Monday, June 08, 2009


It can only happen during one of those sultry summer nights in Piraeus, when the full moon is an aspirin dissolving in the placid waters of the Saronic Gulf and the slightest hint of a headache is making itself manifest because you have eaten too many fish, drunk too much cheap wine and life once more assumes the form of a corridor of infinite possibilities. My friends, attributing my halting tongue to an inability to locate and extract the requisite words to give rise to my admittedly blank thoughts rather than general sloth and a blood alcohol level that would make a Sunbury teenager cringe, ventured to suggest that I put those amoebic thoughts to song.
“Did you know,” a particularly pneumatic and nubile friend gushed entrancingly, “there is a Greek song to cover every single situation in the world? Even if you can’t think of something to say, there is always a song lyric to do it for you.” I lifted my leaden head and tried in vain to focus upon her eyes, which were round and wonderful, as if she had just been let into the secret that Father Christmas actually exists. (He does by the way. He is a GOCMV committee member, but that’s another story.) “Rubbish,” I slurred. “Absolute poppycock.” (My translation of poppycock is μπούρδες, because παπαρουνοκόκκοροι, though more poppycockish sounding, has not yet been introduced into common parlance.) “Give me a song that says, I love you and want you to have my babies,” I demanded.
Smiling sweetly, she complied: “Μείνε μαζί μου έγκυος, είμαι πολύ φερέγγυος.» That was her mistake. Immediately, I launched into a heated tirade as to whether anything that comes out of that cosmetic crooner, Lefteris Pantazis’ mouth actually can be deemed to be song, rather than the mating call of the greater black-backed gull. Citing the masochistic “Κάθε βράδυ κόβω φλέβες, ξενυχτάω με φραππέδες και ξηλώνω καναπέδες για να κοιμηθώ,» I proved conclusively that there are songs, and then there are SONGS. Further, I opined, what Greek song exists that covers the eventuality of one sitting upon a hedgehog? Ha! Weren’t prepared for that one were you? After all, there truly are few Greek songs that cover the proclivities of animals except for «μπήκαν, ορέ μπήκαν, τα γίδια στο μαντρί,» which a friend from Trikkala assures me has nothing to do with goat-herding and is most probably a euphemism for more sordid activities and at the time that this conversation was taking place, Karvela had not yet penned those immortal lines: «Ο σκύλος μου είναι γκέϋ.»
I stumbled my way into a taxi as my friends chorused in adieu: “Πήγαινέ με, όπου θέλεις ταξιτζή,» and settled in for the long ride to my grandmother’s house in Penteli. It was my aunt’s high pitched voice landing like an axe into my ear-drum that woke me the next day, as she sang to her daughter: “Είσαι ο, τι καλύτερο μου έχει συμβεί, στη ζωηηηηηή μου,» that slung me out of my stupor the very next day. Clutching my collapsing cranium, I shuffled to the kitchen in search of Greek coffee, while my grandmother intoned the Epirotic folksong: “Αχ δε στο’ πα χαλασιά μου, στο μήλο να μην πας, γιατί θα σε πατήσει η ρόδα, και θα ‘μαι εγώ φονιάς.» I left for Constantinople the very next day, listening to the Olympic Airways theme song: “Πάμε για άλλες πολιτείες...» Back then, the Spice Girls and Ibrahim Tatlises were all the rage in Turkey and they contribute nothing to this narrative.
My sister, growing up, had a propensity to stand in front of doorways and demand that I provide her with a password, before she would let me through. This particular propensity grew worse upon her youthful eyes having witnessed Mihali Rakintzi’s excruciating performance at the 2002 Eurovision song contest, whereupon she would stomp robotically down the corridor singing: “Hey, hey, hey, hey , hey if you want to get through the door, door, door, door, door, say the password,” the answer being of course “S.A.G.A.P.O.” We also learned from Rakintzis that: “Τον άντρα που αγάπησες, τον φωνάζουνε μπέμπα, στα παράξενα στέκια που κυκλοφορεί,» which is of immense cause for concern. Later on, having described to me a situation which she had totally misjudged and thus, had mad a mistake, my sister elicited the following response from me, in best gravel-throated, Vasilis Karas fashion: «Δεν ακούς, δεν ακούς...» I had to stop because my throat was filled with phlegm, causing me to collapse in a fit of choking.
