See you later, Vangelis

The news today regards the passing of Vangelis on Tuesday….

Vangelis’ music was the soundtrack of my life, pretty much, certainly for the past 40+ years. His Nemo era, albums like Heaven and Hell, ChinaSee You Later, Soil Festivities, Mask, Rapsodies... his Jon & Vangelis albums, and of course, his Blade Runner soundtrack. It was so normal, that I was working this afternoon in my back room (yep, still working from home, over two years now) and was listening to Vangelis’ The City album, when I learned the news of his passing. I listen to all kinds of stuff, but I always return to Vangelis eventually.

I can’t help it: if its raining, I tend to listen to Movement One from his Soil Festivities album.

Of all his music, Himalaya, the track from his China album, is my personal favourite; I’ve adored that piece of music since I first heard it during an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos tv series. I had it recorded off-air onto audio cassette and played it so often, while not knowing what the piece was, only that I loved it, and it was unlike anything else I’d heard. In those pre-internet days, it was tricky tracking music down, so you cannot imagine my joy when my friend Andy got a hold of a copy of China and was playing it, and Himalaya came on.

Naturally I’ve listened to his Blade Runner score far too many times to be considered healthy. I sometimes wonder if I would love Blade Runner half as much as I do if it was scored by someone else: the mix between the sound effects and Vangelis’ synths (that glorious Yamaha CS-80!) is so perfect you can’t always tell where the music ends and the sound effects take over. I suppose one could consider the film one long Vangelis pop video, or an arthouse installation for Vangelis’ electronic wizardry. His Blade Runner score, electronica dripping with melancholy, is the soul of the film, no question.

To be fair, there was always a love/hate thing though regards Vangelis. I think most of his fans will understand this. Vangelis was always very private, distant to the extent it often seemed like antipathy towards his fanbase. A musical genius and remarkably prolific, it was said he recorded music constantly, and that the majority of it, perhaps even the best of it, would never be heard (shades of Prince there, another of my favourites lost to us too soon). I’ve heard stories, which may not be true, certainly, of music execs who would never work with him again, that he was impossible to work with, unreliable, a loose cannon.

Following his Chariots of Fire success and the wealth it gave him, the gaps between his studio album releases would sometime stretch into years (compared to years in the 1970s when he would release two albums a year, sometimes more if one counts his producing and collaboration projects). We’d hear his succeeding scores in films and be frustrated by his refusal to release those scores on album (Bitter Moon, The Bounty etc) and indeed even taking twelve years to release his magnum opus, the  Blade Runner soundtrack, a score he sometimes seemed to hold some strange resentment towards: an album was supposed to be released back in 1982 (the film famously had a Polydor album referenced in the end credits which I searched for in record stores for months like some damned fool). I didn’t know until years later, but a cassette bootleg circulated that was rumoured to be a copy of the shelved album. Vangelis had cancelled it as if on a whim, perhaps because of an argument with somebody connected with the films production. We never really found out why, and perhaps will never know, rumours abounded for years- ego, money… hey, the music business he hated but made a fortune from, its a tension and dichotomy that runs throughout his career. The way Vangelis complained later in life, I always wondered why he didn’t just open his vault and give it away, but maybe it was all a tease, a source of amusement to him.

One thing is certain. There was no-one quite like Vangelis. Unless one counts, as I alluded to before, the Minneapolis genius that was Prince- both wildly talented, hugely prolific, incredibly contrary. We will never see their like again, I’m sure. The word ‘genius’ is used too often these days, it should be reserved for those two though.

Vangelis was 79. Same age as my dad. Vangelis passed away on the eve of my dad’s funeral. This has been some week.

3 thoughts on “See you later, Vangelis

  1. Michael Thomas

    Damn, so he was mortal, after all. I can’t help but feel that my life has been divided in half – I am now living in the “after Vangelis”. But on the bright side, he gave us music since 1965 and putting all the years together we can hardly complain. I started collecting around 1979 (Forminx, A. Child, the numerous collaborations – anything with his stamp on it), so it’s astonishing to think how long I have lived with him. I guess the burning question now is will the vaults now be opened? I know there are 2 inch tapes from Nemo in a storage facility. Let’s hope someone (Philippe Colonna?) steps up and releases some posthumous rarities.

    1. Its weird, isn’t it, when one really considers how many years have passed, the long sections of our lives, collecting/listening to Vangelis’ music. I’ve spent such a larger part of my life listening to Vangelis that my life before Vangelis seems almost inconsequential, some other person.

      Considering just how much material he produced during the 1970s through studio albums, collaborations and producing, its clear, when looking at his discography as a whole, how his output (as official album releases) diminished over time. What was it overall, 23 albums, something like that, over 40-50 years? Compared to some, that’s not such a huge number of albums considering how he gained such a reputation for making music all the time, and we’d hear news of his music for theatre, ballet etc. And yet for me it seems like I was playing his music all the time, all through those years. Part of that was the constant discovery of so much of his 1970s output- only a few years back I found that album he produced with the singer Mariangela and soaked up more of that Nemo sound. So certainly what you mention regards a storage facility of tapes of unreleased music… tantalising isn’t it. I don’t know how much of it we will ever hear, or how it gets curated. I hope that we will, and that it is well managed, but who knows?

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