Dispatches from Kuwait: Soul Combat in Modern Greece (Part Two)
Here is the conclusion to last month’s ‘Dispatches from Kuwait: Soul Combat in Modern Greece’ piece by William Hastings as he searches for Vangelis…
Once, while living on the island of St. John I got into an argument with Kenny Chesney. Near one in the morning at the bar I went to for drinks after work each day, I had gone up to him, cutting in neatly between he and the girl he had come in with and slammed my beer on the counter. I told him that I thought that he was the Britney Spears of country music and I asked him why his music had no balls.
Not everyone has to be Johnny Cash, he had said.
No, youre right. But you could have some integrity, I had replied.
Walking that long road in the sun, looking up at the white washed homes above me, Vangelis somewhere, this memory passed through me and I felt the same about Vangelis.
Certainly he has the right to produce whatever type of music he feels like. Certainly he has the right to refer to himself by one name. But if you are going to create music, truly create it like any other art, why add to the mountains of soul-sucking art already out there? If in the act of creation men achieve the powers of gods as Nietzsche tells us, then why become a force of evil? Why create something without soul in a world already isolated, alienated and plastic? There is a fine line between the sublime and beautiful but there is a clear and large line between what is good and what is shit.
And his shit had stolen an hour of my life. There was no gate. Of course, that is exactly how it would be. An artist of the people would be the reason he would give in an interview or write in his journal. He would keep a journal too, laying it neatly on the desk that would invariably be in the bedroom, the desk sitting beneath an open window. He wouldnt read his journal to anyone but he would be the type to think privately about what the title it should have when they publish it along with his memoirs. Memoirs that hopefully would explain the presence of all those birds, birds whose chirping and squawking greeted me at his house instead of a gate.
The house was fairly unassuming. Perched atop a small outcropping, just far back off of the road enough to hint at privacy, it was like most of the other homes on Naxos, small without being cramped, windowed heavily with trees filling the yard. It gave off an air of respite, of moving air, of time. Encircling the house were cages of rare birds, some of the species I recognized, others I didnt. There was definitely a pair of peacocks in a long rectangular cage sitting on the edge of the cliff. Peacocks are good watchdogs and at the instant I saw them I froze. I didnt want to hear their screeching, a screeching I was all too familiar with from another assignment I had been on in Kuwait. I was standing to the side of the house, reconnaissance, and turned slowly around, creeping back towards the front.
A small pebble walkway lined by shrubs ran up towards the front door, to its right a small garage separate from the main house. The scent of hibiscus and lemon crossed the air. A pair of old lemon trees stood in-between the garage and the house and I could envision Vangelis coming out in the morning with a spray bottle in his right hand, a thin gold bracelet dangling from the wrist, to spray the budding fruit. He would squeeze the trigger of the bottle firmly, but with care, perhaps talking to the lemons. Spraying one lemon he would gently curve his palm beneath another, draw it up, inhale its sharp rind smell, palm it and look at the sky. In this moment, staring into the sky with the sea around him and his peacocks rustling in their cages and a lemon in his hand, I see Vangelis deciding on the fate of his Self for that day. He would decide, in the third person, what Vangelis wanted out of the day and what Vangelis would bring out of the day. The day does not bring anything to Vangelis, he would think, Vangelis decides the day.
The sun was just beginning to break off from its noontime peak and I knew that I had to act. I felt the weight of the small Jansport duffle bag in my right hand, my tools were ready. I breathed. I desired. I took the first step down the pebble walkway towards the front door. In the half second of dying before my fist hit the door to knock, a speaker hissed somewhere above my head and said, You may come in. I have been expecting you. Looking up towards the sound all I could see was a spider plant hanging from the center of the ceiling in the tiny alcove that surrounded the front door.
I pushed the heavy front door open and stepped into the foyer. Instantly, I was struck by the sea light and the sounds of thousands of synthesizers drifting and floating. The house seemed to be synthesizers, there was no separation of space and sound, the house was sound, the couches at the far end of the space in front of me vibrated the pulse of electronic choruses, the walls played melodic counterpoint. Vangelis home did not struggle beneath the weight of the music, but seemed to float along with it as it opened itself towards the windows and ocean. Visions of half-pink clouds and ice cream cones with sprinkles on them came to me. Was he attacking me?
On the floor of the foyer there were Baluchi carpets laid end to end walking the visitor back towards what, from the angle of the foyer, could be a living room or sun room. Everywhere there was the light of the sea, the smell of flowers and above the music, the birds. I could see to my right, back off of the foyer slightly a small library with a sparse desk, a letter writing desk. His memoirs would not be in there. Past that towards the left was the kitchen. Nowhere did I see a human.