Admittedly, even some of our hallowed folk-songs, the boast of our romiosyni can be misunderstood. The first time I heard the song: “Σε είδα να κλαδεύεις την τριανταφυλλιά και πήδηξα το φράχτη,» the accompanying images were so acute that I fell off my chair. Sometimes, when you actually stop to think about the lyrics, you realise just how banal and lazy there are, having relied upon decent music to carry them through unnoticed. The famous love song: «Σ’ αγαπώ γιατί είσαι ωραία,» sounds wonderfully romantic until you translate it as «I love you coz you are good-looking.” So much for loving me for who I am. Similarly, a few weeks ago, when I attempted to teach my Greek school class the Epirotic folk-song “Δεν μπορώ μανούλα’μ,» the translation I was asked by my students to provide to them seemed to parallel the nursery rhyme: “Miss Polly had a dolly that was sick, sick, sick, so she called for the doctor to come quick, quick quick,” save that the Doctor in our case was Nikoli and the ailment, love, a concept my students, being between 7 to 8 years old, have difficulty grasping.
Returning just a month a go from the Ploutarhos concert, I chanced upon a flummoxed and flurried Tammy (social conscience of the Greek community) Iliou, busily consulting her telephone. “Can you BELIEVE these lyrics?” she asked. She referred in particular, to the bizarre line: «Παρήγγειλα μια κάβα μοναξιά από μπορντό μέχρι σταχτιά και βρέθηκα τρελός σε φαρμακείο.» My take on this example of Greek jabberwocky, to the effect that it is a critique upon the Greek equivalent of the PBS did not seem to convince her. The day after, I missed an opportunity to interview the great man Ploutarhos because I refused to answer my mobile phone, a policy I inherited from former NKEE editor Argyris Argyropoulos, that has actually safeguarded my sanity. All the while though, I pondered the Pythian meaning of his lyrics and Tammy’s fascinated repulsion of them. Seeking further clarification of her stance, I emailed her my corniest song lyric, that of Pantazis’ quoted above. The response, was both laconic and telling: “Το ξέρω πως δεν μ΄αγαπάς/το ξέρω δεν σε νοιάζει/ πως η αγάπη που ζητάς/ με το φεγγάρι μοιάζει/ Τη νύχτα είσαι αστροφεγγιά/ τη μέρα καταιγίδα/ είσαι γυναίκα ερημιά/ στα μάτια σου το είδα...I can’t resist a good Pandazis song..” Now how can one top that in corniness? Nevertheless, I had to try. Summoning all the resources at my fingertips, I delved deep into my Apollonian resources and fired off what I thought would be a devastating Despina Vandi riposte: «Πόσο σε θέλω, πόσο μου λείπεις, γύρισε πίσω, γιατί σου λέω: Δεν μπορώ χωρίς εσένα, Και δε ζω γύρνα σε μένα, Θα χαθώ - θα σου πεθάνω, Αν δε σε δω...And in translation: How, much I want you, How much I miss you, Come back, As I tell you, I can't - without you, And I don't live - come back to me, I'll get lost - I'll die on you, If I don't see you.»
Tammy however, refused to be phased. Her measured and apocalyptic response was as didactic as ever: “I think we have a seminar here waiting to be developed: The angst and deprivation needed - across many levels and people, in order to (include):- decide to write the lyrics in the first place;- decide to use musical skills to compose the lyrics;- believe that the lyrics+music are actually bankable;- attract the likes of Pantazi, Ploutarho etc to vocalise;- sell the outcome;- fill stadiums abroad; and- encourage bizarre antics like the use of trays +carnations; stampedes; and en masse believing the power and depth of "Ax Koritsi mou...."
Seriously, how can one as lacking in erudition as I presume to uncover these hallowed mysteries? Nonetheless, I took a brief, tentative stab at it. Quoth I: “How dare you dispute the mating call of the Greek male "Ax Koritsi mou." Do you know how many Greek males would have failed to procreate if it was not for that song? The entire race would have been in jeopardy.At any rate, having regards to your criteria of analysis, in which the construction of any modern laiko must include a bed and a tsigaro, where does this fit in?:Σ' αρέσει να 'σαι σέξυ να με πεθαίνεις,σ' αρέσει να 'σαι σέξυ να μου κολλάς,τους χτύπους της καρδιάς μου να αρρωσταίνεις,και όταν περνάω δίπλα σου χαμογελάς…”
The indomitable Tammy provides I believe, a fitting end to this deeply disquieting foray into the manner in which Greek song lyrics pervert our public discourse:
“In closing, I'll leave you with some Elli Kokkinou class to help with Karvella's gay dog.
"Se vlepo ke patheno ne
Gia sena agori mou trelenome
Ke klinome ke gdynome
Fantazome oti sou dinome
Se vlepo ke patheno ne
Gia sena agori mou trelenome
Se skeftome ke anastatonome
Perhaps, a future diatribe?”
To Tammy then, my Eurovision song goddess and more besides, eternal thanks and may million corny Greek song-lyrics upon the altar of her temple: «Είσαι θεά, γλυκιά, σα μουσταλευριά.»

First published in NKEE on 8 June 2009