Saturday, June 02, 2012
At the “Concert for Hector,” staged a few weeks ago in memory of the great man, at the Brunswick Town Hall, opposite from the Retreat Hotel, which for many years had become the centre of rebetika in Melbourne, friends, family and fans congregated, not so much, in the words of his sister Sophia to mourn, but rather to celebrate his multifaceted life and larger than life personality. As I stared at the three black and white photographs of Hector hanging above the stage, depicting him holding his violin lovingly, I felt the woodeness of the cliché of celebrating a life after it has departed, rather than mourning it, acutely. As a community, as people, we do little to celebrate our own lives and those of others while we are actually alive. There is no point in celebrating a life after it has gone. Instead, we should value all those things that make us and those around us special while we still can. If Hector became a brilliant musician, if he was able to touch the lives of all those around him and if, as has become lore in musical circles in Greece, he was able to become that rare thing, an accomplished, successful musician in Greece beloved by all and with no enemies or rivals, then that was a result not only of his own unsurpassable genius, his passionate love for his art and life but also, a consequence of the love and appreciation of all those whom he was able to move, enthuse and impassion. He was a bright and lonely star of comfort against a night sky of existence that is often dark and foreboding. While we are all privileged to have been able to celebrate Hector during his tragically brief lifetime, now that he is gone, I mourn not only his genius, not only for the pain of his young family in losing him but also for all those who go through life without celebrating anyone or anything. If there is anything to celebrate then in Hector’s passing, it is that he was celebrated, feted and appreciated, commensurate to his talent and the love he most generously shared.
This is a sentiment echoed by Costas Cosmas, Hector’s bereaved father. When I embraced him, fighting back my tears, he told me how happy he was to have been able to share so many remarkable moments with his son, playing sport, listening to music, running back home during performances to retrieve forgotten violin bows but most of all, sharing their lives together. He also painted a picture of a fiercely independent critical thinker. As a five year old boy, Hector accosted the reverend of his school when he asserted that love was only to be found within the Christian communion stating: “You are wrong. I know people who aren’t Christian and they have love. Love is everywhere.” This was a manifesto of principle that would guide him through his life. At the conclusion of the concert, Costas Cosmas remarked how he felt the immediacy of Hector’s love and guidance as he struggled to find the correct fingering on his baglama in order to accompany the other musicians paying tribute to him. Yet it was this love that caused him to play the correct notes, time and time again.
On stage, musicians that have over the years shared Hector’s passion and have performed with him, interpreted rebetika songs that particularly inspired Hector and struck a chord with him. For Argyris Argyropoulos, close friend and fellow musician, the agonizing poignancy was evident in the timbre of his voice as he intoned familiar lyrics that formed a touchstone of a shared existence in his honour. A heart-warming interpretation of Hector’s beloved Beatles followed by his cousins, ingeniously accompanied by Argyropoulos on the baglama was a fitting reminder of Hector’s role in furthering the cause of multifarious musical disciplines within multicultural Australia and subsequently, in monocultural Greece.
As the waxing of the organized Greek community is overshadowed by its waning, it is now difficult to relive or revive the exciting, heady days of the generation of university students who were inspired by modern Greek poetry, literature and music and formed a lively sub-culture that energized the margins of that community. In this, as in so much else, Hector Cosmas was a main protagonist. Talents will undoubtedly emerge in the future, but Hector and those who he inspired and who continue his tradition will most likely be the last of the Australian born members of our community who will engage that community with those talents rather than exclusively embrace the mainstream, simply because there is now limited interest or commitment in investing in structures within our community to provide support or even an audience for such luminaries. Yet for those who do persist and who will remain, the light that still shines from Hector despite his passing, will assuredly illuminate their way.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 2 June 2012