An Elaborate Private Joke?by Roger Young / 22.09.2009
It was when the two big men in Springbok jerseys stopped and stroked the fake rondavel, one of them turning to the other saying: “Jissie, hierdie plek is mooi, bok,” and then kissed that I realised I should’ve bought some mushrooms with me. No really I should have, because for all the novelty involved in watching the former astute camp showman perform some of his well known songs accompanied by strings and dolphins, it ended being fairly boring. Seeing Chris Chameleon in this guise, pandering to Kyknet families with “risqué” naughty “jokes” left me with a feeling of sadness. If this is what happens to some of our most vocally interesting and special singers; if there is no audience but this (not that there is anything wrong with these people, just y’know, not exactly open minded or anywhere near the cutting edge) to support him, then what hope does a lesser musican have?
Having lost touch with the former Boo frontman’s activities over the years, I was surprised when I saw this event. Classiek Chameleon, advertised – Chris Chameleon performs with dolphins at uShaka. The last time I saw the man live, years ago, he was wearing makeup and a dress. I missed him at Splashy but heard he was awesome. Was this an elaborate hoax? Was he in fact having a laugh with the readers of Rapport and watchers of Kyknet? Sadly no, he was entirely genuine in his white dinner jacket and endless patter about Die Taal and how we must be nice to vagrants. He was a consummate middle-aged showman and seemed quite comfortable with this. The real question though is what is Chris Chameleon doing in front of this crowd? Is this the result of the slow “selling out” that began with that soap opera (Chris appeared on 7de Laan, repeatedly) or has he merely found his level? What I’m saying is, were Boo really that good for this to be considered selling out? And what exactly do we define as selling out anyway?
There was an element of crazy to Boo that was equal parts Chameleon’s voice to Ampie Omo’s trombone/trumpet & percussion and Princess Leonie’s drums. It was a fine veering balance that through all the members’ talents genius exploded into vigourous gestalt. But even Boo was an elaborate cabaret. So if it’s less that Chameleon is selling out and more that he’s directing his quirks towards a niche, it could easily be argued that he is doing good, bringing these sentiments and his vocal skills to a different audience, making them think outside of their normal range.
It was the dolphins however that really illustrated what Chameleon was doing. He was performing tricks. His vocal range is, like the dolphins, rolled out as a trick to wow the crowd. His songs in funny voices come off sounding more like, “Ag please daddy won’t you take me to the drive-in” than anything he was doing in the days of Boo. And that is pitch perfect for this crowd. If it was anyone else it would be easy to call him a sell out, but Chameleon has a strange sense of playfulness that makes one wonder if this is not all some elaborate private joke. It doesn’t make the show with dolphins less boring, but it doesn’t make one think he’s lost it either.
On uShaka’s stage he spoke about girls he had been with, making me wonder about the whereabouts of the genderless creature of ten years ago who defiantly challenged sexuality? Maybe he just got tired of sleeping on couches and washing socks in basins? He wanted a pay cheque, he got comfortable, he got boring, he grew up. We, as audiences, are to blame for the fact that we couldn’t support him in his struggle with himself, with his making of Art as opposed to this skilful entertainment. But at the same time, for becoming this person, I hope
he is struggling with himself because if there is any one artist that can survive this sojourn into mediocrity it’ll be Chris Chameleon. And I, for one, want that prancing pixie back.