Asimos, Nikolas (1949-1988) Athens’ anarchist troubadour

Nikolas Asimos

Nikolas Asimos, born Nikolaos Asimopoulos, was the greatest troubadour of the anarchist movement in Greece and one of the figures that made Exarcheia diachronic habitat of radical thinking and practice. This is an attempt at a first synoptic biography of Asimos in English with some integrated translations of his poems and songs. The biography is based on Asimos’ book “Searching for Crockanthropus” as well as information posted at http://asimos.gr

Nikolas Asimopoulos was born on the 20th of August 1949 in Salonica and spend his childhood in the city of Kozani in North Greece. His first clash with the system was in 1966 when he sent a translation of the French song “Monsieur Cannibal” to a newspaper column edited by Nikos Mastorakis, the then authority on rock music and later collaborator of the Colonels’ Junta. Instead of publishing the translation, Mastorakis authored an ironic piece on it, to which Nikolaos Asimopoulos replied by a scathing four pages public letter under the pen name “Asimos”, which he would thence use as his surname. A year later he leaves Kozani for Salonica to read Medieval and Modern Greek Studies at the Philosophical School of the Aristotelian University.

The Years of the Junta
During his third year of study Asimos made his debut in theatre playing Moliere. Yet his career in theatre would soon bring him up against the Junta Censors when a year later the Colonels’ propaganda machine demanded the rising phoenix, the trademark of the Junta, to feature at the back page of the booklet of a play of Menander where he had a leading role. As a result of his refusal, his efforts to set up an experimental drama group in the basement of the School of Philosophy were smashed by the Junta’s General Security which took away from Asimos his identity card so as not to give it back until 18 years later. In 1972, in the stifling climate of the dictatorship, he met Dimitris Dimitrakopoulos who taught him guitar and he starts to perform unplugged in the café which at the time functioned at the attic of the White Tower with other musically inclined youth, deserting his studies for ever. After falling out with his friends, Asimos moved to Athens where he took part for a last time in a theatre performance, immersed more and more in the radical upsurge of the youth that would soon find expression, in the spring of 1973, in the occupation of the Law School. After the Polytechneio Uprising in November 1973 and its bloody clamp down, Asimos composed a impromptu poem which according to his memoirs he would sing in the basement of the “5th season” with the orchestra making staccato sounds similar to the machine guns and the tanks that massacred the people that night; meanwhile the audience would murmur “ESA, SS, Torturers!” (ESA was the military police responsible for countless horrors before and during the junta):

November 1973

From the wild nights of Athens…
When the small and the great clashed
the small won,
so that the great could become a leading
guide of truth…

Auntie, light the candle, we shall win…
From the wild nights of Athens…
Wolves in the dark, wolves hunt down
a virgin deer, they tear its belly drink its blood
and inside them, I think,
their beastly heart is shaken.

Auntie, light the candle, we shall win…
I begin a song and the cyclical dance starts
In the wax silence of censorship
The knowledge circulates
Don’t disturb my circles…a muddled up transistor.

Auntie, light the candle, we shall win…
From the wild nights of Athens….
Think all together, you slaves….
The nightingale sang to you from the stone balcony…
And it only sings once!

The winter of 1973-74 was the darkest of all in the 7 years dictatorship with the new hardliners’ junta led by Brigadier Ioannidis (ESA’s dog, as the people called him) abolishing any trace of tolerance or pretence of legality. For Asimos this was a time of fear and extreme hunger: on New Year’s eve the “5th Season” where he sang alongside the old communist guerrilla Panos Tzavellas was sealed by the junta. Soon however Asimos was offered a job by Thanasis Gaifilias in the music scene “The Eleventh Commandment”. A few months later, Gaifilias moved out in search of glory and Asimos was left alone to set up a music-theatrical experimental performance. The sign on the door of the “Eleventh Commandment” read: “Entry not allowed to anyone born on the 21st of April, toothpastes exempted” (21st of April was the day of the coup). After numerous raids, the General Security decided to seal the shop for good as subversive on April 1974.

