The official release date for Sezen Aksu’s album “Bahane” was February 16, 2005. I remember vividly though that it was in the record stores on Tuesday, February 14, 2005. It was a lonely Valentine’s Day, also a poor one so I had to wait until February 18, when my allowance would arrive from my parents. Those four days were painful. I would hear bits of the album from the shops of Istiklal Caddesi on my way to my apartment every evening, but I would turn up the volume of my Discman, to prevent ruining the incredible experience of listening to a Sezen Aksu album for the first time. The day came; I finished school at noon, left immediately. I was walking on Ciragan Caddesi towards Besiktas, thinking how lucky I was for going to the school I had dreamt all my life, learning the most romantic language on earth, and being about to listen to Sezen Aksu’s latest album.
I had no idea how this day would change my life forever. And maybe for the first time, Sezen Aksu had very little to do with it.
On the same spot where I had met “the loud girl from diplomacy club” a month ago, I received a text from her. Just like a month ago, she was inviting me to a party at her house. I knew my roommate’s weird classmates would be there, and I honestly didn’t want to go. I had a musical gem to discover, and I was finally able to purchase it. They were nice people actually, just like my roommate, but also a bit weird, just like my roommate. The depressed and short girl, the tall and loud Albanian girl, the cheerful gay kid, the pouty law school girl, the cool bald guy, and of course the loud girl from the diplomacy club. She probably had invited some other people, and I was dead sure she insisted relentlessly that they attended her party. I also knew that I couldn’t get myself out of this invitation. In text, she was saying that we would have fun just like last time (and I was saying inside: yeah, I will crack some graphic jokes making people think that I am total nutcase) and my roommate would also join us in the evening (and I was saying inside: yeah, as if his crazy girlfriend would let him join us.) Best thing about this party was that it started in the early afternoon. I could spend some time with them, drink a couple of beers, and then run off to Sezen Aksu’s “Bahane.”
I showed up with four beers in my hand, and they were extremely glad to see me. My roommate wasn’t there, and I was in equal distance to all the party attendees. All of them were sitting on the big, orange couch in the living room with drinks and munchies on the coffee table, and smoke was all around the house. They were playing some “alternative” music, which translated back then into Muse, Placebo, and Radiohead. They had the party started; I joined them with my beer in one hand and a ciggy in the other. I was having an OK time, thinking that attending this party actually turned out better than I expected. We had a great time for about four hours, and it was becoming late—at least for my album purchase. As they were about to have dinner and drink more, I told them I was leaving. My roommate was “still on his way to the party.”
Suddenly, the cheerful spirit of the party changed, and they were genuinely sad that I was leaving. I remember telling at least five lies contradicting with each other. I didn’t want to leave; I was having a great time. But Sezen Aksu was also waiting for me in a music store. When I left, I remember how I found my mind completely changed. I remember how much I wanted another party, and how much I would love to hang out with them, again.
I arrived to Taksim tipsy, bought the album, listened to the album as I chain-smoked. I fell in love with the album immediately, just like the rest of Turkey. That year, “Bahane” became the most selling album of the year producing super-emotional hits like “Eskidendi, Cok Eskiden” and “Ikili Delilik.” My night was complete with Sezen Aksu although my heart also wanted to be with my new weird friends.
I didn’t know this night was the simple summary of my last 8 years, my present, and probably my future. Those people, those weird friends I made through my roommate, with some additions and departures, became my family in Istanbul. Each one of them still holds an important part of my life or my memories or both. Most of them are still in my life, knowing every single detail of my everlasting academic struggle, wrecked love life, and perpetual drama. They are still the ones I make the first phone call to when I have the best and the worst news. They no longer hold these parties, especially in the early afternoon; but they still come together for me whenever I visit Istanbul.
However, no matter how much I love them, they can’t always be with me or answer the phone every time I call them. They have other lives at a different time zone than mine. In those moments, though very few, I turn on Sezen Aksu, and feel home, around my weird family. When my friends are sleeping or flying to Portugal, when I am running in the desert and they are defending people in courts, when I am teaching in the classroom and they are translating theory books, I heal their absence with Sezen Aksu with a beer in one hand and a ciggy in the other.
