Monday, May 10, 2004


I have to confess that I have never been able to get too much into rock music per se. The reason is twofold: Firstly, for having the bodily refuse scared out of me at the tender age of four by two older cousins wearing Kiss masks, recently purchased from the Royal Melbourne Show. I suspect however that the fear factor here was not so much the masks themselves, but the conglomeration of fungi on my cousin’s tongues as they attempted to mimic their favourite stars by sticking their tongues out. I still shudder when I think about it.
Secondly, I was trained in classical violin. The violin is perhaps the most uncool instrument in the world. It cannot lend itself to the interpretation of rock music and when apologists for the violin’s inherent dorkiness have tried to adapt it to this ill-fitting use, the end result is an appalling spectacle akin to the school nerd dressing up in cool clothes and stumbling over the subtleties of coolspeak. This is about as tragic as viewing Happy Days twenty years on and realising that the Fonz was never cool and actually, rather dorky. He was just cool in relation to you. But then again what does that make Mick Jagger, the venerable grandfather of rock?
Thus being the Ritchie Cunningham of music, my taste in music has always been suspect though in my attitude to Greek rock, I would venture to say, slightly justified. The heyday of Greek rock was in the eighties, when young Greeks discovered that they could become European by wearing tight fitting jeans, so tight in fact that they even threatened to cut off the skeletal Stathis Psaltis’ circulation (here the reader is referred to the thousands of quality “Videostar” productions that were so popular that they enabled Greek Video store owners throughout Melbourne to send their children to a good school), and trawl the streets of Athens in motorbikes while tinny, extremely bad emulations of rock music etched themselves on the viewers’ eardrums. This was undoubtedly the lowest point in Greek music (or the highest depending on the ideological direction of one’s music appreciation, since Lefteris Panatzis’ classic «Μείνε μαζί μου έγγυος, είμαι πολύ φερέγγιος»)
And yet the Greek love affair with rock music persisted, changing from a clumsy imitation to something that seems poised to assimilate itself within Greek society. Nevertheless, much of this genre still fits ill within the wider Grecian context. Look at the «Παπαροκάδες,» for example, cassock-wearing fervent idealists who naively believe that they can employ rock music in order to spread the word of God amongst the junior masses. Poor misguided lute pluckers. As if telling people to be good was fashionable, regardless of the method of delivery.
Someone who I do like though, is George Iliopoulos. There is something really special about George. He has a real presence, a knowing and simultaneously searching gaze. He is a person who makes you sit up and take notice, as I found out to my detriment in Athens. I was at the airport, waiting to leave for Australia with my grandmother when I chanced upon the said George and exchanged greetings with him. As he rounded the corner in search of duty free, my grandmother turned to me and asked me: «Ποιο είναι αυτό το όμορφο παιδί;» «Ου Γιώργους; Φίλουζιμ απ’ τν’ Αυστραλία,» I replied in broadest dialect as possible, causing my well to do grandmother’s neck to revolve 360 degrees as if she were a woman possessed in mortal fear that someone was listening to her uncouth grandson’s bucolic utterings. Finally, turning to me with the fastidiousness of a judge adjudicating an important matter, she delivered her verdict: «Με τέτοιους να κάνεις παρέα.»
Which brings me to my next point. George is undoubtedly cool, cooler even than the Fonz and so immured am I in my eternal paradox of uncool Ritchie Cunningham youth, in which age shall not weary me but nor will George’s coolness rub off on me that I find myself admiring yet another of his many talents. He is a Greek-Australian rockstar.
George’s performance as part of the Antipodes Festival last week was second to none. Here is a local voice, exploring a foreign tradition yet successfully translating it into his own personal method of delivery in a manner so expert as to be the envy of many within this sphere. Of particular note in this regard, is the fact that not only is George a skilled musician/singer but that he is also a particularly gifted songwriter and composer as well. He does not only sing tried and true pieces from the modern greats such as Alkinoos Ioannidis and others but engages in an intellectual journey of his own, collecting songs from obscure or unknown poets/songwriters that have a point to make, and he helps them make it, musically. Thus, George has been able to achieve something that comes only after years of soul-searching and practice – to find his own voice and make it an authentic one. Whether he sings of villages in Greece that have been abandoned as a sacrifice to the modern way of life, the desolation and isolation of the outsider or generally about life, George Iliopoulos and his band form a significant and important part of the company of Greek-Australian musicians in this country.
George’s performance is a tribute to an Antipodes Festival that is constantly promoting and encouraging local artists. It also sends a loud message to the Greek community that all is not lost, that from the dung heap of self-interest, introspection and decay, an orchid may bloom, in spite of them all. Peace man.
George Iliopoulos and other artists like him struggling to develop their talents in a society and cultural context that does not engender such non-capital acquiring activity deserve our community’s full support. It was pleasing to note at his recent concert at the Greek Community building that the house was packed and that all had a good time. And so they should, for George is living proof that multiculturalism can work. There is magic in that a Greek Australian, conversant in both of the cultures that make up his identity feels comfortable enough to actively engage in the creative process of interpreting that identity in an original and highly individualistic musical medium and that he has an audience with whom he can engage throughout that journey. At a time when Greek language acquisition and Greek cultural manifestations are rapidly diminishing and hybridising beyond recognition, George’s example is proof that Greek culture is so multi-faceted as to cater for an infinity of diverse interests. Keep an eye out for George. It won't be hard. Next time you see a cool gentleman with a John Travolta twinkle in the eye, go up to him and say hello. Chances are it is George. And support and actively engage in the artistic life of the community, as long as it lasts. In the words of Pigsy of Monkey Magic fame, “we are all far from the Path of Enlightenment. We are not far from the edge of the cliff from which we are about to fall.” Rock and roll man!!


first published in NKEE on 10 May 2004