, normally the most peaceful of men, broke into Yanni’s house and pissed on his dog.

Then Yanni had a revelation. Why play small clubs and live off his meager Blue Note royalties when he could play Madison Square Garden, then buy it? All he had to do was align his chakras, buy a copy of The Celestine Prophecy, part the Veil of Maya to reveal the illusory nature of existence, and reinvent himself as a New Age musician.

The result was the man with the magical mustache’s 1984 debut, Optimystique. Recorded in 1980, its release was delayed by Yanni’s refusal to concede to demands by the Parents Music Resource Center that he place a Parental Advisory sticker on the cover. In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore said, “This album is a menace to our children. Do we really want them joining the Rainbow Family of Living Light?”

The objective of New Age music is to lull listeners into a blissful trance, allowing them to forget the everyday problems that make their lives duller than that bearded guy in those Ameritrade commercials. In the October 1991 issue of Psychology Today, the famed clinical psychologist Albert Bandura wrote, “The tedium of a modern life is the cause of much anxiety, and human consciousness has become an unbearable burden. Frankly, most people would prefer to be rhododendrons. And that’s what the music of Yanni affords them–the opportunity to be rhododendrons.”

Personally I would like nothing more than to be a rhododendron, so I set aside time I’d have sooner spent with my face in a bowl of tapioca to listen to Optimystique. It reminded me of the five hours I spent trapped in an elevator with a guy in a man bun who wouldn’t shut up about the four days he spent at the Moon Magic Yoga Retreat in British Columbia. “It’s the perfect way to escape the soul-deadening effects of our technology-oriented culture,” he informed me, adding, “And it has Wi-Fi!”

To be honest, Optimystique was less cloyingly inoffensive than teeth-gritting annoying, which in the case of Yanni I consider a compliment. I took the opportunity to play it for my cat Stewie, fully expecting him to curl up in a little ball and fall into a irreversible coma. Instead he scaled the stucco wall in the living room and hissed, then darted outside through the cat door, presumably to warn the others.

The words New Age scare me out of my chakras, but listening to Optimystique has made me a new man. Thanks to the gentle and beguiling mood music of Yanni I have found my bliss. I spend entire evenings fondling crystals. I hug mosquitoes. I have come to believe that the moon truly is a Goddess and the wolf is my brother. In short, my brain has turned to mush.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
F

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