#2, January 2, 2012
I am fed up. I was already fed up actually, but today, with only six days left to go and many friends still not visited, I have the urge to write it down. Istanbul is no longer my city; Istanbul is an ex with a bad break-up.
My relationship with pain was never with relief. I am not one of those who do whatever he can to ultimately avoid pain. I used to easily coexist with it. There were moments of prolonged adolescence where I took pain as “my fuel in life”, and although those days are long past now, I still acknowledge the power and importance of pain. In addition, as I have written before, I found a way to cope with pain in a sweet city to start learning how to cherish life.
Istanbul, however, is such a bitch that it could not stand my “cured” persona, and treated me worst ever: To, most probably, take revenge, it reintroduced the omnipresent pain engrained in herself. And although I no longer live here and now I am an outsider to this city, I am still able to notice and point out painful details of Istanbul life, and it totally ruins the whole experience of holiday and visiting friends.
As stated in the first entry of these chronicles, most of my friends are undergoing an intriguing depression in their lives and they don’t hold themselves back from expressing their resentment on my face– the tourist who came from far away after a very long time. Their fragile emotional state must have turned them into discomfort-disseminators, and their “”life” is not making my “experience” well-pursued at all.
Secondly, my inclination of hearing life not from my friends but from other people that I see on the streets, my personal preference of using public transportation, my sweet but unachievable quest for used books have taken me to many different conversations and over-hearings. What I used to notice, while I was living here, was anger—people shouting on the phone, shopkeepers cursing after a difficult customer, football fans beating other team’s fans. This time, I heard pain openly expressed by people: A shopkeeper gave me a 4-minute long monologue (uninterrupted by me, the fascinated habitant of the purgatory between local and foreing) about how he can no longer support his family despite his corner shop in the middle of Cagaloglu,; a fifth grader failed selling her used text books and her father couldn’t afford buying new ones; a girl who sat by me in Starbucks told her correspondent on the other side of the phone how her New Year’s Eve had been a disaster full of quarrel and beating with her ex; another girl passed by me in Kadikoy crying her eyes out. I was not only doomed to hear and understand all these, but I also carried them home with me. They kept me in an emotional limbo, where I constantly felt like I drank a venti Americano to an empty stomach. I felt like crashing or even passing out emotionally but something also kept me awake, and maybe even too awake.
The cherry on top has been the music, something I earlier had noticed, recognized, and admitted, but also forgotten. Last year, in a state of homesickness, I told my friends in Istanbul that they had the luxury of pain in that city. They constantly listen most painful songs, but they also could defer their blues with a good table of friends and raki—something not easily generated abroad. Anyway, this year, I noticed almost every producer is up to taking advantage of this obsession with pain. I watched a rock video where the singer was in a grave, singing how she dag her grave herself. Another “pop” video followed. A well-groomed male singer was singing a very high-beat song, with a smile in his face, but the lyrics were his cry of incapability of making people’s demands of “more” from him. And finally, I found out that one of my favorite singers, Goksel made a song called “It hurts”, and she sings this line over and over, with her melancholic and melodramic voice. The worst part in this experience is, I believe, my ongoing awe although I had had realized this long before. In my self-imposed amnesia, I probably enjoyed, deep down, this nostalgia for my prolonged adolescence. I may claim myself pain-free but the reality is not that clear-cut.
The pain rarely brings me to burst. I always burn inside within. But this time, due to my heavily altered life in Arizona, I cry that I am fed up. I am fed up with this city’s sickening relationship with pain, and I no longer hold my subjectivity back. When I first moved here, I used to refrain from complaining just because I probably was not the one to criticize this unique city. That’s why I never joined my comrades from Smyrna who used to start complaining about Istanbul the moment they step in it. Those days of respecting Istanbul for its potent place in history have passed, and my personality totally rejects its magnificence. I was never a usual-Smyrnian, I always liked Istanbul more than I did Izmir—which is extremely rare in our breed; but I feel that I am done with it. Interestingly, in a holiday of which I spent only four days in Izmir, this is the day I go back to my roots, and start hating Istanbul with all my guts.
I am fed up, and I am taking no more your BS, Istanbul.