The Republican Years
After the military-civilian handing over of power in July 1974 Asimos published his first text in the magazine Pan derma (Vol.9) published by the father of the radical press in Greece, Leonidas Christakis. At the same time Asimos founded the “Musical Theatre of Poverty” which was housed in Plaka, functioning as an artists commune. The experiment failed, according to Asimos due to leftist in-fight between the members of the orchestra and the shop was handed over to Tzavellas who by then had become a super-star of guerrilla songs that would provide the soundtrack to a lifestyle of super-revolutionary inaction of a whole generation of leftists. In this context Asimos would write an untitled prose-poem, that reads like a manifesto of the new-born anarchist movement of the time, and the reasons of its birth, the treachery of the Left:

These years have gone to waste
These years were usurped by the leaders
Yet these years left something behind them
Something strong that darkness cannot consume.
These years carry their own consciousness
Their truth on the lost time
On our contribution to this loss
We know now that the powerful will not take a step back peacefully
They will not be thus moved from their hard throne.
They are moved neither by words nor by virtue.
They know all too well that in order to keep themselves
In power they must seduce us, the multitude
To disorient our struggle
To buy-off our leaders.
They have nothing to lose if we do not snatch it from them.
These years have gone to waste
These years have been sold out by our folk
The bloody path of freedom does not waver
It always advances forward in a straight line.
If the enslaved do not see this
The bloody path of freedom degenerates.
Its road does not lead to the gates of humanity peacefully.
The real duty of proletarians is revolution.
To chase away the traitors and the apostates from our class.
To overthrow the powerful from the planet.
These years were good in one thing.
They made us find truth again.
These years have gone to waste.
These years were usurped by leaders.
Yet these years left something behind them
Something strong is born behind the darkness
These years carry their own consciousness.

In 1975 Asimos made an penultimate attempt at recording at Greece’s major ‘New Wave’ record company, Lyra. This time he managed to record his first work. Yet little had changed in Greece apart from black ties taking the seats of military overalls. The now Republican Censorship outlawed any radio transmission of his songs due to their anti-militarism. In an attempt to help Asimos, Yannis Zouganelis, a leftist talented musician that in the 1990s would degenerate into a TV clown, gave him a place in his “Cooperative Band of Musicians”. The manifesto of the Cooperative, later reproduced in Asimos autobiography, was an attack against mediation and the spectacular role of the arts, yet as Asimos recalls in his memoirs the intentions of the people involved were more with the trendiness of radicalism than with its substance. Soon Asimos was purged from the Cooperative only to found his own short-lived “Political Café” whose interesting political communiqués shook the art establishment and are reproduced in his memoirs. It was at this time that Asimos wrote and composed some of his most famous anarchist songs, such as “What if they hit us” and “Give it all up”, still inspiring new generations of radicals in Greece.

What if they hit us

What is they hit us with bombs and canons
What if they ruin out best years
While saying that they only want our good
They never listen our own right

This is no life, under the bosses
Our wages are inhumane
They lead an easy life, and we struggle
Worried if we will have a job or something to eat

Lets take our right to the streets
Bomb and burn the state and the police
We know too well who are our bosses
The blood of November has taught us much

What if they hit us with bombs and cannons
What if they ruin our best years
We will put in front the black and red flag
For us, for a free and younger life
We will put in front the black and red flag
For the struggle, for freedom is a necessity.

Give it all up

Give up school, give up that wreck
You are your own boss once again
Give up the desks and the amphitheatres
And come to the beach to make love

Give up your job, give up that whore
And take care that you decide first
Thousands of supermarkets full of things
Why don’t we steal them for our old age?

Give up God, and your father
Don’t desire wedding and a coolie’s wage
Refuse to be a double slave-woman
Our children will grow in communes

Give it up then, give up the party
Don’t carry your own corpse around
Stop being the interpreter of the central donkey [i.e. central committee]
Refuse to be an instructor and an instructed

Piss on the Parliament and smash their offices
Let bureaucracy drown itself
And wear a hood when they are up your neck
So that they don’t recognise you in the riot

Give up the army, the sheep’s stable
And let them think we are mad
They are arming the people for an idiotic motherland
Hierarchy is not good for anarchists

In this society we have rotten to the bone
Inhumane institutions have become a habit to us
Give it all up and lets live uncomfortably
See how they step and step on reverse.