I walked slowly forwards and turned into the library. He was obviously in no hurry to greet me and proper reconnaissance requires getting an understanding of the terrain. Beyond that, his library would be good insight into his psychology, a deeper knowledge of which I could use to my advantage. In soul-warfare, in this great battle between the forces of The Right and The Bland, it is essential to know the flat and empty hearts of the enemy so that we can predict their next move and cut them off at the pass. It is high time The Right moved ahead of The Bland in terms of assault, forcing them into the shadows and hindsight. Remember that at one point Led Zeppelin was popular music and Vladimir Nabokov was read by housewives. Today we have Vangelis and
Nicholas Sparks.. Nicholas Sparks. The name stared out at me from the bookshelf. I was in a pit of hell. There must be smoke, there must be fire. There wasnt. Just the electronic hum of synthesizers sounding so much like mutant sheep and these walls of Nicholas Sparks. I kept my eye on the binding of the book as I slowly bent down to open my duffle bag afraid that it might grow and climb out of the shelf and attack me. After all, the enemy, no matter how evil, is still smart, otherwise they would not have gained ground in The Fight. Beyond that, being harbingers of the apocalypse and beasts of hell, the book could possess supernatural powers I was not aware of, powers my two-week study of Satanism might have missed.
Slowly, ninja-like and precise, I unzipped my duffle bag. I pulled out a pair of latex-gloves, surgical grade, and put them on never once taking my eyes off of the book. It may have moved or it may have sung in tune with the music still filling the air. It was denial defined to have thought that Vangelis had only assaulted my time and soul in that hour at the ballet, Vangelis hovers everywhere, like a cipher of blood or a symbol. I zipped the duffle bag shut and reached out for the book, hoping that the latex would prevent me from contamination. My soul was strong and shielded, but could they infect me through the skin? Syphilis attacks the brain through the blood first, what would contact with this do? And I had to answer my question. Opening the book to the title page, my answer was there, solidified for eternity in ink: _To Vangelis _
_Thanks for all the support and enthusiasm. Youre a great friend and sharer of ideas. Your friendship is something so much like dew on morning grass and hope. May we continue this path together. _
_Nick _ I quickly shut the book and put it back. Handling hazardous material for too long increases the risk of exposure. I took a step back. In-between the book I had just put back and another by Nicholas Sparks was a folded piece of paper, tucked in, laying on its side. I took it out and opened it up. Vangelis,
I have not heard from you in some time and I worry. I know this is about my decision to do a project with Miley Cyrus and not you. I told you when we last had a lunch together that I would work with you soon too, but that I was interested There was no need to go on. Anymore and the effects could be permanent. I put the letter back. I had all I needed to know.
The foyer was still filled with light, the afternoon light the Cycladic Islands are so famous for. A light that is at once open and old, a part of a longer thread, a greater essence. For what are we if we are not tapping into that essence? What are we if we add something to that essence that hides or cheapens its immediate beauty, even when that beauty carries dark weight? As I walked towards the rear of the house I noticed that there were paintings on the wall, all attempts at abstraction. But they were abstract for the sake of being abstract and did not contain any sense of movement or idea. In the corner of each was Vangelis signature, so unmistakable in its delusion of grandeur.
Turn to your left, open the door and head up the stairs, a voice said, seeming to come out of the synthesizer sound and not from any distinct spot.
I ascended the stairs slowly. I took my latex gloves off because I needed to maintain cover.
The door at the top of the stairs opened with ease.
The door at the top of the stairs opened into a wall of synthesized screams.
Hell. Vangelis was behind a massive desk, almost like a mixing console, but with hundreds of keyboards and synthesizers in stacks all around it, wires like Medusas hair yearning outwards for any available space, twisting. This desk was in front of a great window overlooking the sea and Vangelis back was towards me. He was sweating heavily through his white linen shirt, a ponytail of grey pulled tightly back. His back arched and heaved, lolling and tossing his head from side to side with each humping motion, a bobble-head on methamphetamines. Vangelis arms were splayed out on the sides, moving from one keyboard to the next, his fingers crawling across the keys like skeletons dancing, gold chains dangling from the wrists. As the door shut behind me, his head snapped back and he laughed.
Vangelis Silver Hall, he said. Vangelis space of creation.
I know who you are, my informant told me.
The girl. I took the note out of my pocket and opened it. I called ahead for you. Good luck. Was this a trap?
You may interview Vangelis, he said. Vangelis appreciates your crossing a desert for him.
Hubris. Begin phase one, I thought. I am indeed a great fan, I said, trying not to choke on the last word. Sacrifice.
Vangelis has many great fans, he said, still swaying and punching the keys. Do you like my library
It was interesting. One could write a book on the choices in there.
