CULTURE

2,004 songs for eternal youth

People like to cling in everlasting attachment to cherished aspects of their youth – i.e. records, books, and beloved films – but life’s burdens tend to sink in and diminish these aspirations. Veteran music authority Yiannis Petridis has held on to his youth. His vast collection of records – one of Europe’s largest – films and books remain an integral part of the man’s life. A definitive voice on foreign rock music here during the country’s dry radio days of the 1970s, Petridis began transmitting his vast knowledge to listeners nearly three decades ago. His radio-friendly voice can still be heard over the airwaves on state-radio ERA’s «From 4 to 5» (formerly «Pop Club»), which has been running for 28 years. Petridis also continues to publish articles in «Pop and Rock,» a long-running monthly magazine he co-founded. Moreover, he is also director of Virgin Records’ Greek branch, a post he prefers to keep under wraps. He is less secretive, however, about his right to vote at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, the American music industry’s influential meritocracy tool. He is just one of a handful of Europeans given the privilege. His latest initiative, «Songs of the Century» (Anatolikos Press), a musical encyclopedia for which the music guru has culled his 2,004 all-time favorite pop songs and related behind-the-scenes trivia, has just been released. Aren’t you tired after all these years? I belong to a generation that wants to get its hands onto books, one that sifts through book and record stores. When I abandon the music industry, which I’m seriously thinking about doing, I’m going to refocus on newspapers and books. The way things have developed, I’m no longer interested in the music industry. I’m glad I was around for its better days. Though you still keep on top of new releases, your book’s selections are ’60s-dominated. Well, internationally, lots of significant things happened at the time. We’d just emerged from a world war and Europe was beginning to stand on its feet. Listeners were uneasy and demanding. In contrast, we’ve lived in relative comfort over the past two decades. The public’s become flabby-minded. You could ask whether tough times are necessary for good music and films. Yes, they play a role… Artistic interest and inspiration for innovation seem to be on the decline. That’s because everything is contracted, easier, and hastier. Let’s not forget that we’ve virtually experienced everything. Something new would have to come along, like rock’n’roll. Of course, we’ve had plenty of sub-movements like punk, disco, rap, hip-hop – a significant movement which did not register when it emerged in the 1980s – and electronic music. We live in an era where multinationals control films and music. Therefore, along the find-a-hit-quickly line of thinking, songs molded for instant success need to be made. Even an artist’s appearance is standardized. Is Greek music heading the same way? Naturally. We’re copying reality shows to discover short-lived, six-month stars. Many of these kids taking part have great voices. But it would be better for them if they established themselves the way others have. Even Madonna went through hard times to become what we see today. Hasn’t this imitation become unbearable? They’re mimicking Sakis Rouvas who mimicked Ricky Martin and so on. It’s no better in England. That’s where it all started with the promotion of boy bands or girl groups – ephemeral pop. A similar thing happened with the Monkeys in the ’60s, but it occurred just once. Nowadays there are millions of the same thing. Producers have come to use television to exploit thousands of kids. Last year, the British charts were saturated with local idols who emerged from shows such as these [reality shows]. In other words, English music was regionalized again. But good singers do exist in our commercial music domain. What, then, is the problem? Composers don’t exist. Past songwriters like Moutsis and Xarhakos have offered their share. Music’s history has taught me that composers, singers, and lyricists have a limit. It’s an accomplishment to last 20 years. There are good younger singers, like Lidakis and Makedonas, but what are they supposed to sing? We’re seeing companies merge and create monopolies… You haven’t seen anything yet! We’re going to see alarming things over the next two years. We’re now talking about five multinationals: Universal, EMI, BMG – which closed down in Greece because of low sales – Warner, and Sony, which control almost 90 percent of the world music industry. But the rise of pop music was ushered in by small labels and daring producers. Here, too, we had visionary figures in the music industry, such as Patsifas and Matsas. Numerous small labels once existed abroad, like Berry Gordy’s Motown, Stax, which created the soul scene, Sun, which established Elvis Presley, and many others. All these were eventually taken over by multinationals in the 1970s and the independent era vanished globally. I predict that the current five multinationals will become three, or perhaps two, over the next two years. The Big Brother of music may already be in the making. Music’s monopoly The consequences? Chaos. As an artist, it’s an entirely different thing to have 15 doors to knock on instead of two or three. Big labels have already dropped significant artists from their rosters. I believe that a new generation of independent labels will emerge. Is the Internet a solution? Maybe. But, up till now, things have shown that those who have offered their music for distribution over the Internet did not get the expected commercial results. Let’s not fool ourselves! Quality artists or not, they all want to sell. The objective, then, over the Internet has not been realized. Radio can still play a role. A new singer, though, probably needs television exposure. With good looks and dancing skills as prerequisites. Can that be done simultaneously? Not unless its a playback. In other words, it’s got to be a scam… Do you believe the pessimists who predict that record shops won’t exist in a few years time? We’re already seeing the accumulation of power at chain outlets. The supermarket situation is worse… I think bad music is responsible for piracy. Good albums are affected by lower piracy rates. Do today’s 16-year-olds have anything in common with those of the ’70s? When I see 16-year-olds take part in demonstrations to protest against all we do to them, then I’ll believe that something will change. I’m not saying they should burn cars, but react. You can’t be a rebel from the living room. That’s why I was glad to see the first reactions against globalization. Which of all the famous figures whom you’ve met have you been most impressed by? As people, I was charmed by Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Hammill. I was disappointed by George Michael. During one of our conversations, I told him that Johnny Mathis was one of my favorite singers. He told me that he considered him a joke, and refuses to listen to him. An experience you remember? The three days I spent with David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the ’70s traveling around Greece in a small Austin which I had at the time. My dear late friend Mikis Corinthios was with us. We went to various archaeological sites, like Mycenae, which all visitors ask to see. I lived a similar experience with David Byrne and Suzanna Baca, a superb vocalist who is sociopolitically aware. They were here for the WOMAD festival and asked me to take them out to Sounion. On the way, I told them the story of Icarus. They loved it. We incidentally heard «I’m an Eagle without Wings» by [Grigoris] Bithikotsis on the radio. Byrne was speechless. He doesn’t know any Greek, but wanted to find out «whose voice is that?»