Monday, April 2, 2018

Katerina Gogou & Kyriakos Sfetsas - Sto Dromo (On The Road)

does not have the saddened colour
of the cloudy bimbo in her eyes.
She does not stroll abstractly and self-content
Shaking her hips in concert halls
And in frozen museums.
She is not the yellow picture frames of “good” old times
And naphthalene in granny’s chests
Rosy ribbons and straw hats.
She does not open her legs faking her giggles
A cow’s gaze rhythmic sighs
And assorted underwear.
Has the colour of Pakistanis, this loneliness
And she is counted inch by inch
Along with their pieces
In the bottom of the light-shaft.
She stands patiently queuing
Bournazi – Santa Barbara – Kokkinia
Touba –Stavroupoli – Kalamaria

Under all weathers
With a sweaty head.
She ejaculates screaming and smashes the front windows with chains
She occupies the means of production
She blows up private property
She is a Sunday visit in prison
Same step in the yard revolutionaries and penal prisoners
She is sold and bought minute by minute, breath by breath
In the slave markets of the earth – Kotzia  is near here
Wake up early.
Wake up to see it.
She is a whore in the rotten-houses
The German drill for conscripts
And the last
Endless miles of the national highway towards the center
Suspended like meat imported from Bulgaria.
And when her blood clots and she can take no more
Of her kind being sold so cheaply
She dances barefoot on the tables a zeibekiko
Holding in her bruised blue hands
A well sharpened axe.
Our loneliness I say. Its our loneliness I am speaking about,
Is an axe in our hands
That over your heads is swirling swirling swirling swirling"

This is probably the best hidden treasure I discovered in Greece. It's the soundtrack of a 1980 Greek film called Paragelia (The Order), which portrays the story of Nikos Koemtzis, a habitual petty offender who was constantly harassed by the police in the 1970s. The film revolved around his killing some police officers who had insulted him and his brother at a nightclub. Koemtzis's brother had asked the club orchestra to play a song for him so that he would dance the zeibekiko dance, which is a Greek dancing style highlighting masculinity. When he started dancing some pigs who were following them started dancing as well, which is considered a highly disrespectful act of dishonor towards the manliness of the one who the song is being played for. Infuriated, Koemtzis stands up and stabs to death the pigs and goes into hiding. In real life, Koemtzis was put on death row by the court during the dictatorship in Greece, but he wasn't executed since his death sentence was nullified after the restoration of democracy. He lived out his final years in Monastiraki, one of the crowded tourist spots in the center of Athens selling his autobiography.

The film was directed by Pavlos Tasios and garnered awards and enjoys great fame in the Greek underground and anarchist scene, for its depiction of defiance to the police and authority. Another reason for the film's popularity is the participation of Katerina Gogou, wife of the director and a famed anarchist poet. She took part in many films during the 1960s, playing stereotypical roles of naive girls and housemaids, but when she resurfaced in the late 1970s she had become a strong actress playing in neo-realist political films. She is however better known for her poems, which portray scenes of urban anxiety, of the lowlife lumpenproletariat that is ignored and marginalized by the left-wing orthodoxy's adoration of an idealized working class, of frustration and anger at the legalization and pacifism of the official communist movement on its reintegration into the political system after the end of the dictatorship, of the left's repeated denunciation of the violent riots made by anarchist youth in the center of the Athens, a very frequent feature of Greek politics of the last four decades. Gogou doesn't play a character in the film, she's like a phantom narrator at the backstage of the nightclub spewing curses at a world excluding the lumpens, the immigrants, the gays and the transgenders (her poems frequently negotiated such topics) and praising self-control, faux morality and moderation. Katerina Gogou never became an actress of the limelight. She increasingly battled depression and drug addiction, before taking her life in the early 1990s.

“Our life is knife stabs
at dirty blind alleys
rotten teeth faded out slogans
bass clothes cabinet
smell of piss antiseptics
and moulded sperm. Torn down posters.
Up and down. Up and down Patission Street

Our life is Patission Street.
Washing powder which does not pollute the sea
And Mitropanos have entered our lives
Dexameni has taken him from us too
Like those high ass ladies.
But we are still there.
All our lives hungry we travel
The same course.
Ridicule-loneliness-despair. And backwards.
OK. We don’t cry. We grew up.
Only when it rains
We suck secretly on our thumb. And we smoke.
Our life is
Pointless panting
In set-up strikes
Snitches and patrol cars.
That’s why I'm telling you.
The next time they shoot us
Don’t run away. Count our strength.
Let's not sell our skin so cheap, damn it!
Don’t. Its raining. Give me a cigarette”

The music soundtrack of the film is awesome. Written and orchestrated by an avant-garde composer called Kyriakos Sfetsas, it is a score adequately reflecting the film's mood and themes. Combining dizzying cocktail jazz noir with dark post-punkish/new wave riffs and influences from Greek traditional music styles such as zeibekiko, rebetiko, tsifteteli with melancholy rock, and performed by ensemble consisting of reeds, horns, rock instruments, strings, Fender Rhodes and santur, it creates a feeling of constant anxiety and being on the run, which is increased by Gogou reciting her poems on top either screaming or mourning. A very interesting aspect of this album is the censorship on some curse words Gogou uses, which are marked by a hilarious alarm sound on some songs. This album is gold, definitely worth checking out. Originally released in 1981 on Columbia, this has been ripped from the 1995 EMI reissue.


As a bonus I'm including two more albums by Kyriakos Sfetsas. One is the 1980 album Horis Synora (Without Boundaries) which is a full-fledged exploration of the crossroads between modern jazz and traditional Greek music, and more particularly from the Epiros region, creating a perfect and a very unique brand of jazz fusion. The other is called Silent Days and was released in 1991, featuring Keith Jarrett- and ECM-styled jazz.

Download Horis Synora (Without Boundaries)
Download Silent Days

Check out two scenes from the Paragelia film. The first one is the scene in which Koemtzis kills the cops, with Gogou reciting the album's first poem "Our life is knife stabs" (the second poem I'm pasting here)

and the other one is "Loneliness," the first one I'm pasting.

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