By the winter of 1976 Asimos was on his way to Exarcheia which would become his natural habitat until the end of his life. A father of a newborn daughter he started making his living by the fence of the Polytechneio through selling magazines, books and tapes, while at the same time taking part in the first concerts in solidarity to political prisoners of the Republic. This was a time when Exarcheia started becoming an anarchist stronghold, with the first mass production and distribution of anarchist print material, which soon brought the anarchists under attack by both the Communist Party and the powerful Maoists. In the autumn of 1977 the first serious clashes of the anarchists with the police erupted during a demonstration in Propylea, with 16 people arrested, including Asimos. He and five publishers of “subversive material” were accused as “morally responsible for instructing the disturbance of public peace”. When liberal artists organised a huge concert in solidarity to the prisoners, three of them, including Asimos published a scathing communiqué where they refused to receive any money collected by the concert, underlining: “ Comrades, the state has locked us in prison because it considers us anarchist and subversive elements. WE DO NOT NEGATE WHAT WE ARE. We nevertheless refuse the right of power to arrest anyone as morally responsible for his ideas and actions. We also refuse any campaign of solidarity which hides the real face of repression by avoiding to refer to our ideas”. The trial would never take place due to the public outcry, but Asimos spent two months in the infamous prisons of the Isle of Aegina. Upon his release he declared: “I will be back!”. He returned to earning a living selling magazines and books on street stalls by the Polytechneio.
It was during the same period that the police raided the house of Philippos and Sofia Kyritsi and arrested them as anarchists for the possession of 8 beer bottles that were baptized Molotov cocktails. The ‘Kyritsis Case’ was the first attempt by the Republic to accuse and annihilate anarchists as ‘terrorists’ (and the first excuse for drafting an “anti-terrorist law”) and at the time attracted huge publicity causing a mass movement of solidarity that led to the release of the accused. As for Asimos, his way of protest was characteristically idiosyncratic: he invaded the interrogator’s office with a plastic space-gun and his baby daughter in his arms spreading confusion and terror on the state officers. Asimos never tired criticising the “seriousness” of radicals who accused him of being too eccentric and unpredictable. Asimos wrote many poems-songs on the new concept of “terrorism” amongst which the following titled “I am fed up with the Resistance”, castigating the culture of bragging about one’s imaginary or real resistance to the junta while cooperating with its civilian heirs.

Because many ask me
How I fared in prison
Why I did not write a song
Like so many “resisters”
I answer to them straight on
I don’t sell my resistance

All of you who resisted
How well you have found your place
So as to compete for a seat in Parliament

I am fed up with the Resistance
False words of fanfarons
I withered in my cell
And I hate politicians

The jails are full, the cells are damp
Penal convicts in dungeons
Are the world’s alibi so as to hide its falsehood
So as to support its massacres and its legal robberies

Terrorists!
Are those who refuse!
To subordinate.
Liberals!
Those who burn
And massacre.

Put a bomb and blow up
In the air all the cells
For your freedom bury all the socialite nonsense
Of your life

Life is beautiful without laws
Without tanks
Without judges and lawyers
Without bosses and shit

In the greenest weed
I shall find love
Acting never and always
Everywhere and nowhere

Because many ask me
How did in fare in prison….

In 1978 Asimos recorded in the home studio of Stelios Logothetis his first “Illegal Tape No. 00001” in 500 copies. The same year he broke up with his partner Lillian and rented a tiny apartment on Arahovis street, in Exarcheia, the so-called “Basement”, where he would stay for the next 4 years founding the “Exarcheia Square Band” which gave numerous performances in its short life. The following year he recorded in the same studio 20 songs under the name “Triple Tape with No Label” consisting of the Illegal Tapes 00002, 00003 and 00004. In 1980 he finally managed to get exempted from military service after 7 years of efforts as a “psychotic schizophrenic”. After this major victory, he set to note down verses from poems and songs, leaflets, and many more material which he published illegally without a publisher as a 150 pages long book “Looking for Crockanthropus” with the help of Leonidas Christakis. A synopsis let alone an analysis of this most strange book is a task beyond the capacity of this biography. However its reading for those of the necessary linguistic skills is very rewarding both poetically and historically.

The Final Years
In the winter of 1980-1981 Asimos reached the peak of his activity by setting up disturbing impromptu events on the streets of Athens, while also participating in the celebrated heretical film of Nikos Zervos “The Exarcheia Dracula”, in a scene mocking the didactic films and communist characters of Theo Angelopoulos.
In the autumn of 1981 before the elections that would change the face of the country by ushering the Socialists in power, Asimos set up ever more heterodox street performances while also participating in the first housing squat in Greek history, of the derelict house of Valtesiou 42 in Exarcheia. During one of his scandalous happenings he was arrested along side Giorgos Gavalas and Nikos Saviddis. Asimos and Saviddis were led as a result to the notorious psychiatric asylum of Dafni. Thousands of people mobilised for his release including many leading artists of the time. The stay in Dafni was however terrifying and would mark the mind of Asimos until his death.
In the summer of 1982 he would cooperate for the last time with the corporate recording world, publishing the record “Ho Xanapes” (a pun between kanapes -a couch- and xanapes -say it again) which led to a double attack by both his former colleagues and the Exarcheia anarchists who mocked him by means of the slogan “Asimos who wants to become diasimos” (the ‘insignificant’ who wants to become ‘famous’). The attacks led to his further withdrawal to himself, verifying in his mind his earlier critique of the “seriousness” of many anarchists, reflected in one of his most famous songs, “The Revolution proved to be a dream”:

