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Bed of Pain

Various performers

Mississippi Records MRP017LP

Cover picture I don't know where to begin the review of this newly released LP of old Greek recordings.  There's so much that's wrong with this production and so little that is right.  In fact the only thing that is right is the music itself, adequately transferred and listenable.  A number of excellent tracks rub shoulders with some perhaps less inspiring recordings.  The presentation, on the other hand, is a major catastrophe. 

The cover uses a photograph of the young Vassilis Tsitsanis, probably not long after he gave up law studies for music.  But the gun and knife are hardly congruent with the personality or career of this decidedly apolitical and law-abiding man, an intensely hard-working creative musician, songwriter and singer, who hardly did anything else for the 48 years from his recording debut in early 1936 to his death in 1984.  During that time he contributed significantly both to the development of conceptions of bouzouki playing, and to the Westernisation and the modernisation of Greek popular music, and in fact strove actively to eliminate some of its oriental characteristics.

The liner notes consist of an attempt at giving a background to the music, followed by notes to each track.  The text is marred by an often affectedly aggressive tone, by what appears to be a complete lack of proof-reading despite the acknowledgement of a proof-reader, and worst of all, by a number of grave errors of fact.

First, to the introductory essay:

The tone is set from the start - a quote from an English translation of a small book by the late Elias Petropoulos, the man who more or less single-handedly created the media concept of rebetika.One also finds the spellings rembetika, rebetica, or even rempetika, with or without an acute accent on the second 'e' - depending on one's choice of transliteration of the Greek word ρεμπέτικα.1  The first edition of his larger work, Rebetika Tragoudia (Rebetika Songs), self-published in 1968, earned him a spell in jail during the military dictatorship.  It was the first attempt to delineate and document the area in book form, and as such must retain credit.  But, as the quote in the LP notes makes clear, Petropoulos was not an ethnomusicologist.  His approach was not scientific in any sense of the word.  A poet and prophet of deviance, scatology, and the bizarre, his knowledge of music was minimal, while his industriousness resulted in an enormous archive of invaluable photos, documents and artefacts, many begged, borrowed, and unreturned to their owners.  Furthermore, he noted down the lyrics of hundreds of songs from various sources, unfortunately often untraceable and unacknowledged.  The Petropoulos archive, now deposited in the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, is, to his credit, freely accessible to and reproducible by anyone interested, in a precocious version of Creative Commons. 

I think it is important to point out in any discussion of rebetika that Petropoulos' work, despite its undeniable value, conjures up a mythical scenario which has led to a superficial view of a music of tough guys, underdogs, knife men, hash-smokers, the oppressed and the displaced, reminiscent of the myth that Robert Johnson's genius was the result of meeting the devil at a crossroads, and more generally reminiscent of the mythologised versions of 'The Blues Singer' and 'The Blues' so well dismantled by Elijah Wald in his book Escaping the Delta.  Petropoulos thus offers us a classic example of a Greek propensity for rhetoric and mythopoiesis, often richly spiced with inaccuracies.  He misquotes the birth dates of musicians in order to create chronological categories, as though driven by a need to discover the underlying Platonic ideals, rather than accept the untidiness of reality; he misnames instruments; in all, he gives free rein to his desire to create his personal myth of what certainly was a kind of urban subculture, but probably not quite as bizarrely colourful as in his version: he asserts, for example, that anal intercourse was the exclusive sexual method of choice for 'rebetes', i.e.  the people for whom rebetika was the music of choice.  If I were to continue metaphorically in the sexual sphere I would suggest that both Petropoulos and the author of the liner notes in question, in company with far too many modern copywriters, employ verbal masturbation to ejaculate hyperbole.  It's as though one were to assert in all seriousness that rap, or hip-hop, were the exclusive province of pistol-touting, cocaine-crazed, sexist, homophobic, black teenage gangsters.

Petropoulos' mythologizing detracts from the intrinsic musical qualities of what was in fact a fascinatingly rich and varied musical culture in a small place and a short period of time.  Pure Ottoman-Greek modal music, using intervals not found in Western music, and oriental instruments such as the oud, the kanun, the Constantinople lyre and the santouri, worked side by side with cimbaloms, violins, mandolins, pianos, clarinets, Hawaiian guitars, standard guitars, and bouzoukis.  The same highly paid singer, Georgios Vidalis, could record 'Ça c'est Paris' in Paris, and back in Greece record a song about a hash smoker, or sing an Italianate kantada with mandolin accompaniment, or an operetta highlight, without batting an eyelid.