Filed under: music, the city | Tags: arizona, ezginin gunlugu, istanbul, leaving, music, proust, tucson
As you would remember from some previous entries, I take music as a conveyer of my personal past. Due to my shark-like nature, my past does not only consist of time periods but also different cities. A la recherche de mon temps perdu, music defines eras, therefore geographies. That’s why a song can take me to the museums of Paris, humid mornings of Augusta, beautiful campus of Middlebury College or a drunken festival night on the Bosporus.
In a day or two, I will publish three entries about my visit to Istanbul in December 2011. There, with awe, you will see how Istanbul and the meanings it encompasses in my life are in constant change with time. Although I no longer live in Istanbul, this city still holds such a potent and influential place in my life that, it can change meaning even if I only visit it now.
Due to my horrible experience back in December 2011, I had removed Istanbul from my life for the last four months. I barely thought about the city, had only a couple of Sykpe conversations with my dear friends still residing in that behemoth, and did not listen to a single song that is directly related to the imperial city in my personal universe of signifiers. It was tough, and full of remorse. I had spoken big when I talked about “never leaving Istanbul/Istanbul never leaving me”. My relation with the city came to a point where one side had to sacrifice a lot to reduce the pain resulting from this relationship. Of course, I was the one who had to sacrifice. And I had taken Istanbul out, maybe not completely out, but to an extent never explored before.
But on the day before my trip, on my way back from my first proper camping experience with the spiritual purification bestowed upon me by Mount Lemmon, I inadvertently played “Siyah Gozler” by Ezginin Gunlugu. A song from the very heart of Istanbul, dedicated to my quintessential pain felt for this city. Listen to the song; you will know what I mean.
It started as an “innocent” move to expose my friend some Turkish music. As I was imposing my patch-worked taste in music, I stumbled upon Ezginin Gunlugu and said, “Oh, you will love them. They are quite interesting.” I hit the play button unconsciously, and it took only five seconds to hit me back. All of a sudden, due to the amazing clarinet solo, as we were driving down the mountain, and the fauna was changing from pine trees to cacti, I was surrounded by Istanbul, the city I had removed from my life. I, there, realized I had been successful in exiling Istanbul away, and it was emotionally safe to recall it on such a moment.
Elif Shafak always compares and insistently contrasts Istanbul and Arizona, she calls them “two places on earth that could not be more different.” One time, she however noted, Arizona and Istanbul resemble each other in terms of “huzun”, the concept that is at the same time possible and impossible be translated to “la tristesse” in French, or “melancholia” in English, according to Orhan Pamuk. I agree, in both geographies, a sense of melancholia is omnipresent. Istanbul’s huzun is more consecrated to human interaction and its imperial past, while Arizona’s melancholia is more limited to contrasts, such as sun and shade, different definitions of border, and city’s eclectic architecture juxtaposing a skyscraper and a Mexican cathedral together.
Huzun is both similar and different in Arizona and Istanbul. The Oaks on Ciragan Caddesi and theSaguaro cacti on UA Campus share a common feeling not only in the habitants of Tucson form Istanbul but in a larger sense: just like paradise and hell, they share human.
As I am typing this entry on my way to Istanbul, not back, I am thinking how long will I have to individually struggle to tell people the commonalities of different geographies are much more than their differences. Since the beginning of humankind, some people may not be changing where they live from cradle to grave. But their fixed residual habits are miniscule, especially once compared to the traveling human element in every city’s content. The words we use can be forgotten, or ignored; but the eyes we see cannot be forgotten, or ignored. Especially when their universal humanity is considered.
For me, Ezginin Gunlugu also belongs to Arizona now. And Istanbul does not seem so vicious any more. Especially out of the plane’s window, when the Bosporus’ waters are shining like gold.
Filed under: music | Tags: baku 2012, can bonomo, eurovision, love me back, pop star, sertab erener, tarkan
Dear Turkey (1),
It is time to bring up a pop start other than Tarkan because for the last 11 years that I have been in contact with people from other countries, I am sick of pretending as if I am happy to hear that they know Tarkan. I have personally observed Tarkan is known in at least 20 countries. Some people still remember his song “Şımarık”, and some of them even made me sing it, over and over again. I had to pretend as if I was OK with that. There were moments when Tarkan’s name was almost forgotten in Turkey and people around Europe would ask me how he was doing. He had basically lost 2000s, the decade in which I was exposed to most of these questions. Nowadays, he is an oriental memory with nice eyes and hair, but his expiration date has long passed.
