Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nana Mouskouri - A Long Story

Good Morning - It is Monday, April 16th and we are at Hobby Airport, waiting to head off to NYC for the week... If you don't know - BAD weather in New York - a "Nor'easter" is hitting the east coast and flights are being cancelled or greatly delayed - well it was worse yesterday and those folks really had it bad - we are just being mildly inconvenienced. Our flight was scheduled for 10:30 am - and now we are told an update would be coming at 11:30pm (just heard a rumor we are not leaving till 2pm - we will see...) Thing that really bugs me is that we were checking the flight status up until we left for the airport and everyone said it was still on time - even thought CNN was saying things were delayed!!! Then when we got here and checked in, the one computer posted "Delayed", but the main Departure Board said "On Time" - you would figure that once a call is made to delay - all systems would be updated, but nope... Oh well - lets not stay in this mode... Lets talk happy thoughts...

Why NY, Why now? The answer in a word - "Nana!" Now the answer in a whole lot more... Nana Mouskouri is one of the biggest selling recording artists in history - she has sold over 350 million albums - to put that into perspective, Garth Brooks made a big deal about how he was the artist of the century when he hit the 100 million mark... Anyway - Nana is huge, she has been recording since the late 50's in Greece and France - then spread out to Germany, Spain, England, all over Europe and even the US (her first English language LP - "The Girl From Greece Sings" {re-released on CD in 2000 as "Nana in New York"}, was recorded in NYC in 1962 (approx) with Quincy Jones as producer). Now after all these years, and all those albums and countless tours, Nana (a la Cher) is calling it quits with a World Farewell Tour. The Tour started in 2005 and will continue through next year, with the final concert in Athens next spring.

So Nana returns to Lincoln Center on Tuesday night (April 17th) for her last New York concert - and I have to be there!!!

Now you ask, "Why?" - it all started years ago (and since I have a 3 hour wait to board the plane, I have time to tell the WHOLE story - LOL - brace yourselves...). I grew up in Upstate NY in a place called Binghamton. For a while we used to go out to dinner every Sunday night (usually to "The Little Venice"), and on the way home, our country music station would give Sunday nights over to the Greek Radio Hour - and play Greek music. We would listen for the short drive home, as my dad would try, in his somewhat less-than-perfect way, to translate what the singers were saying - often times it has something to do with love, and the fisherman, and the sea and the dove... you get the idea. One singer that was a staple was Nana Mouskouri... "Who?" I would ask - "The Greek singer with the black horn-rimmed glasses, and straight, middle-parted hair," would be the reply... More about loves found and lost under the watchful eye of gods and the sea... We would laugh at Dad's poor translations... and life went on...

Fast forward - it's the 80's, and I am now living in Chicago and going to school at Loyola University. One of my favorite things to do on weekends was to scour the Used record stores that pepper my neighbor. It all started when I was listening to radio and heard a reference to the number of album Elton John had recorded and I thought, "I could get all of those..." and so my search began. To give you just an Idea, I moved to Chicago with two small boxes of albums, and when I moved to Texas, after selling 300 of my collection, I still had over 1300 albums - so yes I spent a lot of time in those used record stores... BTW - if ya know of anyone who buys old used vinyl albums, send them my way ;-)

One day, I came across (in the 3 for a $1 Bin) - and album called "Nana" - on the front was the bespecled, dark haired woman I had heard of in my youth - dress oddly enough like a flight attendant, and covering songs like "Apples Won't Grow," and "Solitaire" - I just had to have it and see who this woman really was.


Back at my apartment I thrilled to her soaring soprano, and must admit - had a good laugh at it all - this woman with glasses and all, with a warm voice had become a national treasure - something about it made me laugh and I had to know more. I played this album for all my friends who thought I was insane - but I continued to find more of her works - and the more I found and listened, the more I started to not just appreciate, but totally enjoy her works - years went by and I continued to buy - lots of albums - and listen - and actually began to learn things. The main thing I learned from Nana (who sings in over 10 different languages) was that the voice could be a musical instrument - I didn't have to understand the words, but could still get the feeling and emotion (it is that lesson that later in life let me enjoy opera) from the singer and the song. Sure I found a lot of duplication in the recordings I would buy - when you are a musical empire and you need to produce, your repackage and re-record - I mean honestly, there are only so many songs in the world and with her out put (in 1989 we calculated she had released an album every two weeks since she began recording - of course that included compilations and multi language discs - when the tracks are recorded and then she would add the vocals in 4 or 5 different languages and then the albums would be released in different parts of the world). Even today there is a VP at her record label (now Universal Music France) whose sole responsibility is the Nana Mouskouri catalogue. She is big business the world over.

Around 1987 things changed - I had about 50 of her albums (and had just started collecting CD's - again, if anyone knows someone who is looking to buy old vinyl...) and had been doing a radio talk show (Outlook Newsmagazine) and I read that Nana Mouskouri was going to be performing in Toronto - TORONTO?!?!?! Not too far from Chicago - could I actually go and see her???? Even better, could I actually get an interview with her????

