Friday, October 21, 2005

Molloy sings the blues.

American music is everywhere Molloy goes. He hopes for a bit of bouzouki, some kithara, a tabor, a pipe.

What does he hear: this morning on the way to Athens airport, winding up a tour of ancient sites at Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, Epidaurus, under a blue sky, industrial landscape with oil-refinery smokstacks smoking their smoky smoke, over the music system at a gas station rest area, swimming (Molloy, that is) in a styrofoam cappucino (shameless compromise with the divinities of ceramic for which Molloy expects to pay dearly in some future life), "Respect"! Yes, "Sock it to me--R-E-S-P-E-C-T--Aw, Baby!" That is what he heard. He closed his eyes and heard the USA, the heart of its musical soul given life by people from far away, giving their gift to others just as far away, worldwide.

And now, Crete's Internet Cafe Nightlife: rock and roll! What could just as well be purely American teenagers at the counter (except that their English is somewhat limited--but that's also like American teenagers), really LOUD music, girlish screams, cigarettes, the sexy once-overs from Grecian girls who somehow don't look anything like the noble ladies of Phidian construction--but then, he was an idealist, and the new world order wasn't even a dream yet in the glint of Bob Dylan's mother's eyes. These Stones, nearly as archaic as those rolled, winched, and piled at Mycenae, are still just as compelling.

It occurs to Molloy that perhaps the tide has shifted and American kids, whose music has stormed the world into every nook and cranny, are beginning to imitate their foreign brethren and sistern, those deepest of children who know enough English to greet the foreigner happily, but not enough to carry on much of a conversation (though more than Molloy can boast in the way of modern Greek). So, our American children know little enough English--they greet us happily, innocently, less articulate than the princess who graciously takes Odysseus to her parents' palace.

And what has Molloy to offer in this world of rock and roll, Greek teenage girls perennially smoking and chatting coyly, gigglishly with the smoking, heavy-faced Greek boys pretending to be interested in the computer so they can get to the girls' keyboards and play their one-finger tunes in the treble and bass?

Molloy has his own music, his own mentality, free from spiritual anguish and thrashing of the recent generation. Molloy's terrors have either evaporated into the air, or burrowed so deeply--one is up in the air as to which constitutes maturity and/or wisdom, take your choice.

At any rate, Molloy broke into song at the ruins of Epidaurus, before the Temple of Aesclepius, a tune not entirely his own, but characteristic of his wide-ranging spiritual and aesthetic eclecticism. You know the melody. Sing along here, let the world spirit enter us all and cleanse, oh cleanse, that dark night of the soul under which we struggle in this vale of tears, loss, war, corruption. Etc. etc. But the song, complete with slashes to indicate line breaks, as in the best poems: "We are Siamese, if you please./ We are Siamese, if you don't please./ We are former residents of Siam./ There are no finer cats than we am."

Molloy's memory may have suffered a tiny glitch, but the melody is anchored indelibly in his mind, permanent as punch holes in notebook paper. Permanent as that universal soul, Men Tal (about whom more in the future--he appears mysteriously, disappears without warning or reason, throws his wisdom on the water like a fly fisher, looping his slender line in graceful arcs to catch Molloy off guard, leaving him never less enlightened but wondering, really, whether he is more), Men Tal, who was last seen perusing the tourist guide at the Theater of Dionysius, taking up drama again where it started so long ago, making tragic-comic mask faces at passers by, who gawked back, tragically or comically, depending on the states of their own souls, or suspiciously avoided altogether Men Tal's wise strength.

"We are looking over our new domicile," those feline seductresses continued, "And if we like, we maybe stay for quite awhile."

In the smaller villages, some Greek music, people who keep to themselves. In the cities, endless amounts of American popular music. Molloy intends no irony when he notes the spread of this legacy--it spreads because American rebellion and dissatisfaction with the restrictions of a traditional mentality must find resonances.

Heraklion--city of ancient echoes. But the music has turned to modern Greek. The tiny streets clang with it, the shopkeepers stand in front of their stores the very way they must have done 2,000 (or more) years ago. We have seen, at site after site, 10x14 spaces which were for the ancient shopkeepers, just like stores in a row, their pruning tools, or shoes, or skirts, or sides of lamb, goat or pork hanging in the night air.

In the theater at Epidaurus, a circle in the center of the stage marked the spot from which a speaker could be heard in the backmost rows, speaking at little more than a normal tone of voice.

Could Molloy resist? A captive audience--several hundred tourists, scattered about in their various groups, entertaining each other with mostly Greek folk songs, intoned from that magic spot, followed by applause, even from those relatively few listeners (given a theater with an ancient capacity of, probably, several thousand), that thundered from the marble seats. Could Molloy resist offering his own world-soul anthem--"If we like we maybe stay here quite awhile?" Why not? An audience of mixed language backgrounds; a simple lyric; a sentiment that effectively renders the philosophy of anyone, from infant to Alexander the Great. And Molloy's mellifluous vocal chords? And the spectre of Men Tal? And applause so electrifying that, like lightning, Molloy could hear its crackle later from ruins some distance away. What was Molloy to do? A woman in black, and a man in his eighties sang. The audience thundered. A girl with a nearly operatic voice sang. The audience thundered. Their enthusiasm rolled back and forth off mountains miles away. Asian tourists photographed each other, held cameras at arms' length and photographed themselves, set cameras on the ground and self-timered themselves. Smiles rampaged, laughter whipped this way and that, hats were lifted off heads and dashed playfully to the dirt, shouts and yelps of encouragement rolled down from spectators who could barely be seen they were so high. A tour guide held out his hat for tips after telling a joke. The audience thundered. Nubian girls danced, mimes tested the acoustical properties of silence, gymnasts flipped forward and flopped backward, lions came out roaring--the audience thundered--Molloy wondered--should he bring the festivities to a climax with the Song of the Siamese Cats? Odysseus gave special consideration to the bard. Milton took the gifts of raw marble brought to him every night by the muses and hammered them into Paradise Lost. Should Molloy seize the day, the moment, this opening into another dimension, that lay before him?

Molloy held his peace, and the gods assembled in expectation nodded their approval. For the true singer, occasions come and come again.


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