The liner notes to Bed of Pain go one step further in mythologising facts which have already been mythologised.  The actual tragic and historically significant events of 1919-1922, when Greece tried, and failed, to invade Anatolia and re-establish a Greater Greece according to the 'Megali Idea' (Great Idea), the ensuing 1922-23 Lausanne Conference, and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, resulted in either the flight to Greece, or the compulsory relocation to Greece, of one and a half million Christian Ottoman citizens, defined as Greeks by their religion whether or not they spoke Turkish, while more than three hundred thousand Muslims who lived in Greece were reciprocally forced to relocate to Turkey.  These massive forced population transfers naturally caused a multitude of sufferings on both sides, with long-lasting consequences.  The initial events are here compressed, in a mishmash of historical inaccuracy, to a couple of weeks in 1922.  Not even a Greek who exaggeratedly and one-sidedly regards the Smyrna Catastrophe as a tragic national icon would (I hope) accept this travesty.  Not only history, but geography, are revised; Athens becomes a port city, which it isn't; the writer being perhaps unaware that Piraeus is the port of Athens.

Approaching the subject of the bouzouki, the writer begins by respelling the name of Ioannis Halikias, aka Jack Gregory, the pioneer who recorded the first true and magnificent bouzouki solo in New York in 1932, as Ionannes Haskilias (sic).  That Halikias' recording was covered half-a-dozen times in the first year is untrue - it was covered twice only, by the same musician, Spyros Peristeris - but note well - on guitar!  That the bouzouki was a suddenly discovered voice of the oppressed is patent nonsense.  That Halikias' Minore genuinely inspired several of the seminal musicians of rebetika with a new vision of the possibilities of the bouzouki, is however documented in interviews with Manolis Hiotis and Ioannis Papaioannou, who had both started out on other stringed instruments.

The bouzouki, clearly somewhat non grata in high society, had already been familiar to musicians in Piraeus, in the Peloponnese, possibly in Pelion, and in some island towns, around the early 20th century.  Well before 1932, in fact about from twenty years previously, recorded lyrics had referred to the instrument, or its miniature cousin the baglamas, and a guitar would sometimes be identified as a bouzouki in exclamations.  The fascinating complexity of the process by which the bouzouki usurped centre stage and ousted other instruments and styles within a sub-culture, to become, finally, an Acropolis-clad icon of national identity, is here glossed over in sweeping generalisations, in a search for putatively eloquent and pertinent imagery.

The sweeping assertions that cannabis was the permitted drug in Anatolia, while alcohol was that of Greece, are also incorrect.  Cannabis was a well-established drug in Greece long before 1922, and wine and spirits were well-known in Anatolia.  Wine as a metaphor for the divine is common in Sufi poetry.

To summarise - this introduction, in worst Hollywood style, paints a backdrop to the music in which there is no greyscale, simply the black and white of the oppressed, of glorified sufferers and glorified suffering, of swaggering well-dressed thugs, and comfortably situated middle- and upper-class parasites.  That, in truth, the largest part of the recorded legacy of this music was the product of a small crowd of gifted professionals with relatively exclusive access to the major company studios, is obviously not melodramatic enough.

The music, and the notes to the songs:

Bed of Pain contains thirteen somewhat haphazardly juxtaposed transfers of songs originally issued on 78s in Greece and the USA during the 1930s 1940s and 1950s, all of the kind today usually subsumed under the genre of 'rebetika'.  Advertised as being 'a wicked collection', and as being well-annotated by its compiler, it was hyped for months before it was even possible to find out which songs were included.  The hype also asserted, incorrectly, that these recordings have never previously been reissued on LP.

Notes to most songs are graced with a thumbnail picture of the (purported) singer with single word name captions.  Interestingly, all the male protagonists are identified by surname only, while all the female singers are identified by Christian name only.  I leave the reader to ruminate on that.