I was on a mission - better yet, I was on a crusade - I was determined to not only see her in concert, I was gunna sit down with her and learn the secrets of how this soft spoken, little Greek girl had taken the world by storm... Sam Gesser's name comes to mind, he was the tour manager/promoter for Nana's Canadian Tour and I located him (things were a lot harder to do back before the Internet - a lot of time in the library for ever wild idea I had...) and he arranged for me to have tickets to the concert and to interview La Mouskouri in the afternoon right before sound check. OK - so what if all of this was gunna take place in Toronto and I was in Chicago - that is what young and foolish is all about... Oh yeah - I was a broke college student too... But where there is a will there is a way... (bet you wish this flight would just board at this point...)

After checking all forms of transport - it seemed Greyhound bus was the best option - a bus for Toronto left Chicago's terminal every day at 5:30pm and arrived in Toronto at 7am the next morning - perfect... Board the bus and sleep the night away and awake at my destination. Now being that I can never do anything alone (and probably why ever-so-often I need to find new friends), I talked my friend Randy Gonzalez into going with me - more like begged while making it seem like a privilege to get to go on this excursion... He agreed and on the late spring afternoon in 1987, we went to the bus station and headed off to Nana... Sure all was not rosy - a group of Amish got on the bus, and maybe they were at peace with their way of life, but they could still have been a little more at peace with it all had they worn some deodorant... That would be one of Randy's biggest memories of the trip - that and the fact that he could not sleep on moving transportation - I on the other hand did not have that same trouble - I had been sleeping in moving vehicles since I was a child (Dad suffered from wonder lust - and we covered the country like Gypsies during our summer vacations).

Our day in this Canadian city was wonderful - we wandered the clean streets, shopped a little - and I even had to stop into one of their used record shops - where I happened to find a Nana album I had been looking for for years - even though Canada is the U.S.'s neighbor - when it came to Nana they were still more United Kingdom then United States... And then as it go closer to the appointed Nana meet time - we went back to the bus station, got our clothes out of the locker and washed up and changed in the Men's Room - (again, who had money for a hotel room when you need to keep buying Nana albums?) And then we walked the short distance to Roy Thompson Hall and our audience with The Goddess of Music.

I remember the room like I was just in it - pale white walls, green grey furniture - a long room - with a large photo print of (I assume) the symphony that usually plays in the hall - this was the relaxing green room of years gone by... and a round laminated coffee table in white... we were welcomed and then waited... A dream was about to come true - what would I ask her, I assumed she would be nice (most Goddesses are...), but could she live up to the image I had created... And then she entered... A warm smile - glasses as should be - but wait - something was different... Her Hair - NOT straight down by the sides of her face - it was up on... a bun!!! Sure I had seen pictures of her with out the glasses (even riding a motorcycle) - But her hair up - LOL that was a new one for me with her!

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And she must have sensed it too - as we talked and Randy took pictures, she delicately reached up and pulled out the bar that held her hair up and with the soft shake of her head, her hair fell to frame her face again as it had on the cover of countless records and magazines across the globe. Nana had arrived!

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We walked through her life and career - she was generous with her answers and sweet as the day is long - and open and honest - covering every topic from plastic surgery, to her divorce (which after the interview I learned she NEVER talked about in the media) to just her amazing success, "Honesty and true emotion," was what she felt she brought to her songs, "unlike some singers who are just machines and sing song after song." And this from the woman credited with over 900 albums (at that time)... What a wonderful afternoon - then of course the obligatory photos, and autographs and the moment that would be the foundation of our friendship. Nana had heard that an American Journalist was coming to interview her - so imagine her surprise when she walked into the room and found a teenage boy there? Not only, "Why would he care about me?" but, "How did he even know who I am???" She laughed as she told us that and she was thrilled that she had a fan in the US in my age range!

After that it was off to sound check (which we got to sit through - we overheard a comment from her on stage to her manager about not being in the best of voice because he had made her do an interview that afternoon - OUCH!!!), and then - SHOWTIME!!!

She sounded amazing and the audience loved her! Seated next to me was Loreena McKennitt, who, like I, was a Nana Fan.

(Ohhh - word that our flight may actually board soon - so the story may start missing some of the fine details you have come to love so much...)

(We are in flight - let see how much battery I have left...)

The show was wonderful and we rushed back to catch our midnight bus back to Chicago - with the memories of Nana fresh in our minds... And the Ernie-Nana affair was born. A couple of years later, Nana toured the U.S and came to Chicago - and again I got to see her, and spend time with her, then I saw her at Radio City Music Hall, then Chicago again. She did my radio shows a number of times - with each tour, for holiday special ("Nana Presents Christmas Around the World").

Then I moved to Houston - and she visited for a concert and a UNICEF reception - a lovely gathering at a Houston River Oaks home - where Nana and my Mother met for the first time ("oh Ernie loves his Nana" - "Oh No - Ernie loves his mother" - "No, No, he loves you more..." "I am his mother when you are unable to be close" or something like that - it was surreal).

