Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lust for life

I am sitting in my living room listening to online Greek radio, playing music from the 80s… I am really mesmerised by a singer called ‘Arphoditi Manou’ and a song about the night. This tendency of re-visiting the simple things in life is what I really like in music from past decades, among several other characteristics that I will mention below…

One is the ‘out of breath’ vibe in the voice (Springsteen did that a lot, see ‘Dancing in the dark’) which now would sound passé, but is so fresh in fact. It immediately wakes up the feeling of a young person running, searching, experimenting; full of life and emotions in a rush to try, taste, feel, discover things. Nobody seems to be able to stop him… isn’t that nice? And isn't that the way it should be?

Another feature that I find charming is having the melodic and lyrical elements stripped without the stylistic garments of modern music, the image making, the pretention, the lifestyle or whatever.

And this is the point where it is necessary to clarify that this post is not an elegy to the ‘good old times’, there will always be good music created and the same applies for all forms of arts, science, or whatever. On top of that, I am the first who doesn’t want to go back to the past, since my life is much better now, I am a happy man! It’s just that this happy man is feeling like talking about what he observes around him, from time to time!

So, back to the past decades poetry… Art can never be separated by aesthetics and style, but it is my humble opinion that at least music is better supported by ideas, feelings, attitudes, rather than style. Everybody is using it and plays with it, but ‘big’ music was always something more than painted guitars, tattoos, dyed hair and cozy cd covers. Particularly if the guy who’s designing all that, is a bloody manager, fighting for his new roadster. Bob Marley’s music will probably be around for much longer, because it is overwhelmed by this rastafari vibe, it is the reflection of major events like the Jamaican independence to a whole society and is so much about the simple and essential ingredients of happiness. Freedom, love, hope, change…

I was born in the second biggest city of Greece in 1975. At that time, LP records were still considered ‘technology’ and even 15 years later blue jeans, would be just a 15 euro of fake Levis. No shopping centres, no credit cards, one car per family, free camping in the summer and some naked hippies 100 m away. After, I moved to Lesbos Island for my PhD where I found my self living even further in the past. Students hitchhiking to go to university, open houses and always the key under the flowerpot. Fish fished yesterday was not fresh anymore and women bringing in their lovers from the back door, to hide them from the vigilant neighbours.

Then I went to work in Denmark and after in Italy and after in France, and then I realised that in their most modern version, my previous life experiences were corresponding to the reality that those people had been living a couple of decades ago. I was travelling in space, but what was even nicer was that I was also travelling in time. And, in those new environments, many things were different… No folk music playing, the greengrocer and the butcher was in the shopping centre, as was the restaurant, the cinema, and life in general. Rules about everything, lives organised in electronic agendas several weeks before, three times more bills in the mailbox and tasteless meat and vegetables.

The world cannot stop changing and Europe is Americanized… Our cars became bigger, our clothes fancier and we are still around, alive and kicking! And we are happy as it is obvious that everything around us is improving every day, the world is changing! In some undefined way and for unspecified reasons, those are the times when progress, prosperity and life in general are seen from the perspective of getting the best from the material things. Improve them, discover new, appreciate them as much as possible; then possess in the first place and secondly enjoy. Things become old very quickly and are changed or upgraded, since everything has to be up to date. An interesting thing on this new spirit is that the people want to upgrade themselves as well, we cannot remain the same in this constantly updated environment. We start to evaluate our lives, our selves, and the people around us from a shorter term perspective, as change is in the air and inside us.

In 1969, Jimmy Hendrix was well established as one of the best guitarists in the world and he happened to be left handed. As usual when he gave the concert in Royal Albert Hall in 1969 he was playing with a right hand Fender Stratocaster, and similarly was doing Albert King and many others; surprisingly… the guitar industry didn’t have the right product for them! Since then, the world has changed a lot and now there are so many standard, special, custom, specialised, or whatever versions for any kind of guitar, car, underwear, or lighter, that everyone can find the piece one wants, or at least one thinks one wants.

