My farewell to Mikis Theodorakis – Der Freitag

I must have been 6 or 7 years-old when I got whiff of the significance of Theodorakis’ music. It was around 1968 when my parents warned me not to tell anyone at school or in the neighbourhood that they owned records of his – and certainly not to admit that we listened to them. “Even singing one of his tunes can get you arrested”, I recall my mum telling me. Immediately I realised that, for our hated fascist dictators to be so scared of his music, it must have been powerful.

At first, I was not sure whether I liked Theodorakis’ music because it was illegal or because it was good. It was in 1970 when I knew I loved its musical structure. The realisation hit me when my piano teacher, Jenny Protopapas was her name, wrote up for me the music score of one of his songs, entitled “Mana mou kai Panagia” (Mum and Madonna). As I learned to play it, I felt every note hitting me like an emotional tornado. To this day, when I play that song, I forget who I am, where I am, everything – immersing my being within the universe that these few, brilliantly arranged notes create.

By the time the dictatorship collapsed in 1974 I had a long list of Theodorakis songs that I could play, well before the record shops were, once more, allowed to sell his records. So, when in 1975, I heard that Theodorakis would perform live at a football stadium in Neo Phaliro, near Piraeus, I rushed to buy my ticket – the first ever gig I attended alone. When the performance started, I joined the merger of a crowd starved for democracy and a music made to shake the heavens until tyranny crashed and burned. At some point, his body pulsating with his melodies, Theodorakis changed tack, moving from his Greek songs to Canto General (his orchestral work based on the exquisite poem by Pablo Neruda). Suddenly, the whole stadium was transported to Chile and began to throb with a sense of one-ness with every people in the world that had suffered despotism, fascism, exploitation and dictatorship. Having walked into the stadium a 15 year-old Greek boy, I left it feeling older and at once Latin American, Indian, Jewish, Arab etc.

Soon after, I got into blues-derived music – especially when I moved to Britain in 1978. But, Therodorakis’ music never left me. Every now and then, one of his tunes would pop up in my head and disrupt everything I was up to. It was then, however, I realised I was not the only one. People from all walks of life, from different countries and cultures, would confess to me that Theodorakis had somehow touched them. More recently, my friend – and musical hero – Brian Eno let me into the secret that Theodorakis’ music had inspired in him a sense of courage.

So, why was Mikis so important to people like myself? For a number of intertwined reasons.

His music touched strings in our soul that other tunes did not reach.

He helped re-invent Greek popular music by blending it seamlessly with some of the best modern Greek poetry – thus putting high brow poems, as lyrics, in the mouths and hearts of building site workers, cleaners, taxi drivers etc.

He transcended Greece’s borders with ecumenical orchestral music that touched people far and wide – for example, he composed the best music ever to have been inspired by the Holocaust (the Mauthausen Trilogy), the aforementioned Canto General, the splendid soundtracks to Costa Gavra’s movies Z and State of Siege or Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, featuring a young Al Pacino.

And, above all else, his music made it impossible to listen to it and be, in your soul, right-wing, authoritarian or xenophobic.

Farewell Miki

For the Der Freitag original webpage see here