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She even gave my Mom a huge bouquet of flowers when we went to visit her back stage at the Houston Music Hall. We sat down for a 30 minute TV interview, and even did stories about her on "WeekNight Edition" leading up to the big Interview "Ernie & Nana: Together Again."

In the late 90's she even did a concert for PBS and we all met up in Miami for dinner and an intimate cabaret performance - "Oh Ernie, you are always there with a big smile in the front row looking up at me..."

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When it came time to air "Concert for Peace," Nana even flew in to join me for the pledge breaks... It was the same night that Clinton addressed the public about the Monica Lewinsky incident - Live during prime time - not good for our viewership - but still, we had the highest pledge rate of any PBS station outside of NYC - we were very proud!

And then in the 2000's things slowed down for Nana & me - she was touring less and I was working more - less time to just run off and find her... I had a chance to go see her in Montreal in 2004, but the week before the concert and TV special, my Grandmother passed away and so I had to call off the trip. And then word Nana was retiring, and I thought - I have missed my last chance to see her... But then the Farewell Tour started - Maybe I can see her in concert again???? I watched the web sites for tour dates - Please come to Houston, Please come to the U.S.... But nothing... Until last year - The Farewell Tour was coming to Toronto - how perfect - to go and see her for the last time in the place where I had seen her for the first time... 19 years later! By this time, I knew Nana's agents and reps and was able to quickly set things in motion. This time Jackson was going to be the lucky one - but this time we were flying, and we could stay in a hotel! Everything was set and we were going north and I was to see Nana once more.

As always with these kind of events, details are often left to last minute - so we arrived in Toronto still without confirmed tickets to see Nana, or knowing if for sure she even knew we were there - there are always layers of folks to go through and I believe in always trying to follow proper protocol - so I had put in word to the tour producer that I was planning on attending - so I knew they knew...

Show day, I get the call - we have our tickets at will call and Nana is thrilled we are coming... The performance this time was for a sold out crowd at Massey Hall, and we were 4th row from the stage - center! I was a child again - all giddy and excited - poor Jackson - I can be a handful when I get on one of my obsessions. But now it was something more - as I watched the concert, it was more then just being witness to a Greek treasure who was saying goodbye to her fans, I was watching a dear friend experience all that had held her through her career - facing an uncertain tomorrow, but with all the joy and privilege she had earned from years of giving to her fans... This time the show was not about what she could do for us, but more of how we could show her our love, and her performance back was a way to say thank you for this wonderfully rich career!

At intermission we found a member of the crew who filled us in on what the deal was with the meet and great after the show. We made our way to the area we were told to gather in at the end of the concert, when one of the managers appeared on stage and called out my name. Nana was thrilled we were here and wanted us to meet her back at her hotel when she got finished at the theatre. You can just imagine my excitement - but I couldn't just let go - I still wanted to see her back stage... So we waited with the rest a little while and then Jackson and I and a couple others (one woman was even dressed like Nana - and my friends say I go too far) were escorted to the receiving area. And then more waiting - and I started to worry - it had been a few years, what if she didn't recognize me - I mean to me she is a huge star, but to her I am just one of many upon many people she has met through the years.

Eventually she entered the room and the applause was deafening. Slowly she made her way from person to person - greeting each warmly and speaking briefly with them - you could tell they were all just as excited as I was, and she spoke of Toronto and her joy of visiting this wonderful city... I was next - Oh god - I will feel so stupid if she just does a "hello how are you thank you for coming" and moves on...

"Hello, Thank you so much for coming," a smile and a nod and she begins to move away... I smile (nerves) and she stops... "ERNIE?" (Oh thank God) And the years disappeared - and she pulled me in tight for a hug (and whispered in my ear, "You were supposed to come to the hotel" - I assured her I would be heading there shortly)... I was on cloud 9 (what ever that means - as if Cloud 8 is just not good enough, and cloud 10 is just too much)...

We spent the late night hours - Nana, Andre (her husband), Lanou (her daughter - also a singer), Elke (her road manager, Jeff (the tour co-ordinater) and Jackson and I just talking and driniking and catching up - it had been too long.

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The evening ended with Nana saying she hoped to get some U.S. dates, but that the last show of the tour will be in Athens in spring 2008 and that I MUST be there!!! (Guess you know where I will be next spring).

Well as you can figure out at this point, NYC was added to the tour (as were 2 Florida dates, and a few more Canadian shows - including Roy Thompson Hall - exactly 20 years from our first meeting) and so here we are on our delayed flight to NYC to see Nana for her (possibly) final Big Apple concert - this time at Lincoln Center!

The Pilot has just announced our decent and so with that I will end this little blog ;-) Thanks for indulging me - well at least thoughs of you who made it through this tome...

And no I'm not listening to anything any one else could hear - but in my head Nana Sings!

1 comment:

Pilar said...
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