A Great Book for Dancers and Music Lovers: “The Fall of Athens”
Every once in a while, reading a book is like sitting down and drinking wine with an old friend. The Fall of Athens makes the reader feel as though they are face to face with the author Gail Holst-Warhaft sharing glass after glass of sweet pink wine on a warm summer night.
Years ago Gail wrote Road to Rembetika. This book comes with an amazing music compilation of Greek “blues” popular in the 1930s.
It is “the first and most thorough account of the music known as Rembetica”. This book and music collection is still highly revered. Even those of us who do not understand Greek can perceive the beauty of songs like “Make Up a Bed” by Vassilis Tsitsanis. You can hear some of these Greek songs you can belly dance to on the The Belly Dance Body and Soul Spotify playlist.
In this new book of poetry and prose, Gail takes us to a land where “incurable grief” is sung, dictators create revolutionaries as they rise and fall from power, and choruses are conducted in prisons on the sea. Gail candidly shares how her hands trembled while she stood in the epicenter of the vibrant Greek music scene. She documents how unrehearsed concerts blossomed between hangover naps and dinner, and how she has watched Greek dancers spiral inward toward the abyss.
The hours spent absorbing this important book allow us to step into the skin of sailors, singers, and dancers who saw the beauty available to all of us even in the most horrific conditions. As a guide, Gail does not care to classify music or art as “high” or “low”. It just is. She writes as a friend of Greece rather than as an unattached historian.
Gail takes the reader into the dusty living rooms of aging musicians who steal our hearts. She takes us with her to parties with poets and prisoners, seasoned by torture. All the while, Gail gives us a peek of what it was like to make a music documentary, go on tour with rock stars, translate for a political dissident at a press conference, and gently battle anything standing in between her and the music she loves. And some of the most precious moments of the book are when Gail reveals her own self-doubt. How she never thought she was good enough to share stages with the musical heroes of the country she loves so dearly…but she did it anyway.
Even when she has every reason to flaunt her countless connections and accolades, Gail never pretends to be anything but an outsider observing life as it unfolds. Her perspective brings clarity to the chaos of ancient Greece, the recent past and present day. Gail’s endearing narration allows the reader to feel they are connecting to her fascinating friends personally. And we also encounter mythological beings and exotic locations with names only vaguely familiar to most. In this connection there is music that can make any one of us dance as if we are talking to the stars. Read this book, and you will look at music and dance in a way you never have before. It is a gem.
More amazing songs you may want to discover from the Road to Rembetika:
1. Down in Lemonadiko (The Pick-pockets) by Vangelis Papazoglu, performed by Rosa Eskenazi 2. Hariklaki by Panayiotis Toundas, performed by Rosa Eskenazi 3. The Voice of the Hookah, by Vangelis Papazoglu, performed by Stelakis Perpiniades 4. Make it Stravros, written and performed by Markos Vamvakaris, 5. Secretly in a Boat (Zeimbekano Spaniola) written and performed by Stratos Payioumdzis, 6. Frankosyrian Girl, written and performed by Markos Vamvakaris, 7. The Stoker, written and performed by Yorgos Batis, 8. The Dew, by Vassilis Tsitsanis, performed by Tsitsanis & Stratos Payioumdzis. 9. The Bomb, written and performed by Kostas Roukounas, 10. Night Without Moon, by Apostolos Kaldaras, performed by Stella Haskil, 11. Some Mother Sighs, by Vassilis Tsitsanis, performed by Stella Haskil, 12. Cloudy Sunday, written and performed by Vassilis Tsitsanis, 13. The Carriage Goes Past, by Vassilis Tsitsanis, performed by Markos, Kalfopoulos, Tsitsanis, 14. Make Up a Bed, written and performed by Vassilis Tsitsanis with R. Dalia, singer, 15. When I Die on the Boat, by Babis Bakalis, performed by Sotiria Bellou, 16. When you Drink in the Taverna, written by Vassilis Tsitsanis, performed by Sotiria Bellou, 17. Captain Andreas Zeppos, by Yannis Papaioannou, performed by Sotiria Bellou, “