Side A:

Track One - Minor Key Song from the Taverna sung by Stratos Pagioumtzis

This song has been reissued both on the first Rounder Tsitsanis CD compiled by Charles Howard, and on the JSP pre-war Tsitsanis set compiled by Howard.  The autobiographical notes on the singer Efstratios Pagioumtzis (1902-1971) are repeated, redundantly and inconsistently, in the liner notes to track four on side B (see below).  The piece opens with one of Tsitsanis' carefully prepared brief and consummately elegant modal taxims, or preludes.  The author misses an opportunity to explain that the word Minore in Greek musical contexts refers to songs, or improvised instrumentals in modal style, based on a fairly stereotyped use of the harmonic minor scale with prominent reference to an augmented (raised) fourth, using a simple tonic-subdominant-dominant harmonic scheme, often with passing modulations to the relative major key, and frequent use of the diminished chord on the augmented fourth.  This form probably established itself in Ottoman-Greek urban musical contexts at some point during the nineteenth century.  About seventy recordings including the word Minore in their title, mostly vocals, were made during the 78 rpm era. 

Track Two - O Christ sung by Jim Apostolou

The translation of the title is the first of several examples of linguistic howlers.  The title means '(The) Christos', not 'O Christ' - and is in this case likely a reference to Christos Tsitsanis, the brother of Tsitsanis, who composed the song.  Christos was reputedly a good musician, who in this lyric is assigned the role of guardian of the hubble-bubble.  The song was originally entitled 'Katse N'Akouseis Mia Penia' 'Sit down and listen to a (bouzouki) riff.' The observant listener will hear but one bouzouki, not two as asserted in the notes, the other instrument being a guitar.  The person named Athanasiou in the notes was called Athanasios Piraeotis and was probably not a brother of the singer Dimitris 'Jim' Apostolou, who was born in 1912 in Halkis, on the island of Evia, and emigrated to the USA in 1928.  The dating of the song needs no, I quote, 'rembetika researcher' to 'believe' anything; the song is clearly listed, and dated, in the ambitious and extensive Greek discography published by Dionysios Maniatis in 2006.

Track Three - I'm coming now to Kokkinia - Kostas Skarvelis

This track has previously been reissued on the first of the two rebetika compilations on JSP compiled by Charles Howard

'Despite all of his success, when Germany invaded Greece, Skarvelis was forced to return to repairing shoes.  He died in his shoe repair store April 8, 1942 of starvation, the result of scarcity under the British occupation.'

Here is the most blatant example of the author's ignorance.  It was of course the Nazi or Axis occupation of Greece which lasted until late 1944, which devastated Greece's infrastructure and which caused the death of thousands of Greeks, including a significant number of her prominent musicians, by murder, starvation and concomitant disease.  British forces did not enter Athens//Piraeus until October 13th, 1944.

The title of the song in Greek, 'Den Tha'rtho Pia Stin Kokkinia' means, contrary to the liner note version, 'I will never return to Kokkinia'.

Skarvelis, though wrongly credited here as the main performer, was rather the composer, and possibly the accompanying guitarist, on this magnificent song.  A brilliant guitar accompanist and composer of many great songs, he is neither known to have sung, nor to have played solo guitar or bouzouki on record, and to call him a teké-dweller (an inhabitant of hash-smoking dens) is rather doubtful to say the least.  The singer was the celebrated and prolifically recorded Giorgios Kavouras (1909-1943), likewise a victim of the occupation.  The bouzouki was played by the Asia Minor-born studio eminence and multi-instrumentalist Spyros Peristeris (1900-1966).  The notes thus mistakenly devote all the space to the composer/guitarist and make no mention whatsoever of the main performers.

Track Four - The Offenders - Nikos Pourpourakis

The singer bemoans that he will spend his life chained in the dungeons for a crime of passion committed because of a woman he was fated to love.  It's not his fault, it's cruel fate.  Why 'The Condemned Man' has become 'The Offenders' I don't know.  The liner notes expound on the biographical details of the song's composer Giannis Tatasopoulos, not present on the actual recording.  To call the bouzouki player here, Nikos Pourpourakis, an 'exceptional' bouzouki player, like Tatasopoulos, is to demonstrate ignorance of the instrument and how it has been played.  Pourpourakis, whose career now spans more than half a century, is a fully competent bouzouki player of the less flamboyant kind, but Tatasopoulos was a virtuoso in another league altogether.  The vocalist here is not Pourpourakis at all, but his associate Theodoros Kavourakis.  This can be confirmed by the interested listener by looking up the song on YouTube, where it has in fact been uploaded in excellent quality by the elderly Pourpourakis himself.  The record label which Pourpourakis co-owned is cited incorrectly in the notes as Diskos Kalos - it was actually called Kalos Diskos.  The musicians on this disc would perhaps not have been recorded by the major companies had they lived in Greece at the time - there were too many others around who were more 'high-powered'.  But the situation in the USA was different in the 1950s - a few small independent companies like Nina and Kalos Diskos recorded a small stable of local talent and occasional visiting stars from Greece like Papaioannou.

