the litany of the wiseguy

WARNING/ATTENTION/ACHTUNG/EKTIMISI: The post you are about to read contains references to drugs, addiction and other generalised bad behaviour. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

I have a deep dark confession to make. One of the reasons I find it difficult to knit of late is that I have become readdicted to one of the darkest forms of music ever: the rembetika (Greek blues – and believe me, the Greeks are experts at being blue. It’s a national condition for us – even here in the diaspora – it’s inborn and we can’t really do anything about it. Combine that with extreme fatalism and I’m surprised the Greek race has actually managed to last this long without indulging in mass cultural suicide. But I digress…)

I blame the Eurocup, actually. This passion for evil music reignited in me when I attended at the Danforth to watch the game where the $#*(@$&(@#* Greeks got themselves put out of the Cup. As it happened, the place we were watching the game was right next door to Greek City Video. I had promised myself I wouldn’t go there (Mom – stop laughing NOW!!!)… but on the first smoke break (I guess I could also blame the ubiquitous “smoke outside” by-laws or, for that matter, the tobacco companies which keep me addicted to the demon weed…) wandered in and spent … oh, slightly more than the average PayDay haul’s worth of yarn.

Amongst the booty – one of my favourite ever movies:

Yes, yes, I know – you’ve never heard of it. And, for that matter, I don’t really know why it is one of my favourite movies. It is very, very depressing – about a Greek rembetiko (blues) singer who basically gets treated like a whore, becomes drug addicted then dies, over the course of 30 years. Every Greek movie ever made, by the way, is either “I want to slit my wrists now I’ve watched this” morbid or along the lines of a really bad “Carry On” comedy – if “Carry On” had featured horny priests. But anyway…

Another terrific score was this new CD by George Dalaras, the hottest Greek singer going:

The title of the CD is “Songs about Drugs” in English… and features primarily Rembetiko music again. It was recorded at a concert in Greece in 2007 which was held someplace that looks like this:

This is Dalaras himself… I’m only posting this photo for my mother, as she thinks he’s cute! (And here’s a video for you as well, Mom! And another one.  And if you want more, just search “tragoudia me ousies” on YouTube…Don’t say I never gave you anything!!)

So, why am I going on about this “Rembetiko” stuff, you might well ask?? Well, it’s bad boy music from the 1920s in Greece. SERIOUSLY bad boy music. Rappers had nothing on these guys and the few women that they allowed into the circle). People got arrested for playing and listening to this music. If you’re really, really bored, there is a great explanatory newspaper story from the Guardian here.

(At around the same time in Greece, by the way, the fashion for these “manges” or “spivs” (or, for want of a better word in US/Canadian English, wiseguys) was to wear very pointy shoes with toes extending four inches out from the real toes on their feet. The cops went around at the time with machetes and would just chop off the toes of the shoes. If they happened to hit the real toes in the process, too bad.)

But why were the rembetiko musicians and the characters they attracted treated so badly? A sampling of the song titles from the Dalaras CD should give you a clue:

– Alcohol and Nicotine
– The Castaway Cigarette
– Rumba of the Drug Dealer
– Clink Clink Go The Glasses
– Hashish
– I’m an Addict
– Heroin and Hash
– In the Basement
– The Tobacconist
– Five Spivs
– Bring Drugs So I Can Get High
– Ouzo and Hashish
– I’m a Flirt
– Why I Smoke Cocaine
– I’m a Cocaine Addict

Well, now finally I understand why this guy always looks so damned happy:

…while his wife and daughter slave away at home:

But seriously, what is not to like about this music?!? Perhaps I was just deprived as a child. The Greece painted through this music is certainly not the Greece I was raised to think ever existed, let me tell you. I mean, the one little rebellion I tried in high school – wearing head to toe black – resulted in my father’s telling me “Black is for Funerals” and grounding me for a year or so.

Plus, my (very lovely and extremely youthful looking) mother used to refer to this stuff as “migraine music”. To an extent, she had a point… especially when I hauled home the authentic 1920s recorded versions which featured singers coughing their heads off on tape (there’s a lot of tar in that hash, you know!!), whiny Greek bagpipes and violins which sounded like two cats in the backyard – um, well, you know.

However, they sure seemed to have a lot of fun!!!

So, now I’ve decided I’m going to quit my day job – finally – and resuscitate the Greek blues in Canada. First, all I need to do is learn how to play this:

Now, I don’t want to tell you just how long I’ve had this in my possession… it’s a bit embarrassing. But, I will learn.

Also, the renewed interest in the Greek Blues, plus another addiction to the fabulous music of Cape Breton, has led me to dust off the old keyboard and start practicing again:

So, doubtless I will very, very soon catch the eye of some impresario who likes cocaine music, and will be appearing very soon at a major concert venue near you.

Stay tuned… and in the meantime, a happy Thursday!

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5 thoughts on “the litany of the wiseguy

  1. Holly B Snotty and Mighty says:

    I yelled Opa the other day, somewhere completely inappropriate…oh! The power was out at a restaurant due to a storm and there was a Bluegrass Band playing and I shouted OPA!

    I too think Dalaras is cute. Put him in a tux and he can OPA me all night.

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