Saturday, October 30, 2021



Last year before the onset of the pandemic, I was apprehended by an older acquaintance singing to my childrenthe lyrics of Roza Ekskenazy’s immortal song: Πρέζαόταν πιεις. «Σαν μαστουρωθείςγίνεσαι ευθύς….» (once you get high, you immediately become….), I rasped as I strummed my baglama, my progeny dancing all around me. 

“Stop! What are you doing?” she screamed. “That is terrible. Think of what you are teaching them! But that comes from this stupid obsession of yours with rebetika. Seriously. The songs of low-lifes and drug dealers. And I’ll tell you what. It comes from a place of arrogance. Modern Greek music is too low-brow for you, but this is down-right unwholesome. What’s wrong with Elli Kokkinou, for example?” 

My interlocutor, who until the age of forty derided all things Greek, discovered Elli Kokkinou while on her first trip to Mykonos after her divorce. She became a fervent convert to the worship of all popular Greek music and returned to Australia tanned several degrees of Karoten, insisting that Thanos Petrelis and Elli Kokkinou were the motherland’s answer to Brangelina. 

“Kokkinou, though not without some aesthetic merit is a problem for me,” I opined. 

“Here we go,” my interlocutor snorted derisively. “Why? Not intellectual enough for you?” 

Having my taste in music considered intellectual wounds me deeply, considering that my favourite song ever is Zafiris Melas’ «Σαγαπάω κοίτα», in its original incarnation: “Nerelere gidem,” as sung by Ibrahim Tatlises, and I rose to defend myself: 

“It’s not that. It is that I find the ritualisation of stalking in Modern Greek popular music and the tacit acceptance of psychotic behaviour deeply disquieting.” 


Well take your idol Kokkinous song «Δεν Γίνεται» for instance and analyse the lyrics:  «Όμως δε γίνεται, δε γίνεται απλά έτσι να σ' αφήσωΘα γίνω η σκιά σου εγώ και θα σε κυνηγήσωΣε κάθε μέρος και στιγμή/Θα βρίσκομαι και εγώ εκεί σου λέω.» Now consider it in English translation: “It's not possible, It's not possible, for me to let you go so easily./ I will become your shadow and will hunt you down./ In every place and at every moment I will be there, I tell you." While I am sure that there are individuals of all genders who would like nothing more than having a crazed Elli Kokkinou shadow their every move, owing to my innate paranoia, I am not among them. Section 21A(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 is quite succinct on this point, providing: “A person must not stalk another person.” While person is not defined in the said section, and a legal argument could be mounted as to whether it was parliament’s intention to include within the definition of the term “person,” sundry seedy Greek singers, the prohibition remains.” 

“Oh gimme a break,” my interlocutor huffed in disdain, jingling the komboloi she purchased from a periptero on Ios and has worn as a bracelet ever since. “One song and you’ve taken it out of context. It’s a song about fidelity and love. It’s a generational thing and you’re a male. You wouldn’t understand.” 

“Then let’s look at some male equivalents,” I suggested. “How about the Vasilis Karras classic: «Δεν παώ πουθενά». The cretaceous crooner commences his chanson, requesting that he not be turned out of, presumably, his place of habitation at an ungodly hour: «Μη μου ζητάς να φύγω/μες στα μεσάνυχτα». Not having succeeded in dissuading his partner from her chosen course of action, he emphatically refuses to leave, or to accept that the relationship is over: «Δεν πάω πουθενά, πουθενά, πουθενά/ εδώ θα μείνω/ δεν πάω πουθενά/ η αγάπη μου είσαι εσύ/ και δε σ’ αφήνω.» In this state, this can be deemed conduct that has the intention to cause physical or mental harm to the victim, including self-harm, or to arouse apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety, in accordance with s21A(3) of the Act. At the very least, there are credible grounds here for the granting of an Intervention Order. And my understanding is that the apartment from which the hero of the song is being ejected belonged to his mother in law and there is a dispute as to whether it was a gift or occupied under license.” 

“OK, two songs, get over it. What about all the other songs about love and longing. Haven’t you ever yearned for the unattainable?” my interlocutor eyed her exposed greying roots anxiously through the medium of the camera function on her smart phone. 

“Sure I have.” I affirmed. “Every Greek-Australian male does from the minute their father turns to them and asks in despair: «Πότε θα γίνεις άνθρωπος βρε ρεμάλι;» But stalking seems entrenched within the Greek discourse. Take for example the high deity of the Hellenic pentragrammic pantheon, Lefteris Pantazis. In keeping with his tribe, he is also one of those gentlemen who will not take no for an answer. «Κι εξακολουθώ να σ' ακολουθώ/ Κι ας το ξέρω πως θα χαθώ,» he freely admitsNot only does he confess to continuous stalking, this is leading to his general disorientation, understandable, since this song was composed before the invention of the Google Maps.  And by way of providing some sort of justification for his unsettling conduct, he merely repeats the fact that he will continue to follow the poor woman upon whom he is fixated, simply because he desires her: «Κι εξακολουθώ να σακολουθώ/ Γιατί σε θέλω και σαγαπώ».  

“He loves her dammit! Man I wish someone would fight for me like that! Not give up at the slightest difficulty!” my interlocutor expostulated emphatically. So emphatically in fact that my children who had hitherto been attacking the baglama with a harmonica and using it as a percussion instrument, ceased their rhythmic accompaniment. 