Track Five - Bed of Pain - Rena Stamou

This Tsitsanis song was recorded in 1950 by the nineteen-year-old Rena Stamou, a Cretan-born singer who still lives and works in London, as the notes correctly say.  She was, however not 'discovered' by Tsitsanis.  She had already made her first recordings with Tsitsanis' younger colleague Mitsakis in 1949, before beginning a brief but intensely productive collaboration with Tsitsanis, which resulted in a couple of dozen songs during 1950-51, after which she seems to have stuck with the singer Prodromos Tsaousakis for the rest of her heyday.  Tsitsanis is said to have confided to the prolific researcher Kostas Hatzidoulis, who initiated the major flood of rebetika reissues in 1975, that the song Bed of Pain (To Krevati Tou Ponou) was inspired by and dedicated to a rich married woman with whom he had an affair, and who died of tuberculosis the following year.

Track Six - Tell Me What Is Your Pain - Rita Abadzi

This song demonstrates the vagaries of genre definitions.  Accompanied by violin, guitar, bouzouki and mandola (possibly by Dimitris Semsis, Kostas Karipis, Stelios Hrysinis and Giannis Davos respectively) in the 7/8 kalamatiano dance metre, it is closer to the folk music of the countryside than to rebetika; Rita Abadzi recorded a fair number of such 'country' songs during her career: 'Tell me what is your pain, which you secretly sigh, watching the sea in bitter torment' - here the singer is talking to a another girl watching out for approaching steamers with tears and beating heart - 'perhaps you fell in love, as I did, with a lover who left for far-way foreign parts'.  It is an intensely movingly sung song of emigration, of which a fair number were recorded in the demotic idiom at the time.

Track Seven - Ouzo-Ouzo - Kostas Roukounas

A song apparently originally composed in the USA by the prolifically recorded emigrant clarinettist Andonis Sakellariou.  It had been recorded in 1929 by Tetos Demetriades, the industrious musician, singer, and wheeler-dealer who managed Victor's foreign department for years and recorded hundreds of sides in all possible styles, including the very first recording of Misirlou (The Egyptian Girl) of Pulp Fiction fame.  He recorded both under his own name and under the pseudonyms Nondas Sgouros and Takis Nikoloau.  Roukounas is accompanied here by a guitarist, possibly Skarvelis, and by Spyros Peristeris on bouzouki.  The tune is reminiscent here and there of the melody recorded both as the song Mandalio kai Mandalena by Marika Papagika, and by Halikias as the flip side of his Minore, Mysterio - zeïbeikiko.  The text is not, as claimed, a glorification of the effects of ouzo, but a humorous and ironic warning of the consequences of using it to seek comfort and oblivion; the song thus mocks the drunkard, in the tradition of such late 19th century songs as Ta Pedia tis Yeitonias Sou (The Kids of Your Neighbourhood), and To Krasi Ki'An To Pino (When I Drink Wine).

Side B:

Track One - To Kalogeraki - Gus Dussas

Here comes a further linguistic howler.  The title, To Kalogeraki, (pronounced Kaloyeraki) here translated as 'something like The Sweet Summer Time' is a diminutive form of the word 'kalogeros' - monk - and so literally means 'The Little Monk'.  It would appear that the author, instead of doing some homework, has confused the words 'kalokeraki' (summer) and kalogeraki, both in their affectionate diminutive forms.  Unfamiliarity with the music, the language and the culture, lead the writer to attribute deep despair and pathos to a performance which is, rather, an example of the jovial and humorous delivery of a song of unrequited love.  The singer-guitarist Gust DussasSee Notes at the end of the review.2 (Κωνσταντίνος Δούσσας) (1897-1949) was one of hardly a handful of Greek singers who mainly recorded solo, accompanying themselves on guitar, in 78 rpm recordings.  The song To Kalogeraki was his very first recording, in December 1930.  Dussas' background has been shrouded in mystery until very recently.  His 1942 draft registration card tells that he was born in Calipoli in Greece, on March 13th 1897.  While Calipoli is the name of a district of Piraeus, it is also a Greek form of the place name Gallipoli.  It was brought to my notice shortly after the initial publication of this review that the homonymous Piraeus suburb of Calipoli didn't even start to be populated, first by people from the Dodecanese, particularly Carpathos, and then in fact by emigrants from Asia Minor, in particular the Gallipoli area whereby its name, until about 15 years after Dussas' birth.  So we must assume that although Dussas wrote 'Calipoli, Greece', and not 'Calipoli, Turkey', it was in fact in Gallipoli, Turkey, that he was born.  The Asia Minor place name in the song title Emorfi Attaleia and the use of a familiar Asia Minor melody in the song  O Paraponiaris, harmonise with this conclusion.  Dussas died alone, with apparently no relatives, in a hotel room in Lodi, California, on October 23rd 1949.  According to the newspaper announcement of his death, Dussas was an itinerant musician well known in Lodi at the time.