I mention this example for two reasons… One, because I find it very interesting as a simple fact; second, because it fascinates me to think that somebody grabbed a guitar, any guitar could do[1] and he became one of the best players in the world. For sure he wasn’t the only one doing those things. Today, after a first week everybody would be telling him ‘you cannot play with a right-hand guitar you are left handed, why don’t you buy the right one?’, he would end up feeling uncomfortable to play in front of his friends and he would even quit for that. Nowadays, everybody, in order to have the right to stand up and say anything in any field, has to be perfect in terms of skills, equipment and most of all …style. Few decades ago people opened their mouth and just improvised, while the others were enjoying it; today if you are not perfect, nobody pays attention to what you say, they won’t even listen if you are… And this is not only about music… Our world is full of talented, hard working people who nobody bothers to meet or listen to, because we are used to only meeting interesting personalities on TV… If he is not on TV, he isn’t that good!

The TV, on the other hand, has the responsibility of finding the discovering people we want to meet and since this has to be done on a weekly, or daily basis, it doesn’t always succeed in the quality test. We are exposed to huge amounts of trash, because somebody has to be the star of the day, something has to always be on the headlines. And the people are tired from that, they are saturated of nonsense stimulation, they became numb… There is a huge difference in the amount of information we nowadays have access to, but the opposite happens to the things that penetrate us. You can understand how big the change is if you consider that 40 years ago a lunatic like Charles Manson convinced people to follow him into the mansion, make love to him and kill others. Even he could find his audience!

I am in danger of being accused for rambling in this post and even for being boring and referring to clichés. Of course, manipulation through the media and consumerism are clichés, and I am concerned about that as well as about the environment, the injustice in the world, peace, and how all the above are interlinked… But the post is not about that … it’s about …living life! About the poetic lyrics of the song I was listening to, about the emotional reading that fascinated me… the pure lust for life. The biggest problem I find in the present approach on the ‘art of living’, is that we are so overwhelmed by the presence of products, that we inevitably begin to think that happiness is also one…

So, going back to the example of the guitar: of course, buying one will definitely make me happy, but it will not make me play. I have to play, I have to find the music inside me and release it! From my point of view, everything in life ends up to the same simple bottom line, (which if you are a Buddhist you may find it pure bullshit…): We are born and, from the very first moment, time is running against us, our cells may degenerate and reform, but there is always a deficit, we are slowly fading. Life is a gift, is a loan from something beyond us, which I even don’t want to waste time to define… Creation is the rebellion of the spirit against the slavery of time and death. It is the only hope to transform the amazing occasion of being here in this world into something more, the only possibility to go beyond the level of existence.

Man creates art, enterprises, feelings, love stories, world records and spaceships, because he doesn’t want to die. Because every time he is achieving something that he feels important and challenging, he feels connected to another dimension, another universe not governed by the notions of time and death, a domain which liberates him. In the meantime, with each step he takes on our Earth, he is slowly and physically wearing himself out; we are consuming our energy, because that way we forget the simple fact that we are consumable… Meanwhile, materials are our tools; the more efficiently we use them, the more we can go further. So, if you want to hide inside your Prada, Ipods and Levis, do it, but don’t forget that all those beautiful little things are the means and not the goal. A Ferrari doesn’t make you Schumacher, neither a Gibson Jimmy Page. Better buy a Fiat 500 and go all over Europe with it…

I started with music and I want to finish with it… Music captivates me as one of the few divine human creations. A song is the holistic reflection of a single moment; all the instant thoughts and emotions, bursting through the prism of a personality that came all the way, from his birth to the very moment of inspiration. Music can capture the magic of the moment, as well as all the background and that’s why it’s so much more than entertainment and showbiz. It can carry you into the heart of the situation and make you happy, sad, rebellious, anxious, free, in other words …it transmits life… All that can be said in one word… ’Magic’!

So, tonight I am listening to those songs that make me wish that I was there, in a period that I haven’t experienced, I wasn’t even alive. And this is because they trigger a feeling that fits into me, that makes me want to be part of and live it. People can fall in love with musicians, painters or authors, because their art exposes them to a new fascinating world, one that they would fit. And me, I am intrigued by the art that exhales lust for life! So, the dreamy closing is with me being at the Royal Albert Hall watching Jimmy play his guitar the opposite side, and being together with all those people; who at that specific moment believed that the world can change into a fair, peaceful, open-minded place. I would rather be with those naïve creatures than all than with CNN, AIDS, War on Terror, sponsored media and that unnecessary buzz.

[1] Jimmy Hendrix used right hand guitars but he was changing the string order, so the main problem was the limited access to the lower frets. Albert King didn’t even do that, he learned to play with the strings upside down. He developed his own unique technique, adjusted the tuning to his style, creating a very characteristic sound.