My Tribute to Vangelis

Vangelis in his Nemo Studio circa early 1980’s

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.

Leo Kottke

I saw Leo Kottke perform at the Ludlow Garage in Cincinnati this past Thursday. It was an excellent show. Some 50+ years into his career, he continues to perform at an inspiring level with ample doses of humor and self deprecation. This guy is a treasure. His music should be savored and enjoyed.

Klaus Schulze

Today, Klaus Schulze passed away. Yet another pivotal musician has transitioned to the next stage.

Mr. Schulze was a pioneer in electronic music, playing briefly in Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel before becoming a very prolific solo artist who released a wealth of instrumental synthesizer music. His masterpiece, “Timewind”, was a touchstone for so many musicians and remains my favorite of his works. I also love the more recent collaborations he did with Lisa Gerrard.

Klaus Schulze joins a growing list of musicians who have passed that were key elements to the soundtrack of my life, reminding me of the brevity of life. I am very grateful for the musical legacy and inspiration.

Current listening and what’s going on in the studio

Been looping and creating thick walls of lushness to vamp over….not sure where this is going but it feels good.

I’ve been listening to lots of the following. I share this because….why not….

  • The Beatles: Primarily “Revolver”, “Rubber Soul”, “Abbey Road”, and “Let It Be”. This is a direct result of watching the “Get Back” documentary on Disney+ this past November/December. I’m good for going down a Beatles “rabbit hole” every few years but that documentary kept me in the hole for several months. I love the Beatles and have since I was a kid. They are and will always be the apex of Rock and Roll creativity. The minute someone says that The Beatles are overrated, I tune out…no way! Led Zeppelin will always be my favorite band but The Beatles were generational game changers.
  • George Harrison – “All Things Must Pass”: See above. This is my favorite post-Beatles solo album by any of the former Fab Four.
  • Brandi Carlile – “By The Way, I Forgive You”: My stepbrother has been a huge fan of hers for sometime so I gave her a listen and…WOW!. What a voice….what great songs…I love her!
  • Majid Bekkas – “African Gnaoua Blues”: A Moroccan multi-instrumentalist who melds North African music with American blues brilliantly.

Recent Reading: “Running with the Devil”

I just completed reading “Running with the Devil” by Noel Monk. He was the business manager of Van Halen from 1978 though 1984 when Van Halen were, arguably, the biggest and most successful Rock band on the planet.

The book is a pretty easy read and offers a glimpse into the world of big time Rock and Roll in the 70’s and 80’s, an era of major money, ego, debauchery, and musical genius…an era that is long gone.

Full disclosure: I was a HUGE Van Halen fan. I was of the prime age when VH came about. Listening to their 1st album as a 12 year old kid was truly life-changing. Eddie Van Halen (may he be at peace) was a major musical influence on me. Through my high school years, it truly felt like VH were the kings of the world and the rest of us just paid rent. They were that big.

The book is an account of the rise and fall of the bands original line-up from the perspective of the manager. It recounts some very salacious moments in the bands history. It is a “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll” tale that would have been the stuff of fantasy in my younger days.

Taking into account that it is one person’s perspective on a shared history and all the potential emotion that likely skews the telling of such a story, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it, if for nothing else than a historical lesson of a music business world that is long gone. However, my younger self’s misguided fantasies aside, I found myself being very uncomfortable and saddened by the book which, in a weird way, was an emotional response I was grateful to experience. When I was a budding wanna-be Rock star, I romanticized the idea of drugs and sex. That was, after all, the big pay off for being a Rock and Roller, right?!?!…However, having long learned that a lifestyle of promiscuous sex and drugs can lead to catastrophic ends, I was left feeling very sad about this story of the band I idolized in my younger days. This is in sharp contrast to how I would have viewed the story if I had read it some 30 plus years ago. Back then, it would have inspired and aroused me. Today, as a much older and wiser person, I was saddened…and I’m grateful for this.