Examination of matrix numbers indicates that Dussas' first three recording sessions probably took place in New York, not in Chicago as has previously been believed.  In fact his recording of the hash song Manolis O Hasiklis was waxed on the next matrix after the famous Halikias Minore.  For the sake of accuracy - Dussas recorded a total of 18 songs, not 16 as asserted in the notes.

The melody of this particular song recurs in a number of contemporary recordings of another lyric, Dou Dou, which had been recorded the year before in New York (i.e.  in 1929) by the Greek banjo player Panagiotis Tsoros, who also later accompanied Dussas on one of his recordings.  There were also versions with the double title Kalogeraki-Dou Dou.  The song Kalogeraki was recorded in Greece in 1931, by Zacharias Kasimatis, with Peristeris on guitar, which suggests that both the lyric and the melody perhaps belong to a common stock of late 19th century songs.  A year later it was recorded by Dalgas, with Peristeris playing bouzouki - one of the earliest and hitherto uncommented examples of recorded bouzouki in Greece.

Track Two - Bir Allah - Stella Haskil

Sadly, Stella Haskil, the prolifically recorded Thessaloniki-born Jewish singer with a uniquely warm voice, died young in 1954 of cancer, hardly in her mid-thirties, like Marika Ninou, another of Tsitsanis' favourite chanteuses.  She had the distinction of having been the first to record what is nowadays almost a Greek anthem, namely the 1947 Apostolos Kaldaras song Nychtose Horis Fengari (Night Without Moon), long censored with its lyric referring to the civil war.  The title Bir Allah, as any Muslim knows, means 'One God'.  Here the singer expresses the pain of remembrance for a love known in deepest Anatolia, memories awakened whenever she/he hears the hodja (muezzin) intoning Bir Allah from the minaret during the evening call to prayer, a function nowadays replaced by pre-recorded calls, which would perhaps not evoke the same strong imagery as the 'live' singing of half a century ago.  The song, composed by guitarist Giannis Stamoulis, born in Samos in 1912, gave him a nick-name which stuck - 'Bir Allah'.

Track Three - Pain Without Pity - Kostas Skarvelis

The telegram-style title as given in the notes is somewhat misleading.  Pono Kai De Me Lypasai 'I suffer and you take no pity on me' - the singer bemoans a fickle lover and wishes her the same suffering as she causes him.  The singer does not simply wallow in suffering, but is capable of bitter rebuke and fantasies of revenge.  The mistaken attribution is repeated - the singer, bouzouki player and composer/guitarist are Kavouras, Peristeris and Skarvelis respectively, as on track three of side one.  This magnificent side was first reissued in 1975 on an EMI LP in Greece, and was show-cased a few years ago, excellently annotated by David Murray, on Jonathan Ward's website Excavated Shellac.

Track Four - Let's Go To Voula - Stratos Pagioumtzis and Stellakis Perpiniadis

The liner notes suffer from another unhappy mistranslation, missing the poetic charm of the lyric.  A couple set out in a sailing boat, and the waves call out to them 'kissing is no sin'.  The wind fills the sail; they cling to the rudder, and will never forget ... a charming piece of eroticism, not a protest song.  This song is typical of Tsitsanis' pre-war style, with a trio of bouzouki, baglamas and guitar providing an elegantly economical accompaniment.  It has previously been reissued with excellent sound on Charles Howard's JSP Tsitsanis pre-war compilation.