“Sometimes what we want is just not good for us,” I confided soothingly, placing my hand on her arm. “Consider sultry serenader Antypas. At least he has enough insight to recognise that his chosen course of action places the public at risk and could give rise to a road traffic accident: «Οδηγώ και σε σκέφτομαι/κι είν’ αυτό επικίνδυνο (“I’m driving and thinking of you/ and this is dangerous”). Unlike other members of the guild, Antypas has the capacity to autopsychoanalise his cognitive behaviour and his emotions and to self-diagnose as a very sick person indeed, suffering from paranoia and possible psychosis: «Αρρωσταίνωπού παςόταν άλλον κοιτάς;/ Όταν δε μου μιλάς αρρωσταίνω». (“I make myself sick wondering where you are going/ when you look at someone else/ When you don’t speak to me, I get sick). Here presented in perfect candour, is the monologue of a sociopath, seeking to foist guilt upon the object of his ardour, for her rejection of him. Definitely not the most chivalrous of behaviour.” 

“You don’t get it,” my interlocutor sighed, reached into her bag and retrieved a box of Karelia Lights. Flipping open the lid of the packet, she extracted an ultra-elongated, thin cigarette and rolled it in her hands without lighting it. Like everyone who comes from my ancestral village, I knew the story of Spiro of Santorini and how he had gifted her the packet of the cigarettes telling her: «Θα είμαι σαν αυτό το τσιγάροτο μόνο πράγμα που καίγεται για σένα», before absconding in the morning, the telephone number he provided her having been disconnected, but village mores prescribe the feigning of ignorance. “Love is hell. And the Greeks understand this and so they sing of it.” 

“Yes they do,” I agreed. “Since hallowed antiquity. And combined it with stalking. Analyse these lyrics, if you would, from the divine diva herself, Viki Moscholiou: «Ξενύχτησα στην πόρτα σου και σιγοτραγουδώΕδώ είναι ο παράδεισος κι η κόλαση εδώ». If I spent the whole night outside your door singing: “Here is Paradise and Hell is here,” sotto voce, you would be calling the cops in a state of nervous abstraction.” 

“I think its kind of cute.” 

“If it was the man of your dreams, possibly. But what if it was someone you absolutely abhor, like that guy Chrysantho my aunt attempted to ‘proxy’ you with in the nineties? Would you not then be urgently dialling the number of the station of your local constabulary?” 

Yuk!” my interlocuter spat. “What have you made me remember now. Those teethAnd those hideous wog-tappers with the tassels…” 

Well apparently he is a well to do chiropractor with several investment properties in St Albans, as my aunt never grows tired of telling me,” I informed her. Speaking of whichconsider this gem, by George Simidis, in which unregulated practitioners abuse the relationship between practitioner and client, all the while performing unregulated services:  «Το κορμί σου το φιδίσιοφέρτο να στο κάνω ίσιοΚι άμα δεις ότι σ’ αρέσει, θα σου φτιάξω και την μέση». Now imagine Chrysantho, he of the investment property portfolio, sidling up to you and lisping: “Let me straighten your serpentine torso. And if you like it, I’ll sort out your back.” Sir Mixalot he is not, but the sentiments are just as creepy.” 

My interlocutor cringed, lovingly replaced the cigarette in the packet and picked at her teeth nervously. “Yuk, yuk, yuk!” 

“Precisely my point. What happened to the gentlemen of yesteryear? The Vamvakarides of «Τα ματόκλαδα σου λάμπουν» (Your eyebrows glow), whose lyrics criminally have not been used in a Maybelline commercial? At least he was forthright enough to provide his paramour with proper notice that he intended to enter her property at 3 am, possibly the first ever booty call in world music, signalling: «Χαράματαη ώρα τρειςθάρθω να σε ξυπνήσω». 

«Αυτοί ήταν άντρες!» my interlocutor exclaimed. 

Yet in the interests of full disclosure it was in the times of the rembetes that the rot truly began to set in. Take Panos Tountas’ «Περσεφόνη μου γλυκειά». Persephone may be a sweetie, Panos may spend have his day following her begging her not to reject him via the presentation of cogent arguments, but he ends his attempt at seduction with the following ominous warning: «Περσεφόνη στο δηλώνω/ πως αρχίζω να θυμώνω/ κι αν στ’ αλήθεια δε με αγαπάς/ από του Τζελέπη μην περνάς/ μη μου πάρεις στο λαιμό σου/ κοίτα για καλό δικό σου.» Personal safety intervention application here we come.” 

“So what is your point? All Greek singers are sick?” 

“The time has come to cancel Greek music,” I announced. “Its lyrics must be purged of threats of violence and aggression towards women. Take the erudite Yiannis Miliokas great paean to womankind: «Γιατί είσαι άγαρμπη, είσαι αναίσθητηείσαι κρυόκωλη και ανοργασμικιά». Definitely not what you would have wanted to have had dedicated to you on Richard Mercer’s Love Song Dedications.” 

“So what are they going to sing about?” my interlocutor asked, in genuine wonderment. 

Picking up the baglamaI began to rasp: «Από το βράδυ ως το πρωί/ Με πρέζα είμαι στη ζωή/ κι όλον τον κόσμο κατακτώ/ την άσπρη σκόνη σαν ρουφώ». 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 October 2021