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Your Firework Eyes: what the lyricist said
You can be a great artist, and still be a dick. For that matter, you can be a great artist, and still be clueless about what you’ve wrought.
Bullying Stamos Semsis, the songwriter of Your Firework Eyes, into letting Giorgos Dalaras sing the song on the album? Prick behaviour, but within the game of what can happen in art, I guess:
So I come out [after surreptitiously recording Dalaras singing the song in a single take], and I say to Stamos:
—Are you singing Your Firework Eyes [on the album]?
Dalaras had left. And I tell Stamos:
—Stamos (and this was in front of his wife), there will be no record.
—What are you talking about?
—You heard me.
—That’s what I feel like. Have you got a problem with me?
—Well I’ve got a problem with you. You’ve got the greatest Greek singer guest starring on your record, and you want to be the main attraction. You’re the songwriter, get it? I’ve let you sing too many songs already. Dalaras will sing Your Firework Eyes, or there will be no record.
Maybe that was the right call; I don’t think Malamas’ was the greatest rendering of Princess either. Then again, maybe he could have just waited for the inevitable covers, just as happened with Princess.
And that’s what happened. I’m not joking around, Kostas. I’m not afraid of anything.
Old-school machismo gets tiresome quickly.
He still gives Semsis props, I guess, although they’re not quite as full-throated as they could have been:
A talented composer. His grandfather is the renowned rebetiko musician Salonikios [Dimitris Semsis]. If I’m not mistaken, the album was called “It’s Cold in Greece.” Stamos is very charming in both his looks and his personality. And an excellent musician.
Well, OK. Coming back at the end, though, boasting about his bullying of Semsis on the three albums (“not that I was a tyrant, but I’d always been right before”) is tasteless, and he clearly was a tyrant; but Bourboulis does take the blame for a failed sonic experiment he insisted on, overruling Semsis (different lyrics in the Left and Right speaker). (“I’d always been right before.”) So he has some self-awareness at least.
On the other hand, what he ends the interview on is just contemptible gossip-making and judginess (which explains why he dropped that strange reference to Semsis’ looks), incoherently commingled with grudging admiration; and it’s Bourboulis, not Semsis, who looks bad for saying it:
But I’d advise people never to collaborate with Stamos Semsis. That great talent, and I even christened his son, is an ingrate. Write that down. He left his wife and son. He cannot love. He’s all about himself. He is a player, he is a great talent, and he makes conquests wherever he goes. I mean with women. But he doesn’t care. If you offered him anything at the time—his mother was ingenious, and she built the bridges for him. Him, he can go to hell. Every time I went to his place, he had another girlfriend. He used to stay in Marousi. Now he’s in Paris. A great talent, I’m telling you, and a handsome lad. Then he got cancer, but fortunately he recovered. He’s got incredible guts. He got that from his mother.
Old-school moralising also gets tiresome quickly. And the way he contradicts himself, I think he realises it. Semsis, at least, in his interview, didn’t say much more about Bourboulis than “he’s older than me.” (25 years older; which helps explain why he got away with the bullying.)
I don’t begrudge Bourboulis, either, saying, right after “I’m not afraid of anything”,
Your Firework Eyes is not great, either lyrically or musically. It’s Dalaras that makes it great. If you hear Semsis sing it, he’s slightly better than Dalaras. But he’s no Dalaras.
Dalaras does bring magic and vulnerability to the song, especially in the final stanza. And both the lyrics and the music are flawed; I’d worked that out in the previous post. But the flaws make the song all the more powerful. Which is why it’s survived covers by so many other artists.
No, I can’t begrudge Bourboulis for being a bully in pursuit of aesthetics. I can begrudge him being judgemental, and mixing business and friendship (noone made him christen Semsis’ son, and be invested in a work partner’s personal life.) But that’s a personality flaw. What I find impossible to accept is him spending a long paragraph saying how much he hates the Turks, going all the way back to the Trojan War and forward to the Greek State making a museum of Kemal Atatürk’s house—and then saying that that’s what Your Firework Eyes is all about:
And that frenzy, when they literally massacred us, without it being a war: that’s what I meant by “Your Firework Eyes”, eyes that flash and shine. They are flashes of our race. Because when a ship goes through the straits there [the Bosphorus] and lets off flares [fireworks], just as happens in this country with weddings and festivals, it’s a spectacle. But it’s a spectable from a humiliated people, when its leader Eleftherios Venizelos nominates Kemal Atatürk, after all the massacres, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Write that down! It’s proven.
And then some more about how Turks are a mongrel race and Turkey is doomed.
If Bourboulis wants to be an unhinged nationalist, that’s his right, it’s not like I have to hang out with him in a café. But to claim that Your Firework Eyes is about Greek national humiliation is horseshit. Yes, the Bosphorus reference is about loss, and it’s informed by the narrative he carries within him of national humiliation. You might even read “I lit all the lights. I put on a show” in that light.
But “loneliness drips like rain onto the floor”? “I am trapped now in your perfume, in your name”? Bourboulis wrote a flawed, disjointed, beautiful set of quatrains about love and loss. (One that Semsis’ stepson made more sense of than he had bothered to.) He was thinking of 1922 when he wrote of the Bosphorus; and the cultural resonance enriches the song, laconically and devastatingly. But to conscript the whole song to the narrative of national humiliation dishonours it. And it sells his beautifully flawed masterpiece short, very short.