The liner notes imply that Stratos had settled in the USA after having dropped out of music.  In truth his career was unbroken.  Having finally achieved his ambition of getting a singing engagement in America, Stratos died in November 1971, shortly after arriving.  According to some he died on stage, perhaps in the Greek district of Astoria in New York City, perhaps in Tarpon Springs.

Track Five - The Witch from Baghdad - Prodromos Tsaousakis

Once again the notes reveal a significant misunderstanding of the lyrics.  A poor and desperate lover begs a gypsy fortune-teller to hold out hope as he wanders the streets at dawn, so crazed by love that passers-by call him a poor bum; he begs her to make the object of his affection love him, as he, born poor by no fault of his own, will die of a broken heart if she marries a rich man.  It has previously been reissued with excellent sound on Charles Howard's JSP Tsitsanis post-war compilation.  As previously mentioned, Tsitsanis often wrote lyrics with exotic imagery, of which this is one more example.  Prodromos Tsaousakis, a wrestler before embarking on his musical career, had an insistently dark and melancholic voice.  His singing, like that of Kazantzidis', seems to me to capture the mood of depression in Greece after the massive destruction of WWII and the Civil War.  In the panorama of the bouzouki music of the time Hiotis compensated for this with his jolly Latin-American rhythms, and a consistently lighter touch.

Track Six - Neva Rast Manes - Kostas Roukounas

This is the only example of Ottoman-Greek music on the LP, an improvised lament: 'Torment and worries never leave me, they torture me daily, and stifle my life'.  For some reason Roukounas' year of birth is given in the note to Ouzo-Ouzo, while here we find that he died in 1984.  One could have mentioned that we are also treated to the violin playing of one of the greatest of the period, Giannis Dragatsis 'Oghdhondakis', who like Peristeris was also a studio director at the time.


The 'rebetika revival' was perhaps partly inspired by Elias Petropoulos' work, perhaps in combination with the political need for more or less clandestine symbols of dissent to the military dictatorship.  It was however after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, and manifestly through the efforts of record collectors such as Kostas Hatzidoulis, Panagiotis Kounadhis, the Ranios brothers, and later the Falireas brothers, that a flood of 78 rpm recordings began to be reissued on LPs in Greece, both by the major labels and by many small independent labels.  One excellent and well annotated LP was even released in the United States by Arhoolie Records on the Folklyric label.  From the early 1990s the flood metamorphosed to CD format, with audio quality now varying from the execrable to the excellent.  Indigenous productions often bordered on the unacceptable, while British and American issues under the aegis of Charles Howard and/or Dick Spottswood, offered some of the best sounding compilations, in some cases pristine transfers from the EMI archives.

Mississippi Records specialise in vinyl LP reissues, often of music originally issued on 78s.  Like most contemporary LP issues, their audio material has usually passed through the digital domain on its way back to physical grooves, and is in fact occasionally taken directly from CDs.  The current interest in vinyl, occasionally called a revival, is perhaps mostly an innocent and harmless fetish, or nostalgia, for a physical format which among other things makes reading liner notes significantly easier and offers many people pleasant extra-musical physical sensations and aesthetic possibilities denied us by the miniature CD format, even if the listener is not being offered truly analogue sound reproduction ('AAA').  This should not be taken to indicate that this reviewer would bemoan the demise of the CD in favour of the return of fully analogue sound carriers, i.e. LPs or tapes.

The decision to reissue 78s on LP today, usually in limited pressings of perhaps one or two thousand, is based on the certainty of a limited but faithful market, which, to judge by the current crops, often consists of listeners whose interest is more in vinyl per se than an informed interest in the music, especially as, like it or not, most people today can't play LPs.  Issuing LPs which purport to present not only excellent music but excellent packaging, both physically and in terms of information, naturally places a burden on the authors to do a good job. 

Presenting an LP of recordings of examples of the Greek popular music nowadays classified as rebetika, with the ambition of presenting the music in its socio-historical and musical framework, demands a minimum of knowledge of modern history, of the Greek language, and of Greek music.  Within the approximately 3,500 words of liner notes, one might expect both historical accuracy, information about who we are listening to, reasonably correct translations of song titles, and reasonably accurate translations or résumés of lyrics, and of course adequate proof-reading.  The buyer will be properly disappointed on all these counts.