We said we will abolish the borders
We said we will abolish the state
And we left ourselves the same
In our slimy envelopes.
The revolution proved to be a dream
A convenient and intelligent excuse
We preserve our internal filth
By mean of revolutionary phraseology.

We did not break our sad casts
The suburban cold prejudices
Sickness, you silently boil within us
You pant. Why don’t you leave us alone?

The revolution proved to be a dream
A bankrupt and intelligent excuse
To preserve our internal misery
By means of revolutionary phraseology.

We traced a difficult path
Endless, and we cannot cross it
You have silently impregnated us with disappointment
But perhaps it was worth even trying

The revolution proved to be a dream
Like a forgotten bygone fairytale
Yet despite all our crashed dreams
The truth takes flesh in the ruins.

In 1983 under continuing attacks and a growing fear of the Asylum, Asimos left the “basement” of Arahovis and rented the space of 55 Kalidromiou street (until recently a favorite bar for radicals) in Exarcheia, which he turned into a “Preparation Space” often raided by the police. During the various raids the police would arrest Asimos and lead him to Dafni where he was subjected to electric shocks and beatings. He nevertheless continued to record his “Illegal Tapes” while also taking part in concerts. In the summer of 1987 he published his last tape (00008), while he also gave five songs for Vassilis Papakonstantinou’s blockbusting album “Farewell to Power”. The leading homonymous song of the album is still today one of the most famous rock refrains in Greece:

So, farewell to power
I keep the substance of things
And I dream
I take my guitar and I sing
I love you, but I shall not marry you.

Besieged by publicity and corporate crows looking to exploit his talent, his aggression rose until on June 7 1987 he was arrested and accused of rape. Asimos will be locked in the prison of Korydallos until the collapse of the case. After his release, his efforts to recover by participating in a couple of films like “Cannibals on TV” failed and he was forcibly led to a private psychiatric clinic. After his release from it he was once again accused of the old rape case. Crushed by the accusations and the fear of the Asylum, Asimos hanged himself on Thursday 17 March 1988.

The funeral of Nikolas Asimos took place the nest day at the cemetery of Kallithea attended by 200 people under the sound of the “Mechanism”. The cost of the funeral was paid by the communist singer and composer Vassilis Papakonstantinou, whereas the media spent endless pages speculating on the suicide. In February 1989 his first postmortem record is published “Diogenis’ Lantern” with the participation of Sotiria Leonardou, based on “Illegal Tape 000008”. The title of the album comes from a poem and song of Asimos:

DiogenisLantern

I said I should too change my life, and start a new game
I knew that before I held my heart, bare and pure, on the razor blade
And I did not see the first hope
Becoming a sperm and taking flesh.

By Diogeni’s lantern stand a young man waiting
Lest they smash it, even though they take him for an assassin
Due to his so sensitive heart
The time does not return any longer
My boy, the lamp is no good.

So I will look to wear a highland dress and gun
With no anger and no words I will pay the thieves by the grave
The despots and the governors
The merchants and the judges.
Half of them chew and half of them are silent
And the bending people await.
Slavery is not always to blame for our chains
its our subordinated heart instead.
With a lantern you roam the nights again
Looking for insubordinate gazes.

At the same time the German radio station WDR dedicates a three hour-long program to Asimos. In 1992 the second post-mortem record of Asimos is published “In the World’s Bankruptcy – Yusurum” with the participation of V. Papakonstantinou. Finally in 1997 V. Papakonstantinou will perform five songs of Asimos in the record “Tell me a lie to fall asleep”. In 1999 Dimitris Bageris’ book “The famous Nikolas Asimos” was published by Sigaretta carrying archival material on Asimos, followed by Giorgos Allamani's biography "With not single refuge", while in 2000 the radical publishing house Vivliopelagos republished Asimos’ book “Searching for Crockanthropus”.

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taxikipali
Jun 7 2010 11:49

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