Perhaps one day you will. Vangelis works in sound. You work in words.
Amongst other things.
Vangelis knows. I had to shift away from where this was headed.
So this is your recording technique? Play as many as you can and get the sound on a multi-track machine? I asked.
Vangelis wants to capture all sound, for Vangelis created all sound, he said.
Vangelis swung around in his chair. He is a thick man, the thickness being born of the idleness of the indolent and self-consumed. His white linen shirt was open halfway down his chest, a gold chain like the snake that tempted Eve crawled beneath the chest hair and ending in a large circular pendant. A pinky ring on his left hand squeezed around the finger encasing it like a sausage. Around the recording desk were mood crystals and incense holders. Bottles of unopened purified water and candles. The air smelled clean or filled with death. He rose from the chair slowly.
Vangelis is working on his masterpiece. Vangelis will call it Poeme Choreographique and it will become the anthem of nations. Well, I thought, brace yourself.
When did you begin it?
The day Vangelis was born.
And when was that? For the record, you know.
The same day the world began to come into being. Vangelis is the transition from ignorance to bliss. Vangelis is.
He then walked towards me, not such much stepping as deciding.
He looked into my eyes. I saw nothing in his.
Vangelis does not sign autographs.
Thats okay, I didnt want one. Just an interview and answers to questions about your arI mean, craft.
Vangelis has told you everything. Be in the presence of Vangelis and have your questions answered.
He then turned back around and sat in his chair facing me. This was to be the rest of the interview, the two of us in this room, perhaps locked in for eternity so that I could just be in his presence and his presence would speak to me. His presence, like so many others, does speak to us and what it says speaks volumes about some of the things that lurk in the human heart. His presence then, also serves as a warning telling us just what man is capable of if we are not what he is.
His vanity soaring, it was time.
I came for another reason, Vangelis, I said.
Only Vangelis can say Vangelis. It is too powerful a name for you to pronounce, he said.
But Nicholas Sparks says your name, I said.
Nichols Sparks is one of us. So is Kenny Chesney, he replied.
I know, I know. He told me himself.
Look. Your music stole an hour out of my life and I want you to apologize for that.
You want Vangelis to apologize for his music?
Yes. That is exactly what I want.
Never. Vangelis does not apologize.
You stole an hour out of my life, an hour out of my soul. How many others have been forced to listen to your music and had pieces of themselves stolen? How many? How many? I screamed, agitated beyond care.
Vangelis has many fans, Vangelis said calmly.
Why do you create this crap when youre a human, or were a human, or resemble a human and at the last then have the ability to create Good and Soul?
Vangelis does not create crap.
But you do, you and Chesney and Sparks and Kincaid and Cyrus and all the rest. You add nothing new to the soul, you just rework whats already been done better and water it down and soften it so it is easier to take, cheapening the human experience.
Vangelis will not tolerate this insolence.
Before he could react I sprung at him, driving my fist into his solar plexus. I heard the sound of air escaping, knew his heart had jumped at the impact, stunning him. I ripped the zipper of the duffle bag open, took out a set of police-gauge Plexi-Cuffs and zipped them down on his wrists. I took a roll of duct tape out and wrapped his shoeless feet to the chair legs. His pupils had dilated, he was breathing heavily.
Apologize Vangelis, this is your last chance.
I have to give it to him, even in pain, full of fear and the unknown, he just shook his head at me. His head began to droop.
There was a single deck Nakamichi in a stack of components to the studios sound system. I pulled a mix tape out of my bag, a mix specifically arranged for this, and put it in. I had made the mix on a Nakamichi deck, which meant to my luck, that the playback would be perfect here. I turned the stereo on. I turned the volume up.
I had to run away from his house because it had burst into flames. Too many horrors had been created there for too long and had seeped like ectoplasm into the walls. When the reverberations of all that bottom-end I played hit the walls, they had begun to shake. Towards the end of the tape, the walls began to smoke. A smoke that grew and thickened, rolling out of the windows in black volcanic clumps while the birds screamed in their death throes.
My clothes still smell like that smoke and I hope that the ticket taker doesnt question it. Ill tell him I was camping. Its almost time for the train and I am ready to ride. I am ready to run.
Across from me is a woman reading US Weekly, the glossy of legalized stalking. Her child is crawling beneath her feet. She is paying no attention to the little girl. The little girl stops every few movements and looks up at her mother, but the mothers eyes are glued to the rag shes reading. Miley Cyrus is on the cover. I sigh and for a second, a split second, feel like I have only won a small victory in a much larger battle, a battle so large that it is hopeless. But then I remember Vangelis face as his house began to burn down around him and I smile
I killed him with Soul.