Believe it or not, there were musicians and songwriters before Phoebus. The recording studios of Minos for example were labyrinthine, minotaurs of nasally intoned songs by mountain shepherds such as Voskopoulos lurking behind every corner, only to meet with and passionately embrace such delicate nymphs as Viki Mosxoliou or that Grace Jones-like of Amazon Queens, (and Jeff Kennett's favourite) Marinella. These were also the days where the Muses, still unmarried and free to do with their dowries as they would, would frolic with the greatest of all bucolic poets Ritsos, Elytis, Seferis and Gatsos to name but a few and causing them to cavort in hollow meadows and across wooded hills with fawn-like satyrs such as Hatzidakis, Theodorakis and Markopoulos, bring into fruition the most profound and enduring of musical compositions.
All of this activity took place within the context of primordial strife of such magnitude that its extent and cause has been lost in the mysteries of time. The Homeric Odes talk of lost homelands to the east, the destruction of a holy city and the metathesis of the palladium of that city, the three stringed bouzouki, to the lands of fair Hellas. As a symbol of social change and resistance, it sustained the Greek people while the Titans clashed with the Gods and Giants around them and permitted them to retain their innocence until that very black day indeed, when Manolis Chiotis, in his brazen attempt to pander to and placate the Gods, added a further string to the bouzouki and changed its fingering, damning himself and others of his ilk, to musical Tartarus for all eternity, or at least, until the end of the taxim.
So there was music before the appearance of Phoebus and though he has now been confused with Helios the God of the Sun and the God of music, he was at first none of these things, nor were the Gods of the Olympus Compact Discus company aware of his existence, save for the CEO, Zeus, who was monitoring the earth for new talent, ceaselessly. Indeed, Phoebus (stage-name Apollo) got his real break when stumbling across Hermes in a cave. Hermes, a child prodigy, had at the tender age of two days old, killed a tortoise and stolen Phoebus' cattle. Out of the tortoise shell and the cattle-guts, he created the first lyre. Phoebus fell in love with the instrument and offered to allow exchange the cattle for the lyre/bouzouki, giving rise thereafter to his musical maxim: "They'll accept bull in exchange for music."
It does not leave us astounded to learn that Phoebus is also the codename of a famous European cartel that started a conspiracy in 1924 making sure there were no unwanted competitors in the billion dollar light bulb market, for that encapsulates exactly the manner in which our eponymous hero proceeded to conduct himself. After accepting livestock for his lyre, Hermes moved on to create and master with extra-ordinary viruosity, the syrinx, an early version of the klarino. Phoebus, not being able to countenance another having pretensions to loftier muscial greatness than himself, promptly confiscated it and replaced it with the kyrikeion, relegating Hermes to apply his considerably better singing voice to the task of town crier.
And these are not the only crimes committed by Darth Phoebus in his quest to establish the evil Olympian Compact Discus empire for Zeus. All others learning the ways of Music were to be destroyed or bested. For example, the many fans of Pan, pan-pipe virtuoso had the audacity to compare his music with that of Phoebus and challengde him, to a trial of skill. Phoebus of course, created the ultimate of competition venues, a contest of sycophancy and slavish imitation run and adjudicated by the Olympian Compact Discus Company on their own televisual network "Keraia." Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody was deemed brilliant by the panelist Midas, who happened to be present. Then Phoebus struck the strings of his lyre. Even before he finished, and prodded by the Imperial light sabre above, Tmolus at once awarded the victory and consequent record deal to Phoebus, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award, causing great discussion among the parastic panelists viewing the contest. Phoebus would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey.
And that was not all. Look at what he did to Marsyas. Marsyas was a poor satyr who challenged Phoebus to a contest of music. He had found an aulos on the ground, tossed away after being invented by Athena because it made her cheeks puffy. Marsyas lost and was flayed alive in a cave near Phrygia for his hubris to challenge a god. His blood turned into the river Marsyas. Another variation is that Phoebus played his lyre upside down. Marsyas could not do this with his aulos and so Phoebus hung him from a tree during Fame Story in concert and flayed him alive as thousands of fans screamed "We live you," in adulation. Take further the case of Cyniras, Asclepius' son, also coerced onto Fame Story and caused to commit suicide when the judges awarded the prize yet again to Phoebus. The list of his heinous crimes reads like a list of Offenbach operettas: long and fearfully inane.
Quite apart from his decimation of the competition and his host of male lovers like Hyacinthus who all died 'accidentally,' Phoebus also studied the art of hibernation. Ignored and then persecuted before finally being forgotten by his minions who had no stomach for his ear-assaulting noise, Phoebus hid his murderous brilliance underneath the island of Delos, he emerged once more triumphant, this time not as Phoebus Apollo but as Phoebus Tassopoulos, to take down the Greek music scene and glorify the restored Olympian dictatorship of all the clefs, for all time.
Gone were the modes and modulations we had all known and loved for centuries. In their place was put the Dionysiac monorhythmic beating of a drum, the tired chords of a protestant prayer meeting hymn and of course, after the murder of Polhymnia, Calliope and Erato, muses of poetry, Phoebus Tassopoulos assumed the mantle of god of poetry as well. He then procceded to remove any trace of intelligence and Hellenic influence from lyrical works, while in the manner of Sauron the Great, forged the one Discus to bind the wills of the easily corruptible Greek singers to him, so that they would only sing his songs, and no others. We provide one of his 2001 offerings, in loose translation, as executed by his minion, the unspeakable Despoina (yeah right) Vandi. "How much I want you. How much I miss you. Come back because I tell you: I can't do without you. Ahhhh." Τύφλα να έχει ο Shakespeare, or to quote the go himself, "Come along now. Ooooooh."
No musical tradition can be without influence from the outside world, just as it is the grafted tree that bears better fruit. Yet the wholesale massacre of Greek music that has taken place under the auspices of this evil dictator-god has seen both creativity and euphony desert our fair motherland in protest. Once upon a time, songs were the natural mouthpiece of the dreams and aspirations of a people. Today, if Phoebus is to be believed the Greek people's aspirations, to be sung either to a techno or agonizingly slow zeimbekiko-mutation involve drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, grieving over the umpteenth broken relationship and as Elli Kokkinou vociferously attests, sex. What is even more disquieting is the fact that such a cacophony as can only rival the tormenting demons in Dante's Inferno, is imposed upon and not flowing from, the Greek people. In the tradition of the well-known fable of the Emperor having new clothes, no one is permitted to point out that the Emperor is in fact naked, puny and has forget to wax his bikini-line.
Behind every line of Espresso magazine and all other trash mags, the God Phoebus lurks, extending his talentless despotism further into our lyrical corpus killing like a cancer our musical good taste, while in faraway Melbourne, where the pre-Phoebian baraki scene is well and truly dead, more and more exasperated sons of the apodimoi venture into the night in search of the Phoenician delights that are more attuned to what was passed down to them for entertainment. For verily my children it is time that we sacrificed this evil Olympian upon the altar of Baal and dance rather than ass-shake an artful tsifteteli in the temple of Ashtaroth to the dulcet tones of Zafiris Melas' «Μπιμπελό μου μπιμπελό μου είσαι ζάλη στο μυαλό μου.»
And may Marinella have mercy upon our souls.
First published in NKEE on 13 March 2006