What are your favourite lyrics?

By: | Post date: 2016-11-10 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Modern Greek, Music

It’s a self indulgent answer, but then again, it’s a self indulgent question.

The Greek laiko tradition (bouzouki pop) came from the Greek rebetiko tradition (bouzouki blues). The rebetiko tradition was singer-songwriters, often in jail, singing about getting high or my woman done me wrong. At its best (and that certainly includes Vamvakaris), the lyrics are incandescent. But they’re still singer-songwriter lyrics.

Laiko typically has seperate lyricists. The lyricists are often bona fide poets. And you can tell.

Two songs. The first is a bona fide pop song, that most Greeks will get up and dance a stern zeibekiko to. Bear that in mind. Lyrics: Alkis Alkeos Άλκης Αλκαίος. Music: Thanos Mikroutsikos. Singer: Dimitris Mitropanos.

Rosa. 1996. stixoi.info: Ρόζα For length, I’ll just give my translation here.

My lips, parched and thirsty,
seek water on the asphalt.
Trucks go past me,
and you tell me there’s a downpour coming
and drag me into a damp cabaret.

We’re pacing together on the same road,
but our cells are separate.
We wander through a magical city.
I don’t want to know what we’re looking for anymore,
as long as you’ll grant me two kisses.

You gamble me on the roulette wheel, and lose me
in a nightmarish fairy tale.
My voice is now an insect’s voice.
My life is a climbing vine:
you cut me down and throw me into the abyss.

How need turns into history!
How history turns into silence!
Why do you look at me, Rosa, so numb?
Forgive me for not understanding
what the computers and the numbers are saying.

My love made of coal and sulfur,
look how time has changed you!
Trucks pass over us,
and I, in the fog and downpour,
sleep starving by your side.

RIP, Alkis Alkeos. RIP, Teacher Dimitris.


The second is from an even more poetry-ridden source, the songs that came out towards the end of the Greek Dictatorship (1967–74). It was a time when censorship encouraged you to be obscure; and even if you weren’t alluding to politics, the population was inclined to read it in anyway.

The lyricist and poet is Manos Eleftheriou, Μάνος Ελευθερίου. I’ve already cited his Birds of the Netherworld in Which poem or song best represents Greece in your opinion?

Music: Yannis Markopoulos. First performance (and there have been many): the Cretan folk singer Charalampos Garganourakis (Μπάμπης (Χαράλαμπος) Γαργανουράκης βιογραφικό)

The Lost Words and Years. 1974. stixoi.info: Τα λόγια και τα χρόνια

The lost words and years,
and the sorrows covered by smoke—
Exile has found them reconciled as brothers.
The sudden joys that have come to me
were lightning in a black forest,
as were the thoughts I dared have about you.

And I speak to you in courtyards and balconies,
and God’s lost gardens.
And I keep thinking that the nightingales are coming,
together with the lost words and years,
everywhere where you used to be,
and now in the cold and snow.

Fate and the Season had set it down
that I should cast a line out in this world,
and that the night should turn a thousand years.
That he should sing at the end of the feast,
he who has known no kin,
and knock on the door of sorrow.

They were no stopped clock
in a ruined deserted household,
those roads that have led me out to wait.
The words I do not know, I bind them for you
with the people who have witnessed the evil,
and have it embroidered against their name.

He who sows tears and pain
reaps the ocean at dawn.
Black birds show him the way.
And he has a drawing near his shoulder,
a secret, fateful sign
that he has escaped Hades and the World.

There’s more than a few Greeks scratching their heads now. That’s not the lyrics they know.

Indeed they aren’t. The song came out after the Athens Polytechnic uprising, in 1973, when the tanks rolled in and crushed the protesters. People assumed that’s what Eleftheriou was alluding to, and the lyrics were tweaked to make the allusion slightly more explicit.

The sensibility of the verse was not cheapened.

He who sows tears and pain
reaps
death at dawn.
Black birds show him the way.
And he has a
wound near his shoulder,
a secret, fateful sign
that he has escaped
Men and the Law.

Fate and the Season had set it down,
Friday night at nine,
that the night should turn a thousand years.
That he should sing at the end of the feast,
Friday the Killer’s night,
and knock on the door of
the people.

Here’s Garganourakis, singing the new lyrics, 40 years on.

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