Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis, passed away in Paris on May 17th, 2022 at the age of 79. To much of the world, his name is unknown. His music has been heard by millions, likely without the listener knowing the name of the artist, via movie soundtracks, TV commercial, or some parody of his most successful composition, the Oscar-winning soundtrack to “Chariots of Fire”. Even amongst his legions of fans, not a whole lot is known about him outside of his musical output (even, in some quarters, the proper pronunciation of his name). He was a private man who, likely unintentionally, created a mystique. He was also a brilliant musician who, along with the likes of Klaus Schulze (also passed away this year), Tangerine Dream, and Jean Michel Jarre, innovated the use of synthesizers that paved the way for a myriad of genres, styles, and techniques, affected both popular music and film soundtracks. It is fair to say that popular music would have evolved much differently without Vangelis. It is a certainty that my own life would have evolved much differently without Vangelis. This is my tribute to him.
When I was 10 years old, I was introduced to two albums that sent my interest in music into overdrive. The 1st was “Alive” by Kiss which spawned a life-long love with Rock and Roll. The other album was Vangelis’ “Heaven and Hell”. On the face of it, these albums seem completely contradictory to each other in style (and they are through the prism of genre, image, and marketing). And how I came about the albums were complete different as well. I discovered Kiss on my own via the packaging of the album and thinking “what are these guys all about?”. With Vangelis, that was my Dad playing that album on his car cassette deck repeatedly. I remember thinking how majestic and cinematic the music was. I loved it from the moment I first heard it.
Through my teen years, my taste in music expanded. My love for Rock took me to heavier genres. But my equal love for ethereal elements that I 1st found in Vangelis led me to the likes of Eno, Tangerine Dream, and Kitaro. But Vangelis was always at the forefront of my taste in what I perceived to be “that” branch of my musical taste (I now make no differentiation between genre and such. Music is like flavors for the ears and heart). I bought every Vangelis album from his debut through his mid-80’s output. I also went so far as to see movies that I probably would never have seen just because Vangelis did the soundtrack work. “Chariots of Fire”, “The Bounty”, “Missing” and such. His soundtrack work was remarkable and such an influence on me. The ultimate soundtrack he did, in my opinion, is “Blade Runner” in 1982. The movie is my all-time favorite movie because it is a phenomenal story but it is also the perfect match of cinematic visual grandeur and equally grand music. I will go as far as to say this is the greatest marriage of music, visuals, and story in all of movie history.
As a musician, an aspect of Vangelis’s work that inspired me was his staunch independence. He invested in his own studio in the mid-70’s when it was truly an investment. He wrote, produced, and performed his own music with little help from others. The collaborations he did have were usually with vocalist like Jon Anderson from Yes. His independence showed that one could create without compromise. I took his example as permission to try to do the same in my own creative efforts.
There are so many memories I have where Vangelis’ music was the soundtrack of…long road trips in the desert with “The City” playing on the stereo….romantic nights with my wife with “Opera Sauvage” on the turntable….countless viewing of every cut of “Blade Runner”, studying the music cues in detail….those formative days in the back of my Dad’s car listening to “Heaven and Hell” while we drove along the California coast. There are countless more memories with Vangelis’ music as the soundtrack.
While Vangelis and Kiss were my initial introduction to music, I have long lost interest in Kiss. Vangelis, however, has been a constant throughout my life. As such, I can say that his music has been a factor in my life longer than any other artist. It has truly been a lifelong love affair between me and his music. I will miss him.
Thank you Vangelis for a lifetime of joy.