The compiler and annotator, Ian Nagoski, who is also responsible for the audio transfers, would seem to have taken upon himself the messianic role of discoverer and promulgator of 78 rpm recordings of 'ethnic' music, more particularly music made in, or listened to in, North America by the various nationalities which immigrated to the United States from the territories of the former Ottoman Empire.  His various forays onto the internet scene convey a discourse somewhat reminiscent of the colonialist explorers of yore, for whom the discovered hardly existed until it was discovered, whereafter it belonged by right to the discoverer, who pre-empted the interpretative discourse.  The liner notes are peppered with expletives, for example five occurrences of the f- word, giving the impression that the writer is inflamed with a rage which spills over into his mythologised version of what in fact is already a myth, namely the accounts of rebetika presented during the 1960s and 1970s at a time when it, perhaps understandably, served as a coded symbol of revolt and dissension during the period of the military junta.  Even if one accepts that the records and the music were listened to by poorer strata of Greek society, it is equally true that most of the records were made, not by hash-smoking bums, but by extremely competent, often musically literate, professional musicians, whose lives centred around making music for a living.  Some may have used drugs, many didn't.  Of the approximately 5,000 'rebetiko' recordings made during the 78 rpm era, only about 300 referred to drugs.  Those 5,000 recordings comprise between a quarter and a fifth of all 78 rpm recordings of Greek music included in the above-mentioned Maniatis discography.  There was clearly a market, which could hardly solely consist of people living in mud hovels as implied by Nagoski.

The lyrics of rebetika were of disparate origins.  In a few cases - I think particularly of Markos Vamvakaris, not represented here - it might possibly be reasonable to talk of a self-expressing singer-songwriter, although the concept is somewhat anachronistic, as the media phenomenon of singer-songwriters with a 'message' emerged decades later with Bob Dylan.  In many cases the lyrics were written by professional lyricists, and their subject matter was often clearly chosen and tailored to suit the expectations of a known audience, rather than to express something of which a lyricist wanted to convince her or his audience.  Certainly we find in this music passion, pain, humour, eroticism, satire, and references to drugs and crime - but hardly the violent, murderous, inter-class hatred implied here for suspectly sensationalist reasons.

As already noted, most of the recordings here, with the possible exception of one or two, have been previously reissued commercially, either on LP or CD, or as purchasable online digital files, although admittedly in many cases in Greek language contexts.  The acceptable excuses for reissuing them here once more can be two: to present them in even better sound quality, and to make them available and comprehensible to an English-speaking public.  The first goal is not reached - the sound is mostly good, but not categorically better that what is otherwise available.  Neither is the second goal reached - available yes, comprehensible - no.  A less acceptable excuse is to use them as an arbitrary vehicle for self-aggrandisement, which sadly seems to be the case here.

One can approach the 'other' from at least two existentially opposite directions.  'Orientalism' - the more or less superficial fascination with, and reification of, the exotic - is at least an expression of ethnocentrism, and at its worst perhaps a more or less camouflaged form of contemptuous xenophobia.  Perhaps part of its source is boredom with the familiar.  To approach the 'other' with another kind of curiosity - with the desire to understand empathetically the existential universe of the other, on the other's own terms, is a more demanding stance.  Perhaps some of my vitriolic reactions to this production stem from my instinctive distaste for the former approach.

Finally - an unfortunate omission - it's never a bad idea when reissuing historical recordings to include whatever discographical information one has, in case someone is interested.  It doesn't take much space.  If one has the discs, then the catalogue and matrix numbers are on them, and they are the surest way of dating a recording.  Giving putative recording dates without those figures is potentially unreliable.  I miss the data in this case, as I have in other issues from the same compiler.

So - is it worth buying Bed of Pain?  If you are a vinyl fetishist of a younger generation, with no access to the mass of Greek LP reissues from about 1972, with an incurable aversion to CDs, and you are dying to have a few Greek 78s reissued on vinyl, albeit not in pure analogue form as the remastering has passed through the digital domain, go ahead, but please don't be misled to believe all you will read therein.

If it's the music itself you're interested in, then there is a goldmine of excellent CD reissues, from both English-language and native Greek companies, of which the 44 CDs hitherto compiled by Charles Howard will more than suffice for most English-speaking people's needs both in terms of music and annotations.

On the other hand, if you don't happen to have any or all of the songs on the LP in one format or another, you will probably find a few gems to enjoy, despite the serious criticisms expressed in this review.

Tony Klein - 6.6.12


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