Monday, 26 November 2007
Να ζήσης, Στελάρα
I’ve never been able to make up my mind about Stelios ‘Stelaras’ Kazantzidis (1931-2001). He is undoubtedly the most talented and loved singer in Greek popular music – having sung, as well as his own compositions, the songs of Tsitsanis, Papaioannou, Mitsakis, Kaldaras, Theodorakis, Loizos, Pythagoras, Panou and so on – but sometimes I find him lachrymose, morbid, self-pitying, sentimental, humourless and depressing and I wonder what the popularity of all these songs protesting injustice, bitterness, pain, mental torture, suffering, poverty, ruination and death, songs with titles such as Everything is Black; I Wish I Were Dead; If Only I Had My Health; and Catastrophes and Disasters, say about the well-being or otherwise of Greek popular culture and psychology.
This emphasis on fatalism, suffering and yearning for death is eastern – Iranian, Turkish and Arabic – and indeed Kazantzidis has refugee roots in Asia Minor and Pontos.
But more important than his Anatolian roots – and the hardships of his working class, war-time Athenian childhood – Kazantzidis’ father was a resistance fighter tortured to death by the Nazis – I believe what explains Kazantzidis’ style and substance is the severe depressive illness he suffered from throughout his life, but which is rarely mentioned in the hagiographies.
Kazantzidis was always an intense, introspective and isolated figure, but in 1965 he had his heart not so much broken as torn to shreds by the singer Marinella, who left him just one year into their marriage, an event that aggravated Kazantzidis’ already-existing persecution complex which fancied that record companies and colleagues were exploiting and cheating him.
Kazantzidis withdrew from a society he believed sick and a world he thought treacherous and when he returned, 12 years later, he seemed distracted, not in touch with reality, paranoid, a haunted man with a hunted look, though his voice was in tact and he seemed to find relief in the act of singing and in the lamentive nature of the songs he sang.
Today is Stelios’ name day, and, in honour of the man and the celebration, above is a clip of Stelara singing (in 1977) I Return from the Night – most poignant.
Another Stelios worth mentioning is Stelios Vamvakaris, son of legendary rembetis Markos Vamvakaris, and a talented musician in his own right.
The second clip is of Stelios playing his father’s Markos the Government Minister, and the contrast between the mournful, suicidal Kazantzidis and the witty, pragmatic, ironical and cynical Markos couldn’t be more pronounced. Two different ways of looking at the world, two different ways of being Greek.
Anyway, chronia polla to all Stelios’, Stélles, Styliànes, Stylianakia and Stelares.