You may ask, my lonely and beautiful country, who else can I bring up to reach that position. As we all know, the reason for the endnote is the conception of multiple actors in creating one action in a defined field. So, it was never only Turkey who created a world star out of Tarkan, but it was the combination of the record companies who invested in his music and image, his manager who supported his quest abroad, and his song writer making beautiful songs for him, and Tarkan’s persona or “stardust”.
There were moments when similar projects couldn’t actually succeed. Look at Sertab Erener example. She is actually the second “star” Turkey created, if not the third after Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ who for a while enjoyed a significant visual presence in the Middle East. She was ambitious enough to sing with Ricky Martin — when Ricky Martin was not a guest star to TV series but actually a world wide known pop music star–, to do collaborative projects with other singers or even win “the” Eurovision. But later what happened? I remember her saying in one of her interviews, “By the time I reached to a level where I could go further, after Eurovision victory, I realized I was too old for that.”
So, the next star should be a young one, who can enjoy his international success for longer than 6 months, and save me from this agony of Tarkan-centric definition of Turkish music.
My dear country, you might ask a suggestion. So, here it is: If you have a young singer, who is doing music to an international audience but with an oriental touch, with the correct promotion strategy, we can create a new star. And I must confess, the latest Eurovision contestant of Turkey, Can Bonomo is one of the most possible candidates on that matter. Since TRT declared him as the singer to go to Baku this May, his promotional campaign has been going, at least visually, flawless. His social media activity was just awarded by some web awards. His website is talking to an international audience. His music video is playing towards winning the contest. This guy knows what he is doing. So, even if he can’t make it to the stage for a second time in Baku, Can Bonomo might be our new Tarkan and actually show another dimension of Turkish music, and culture, and pop culture.
I am, however, ending this letter addressed to Turkey, with a note to my friends in other countries. Guys, if you are fed up with Tarkan just like I am, please vote for Can Bonomo at Eurovision Song Contest 2012. Believe me, you will not regret it.
(1) Although, as condemned by many social scientists, except those of IR who belong to classicist realist paradigm or ignorant graduate students in all fields, approaching countries as monolithic entities is lame, and ummm, non academic. “France and Germany agreed upon Greece’s future, or Russia felt resentment after US installed Jupiter missiles in Turkey.” The expiration date of this type of sentences has long been over, but in this post, I am using one of them, so I apologize from the academia.
Filed under: event, music, the city | Tags: Amy Winehouse, How I Met Your Mother, summers, TV
Or another summer gloom…
“When Amy Winehouse died, I was in New England, suffering from a severe lingual crisis.”
This is what I will tell my children when they ask about the beautiful voice they are very familiar with. However, they will have to do some Internet archeology to find out what she really meant to me. I am writing this entry mostly for them.
My summers are never exciting. I can actually say that I never enjoyed a single summer. I don’t remember one I was completely happy. When I was a child, and a teenager, which means for at least 10 years, I had to stay in Izmir during the summers while every single friend of mine escaped from the town. As a Mediterranean city, Izmir gets extremely hot in summers. You can’t get out of your apartment between 11.00am and 7.00pm. The humidity makes it impossible not to sweat while sitting at home and watching TV without AC, a technology we could not afford until I was 21. Some poets have written about İmbat, a special breeze from the sea, but it was just an urban legend for those of us who had to live behind a huge, cement wall of 7-story apartment buildings right on the seaside. The poetic breeze belonged to the habitants of those expensive apartment buildings, who ironically were never in Izmir during the summers. Those who could afford those apartments could also afford a summerhouse in Cesme or Foca, towns not very far from the city, with beautiful beaches and at least 7-8 degrees F lower temperature.
Growing up, summers meant limitless boredom, constant sweating. It was a life behind a huge wall, a life without the soothing power of the sea.
When I was 19 years old, in Galatasaray University, I made a life choice of becoming a dedicated member of a very demanding student club. For three years, the club became my life. Until then, I was a cinephile who saw in movie theaters at least 50 movies a year. I used to know which TV show was worth watching and which Internet site was lately in high demand. I was a home person, thanks to my summers in Izmir, and I was doing good in catching up with the trends. I also used to know who was getting popular in music sector. I never was one of those indie listeners, and I got to know Lauryn Hill or Norah Jones after they got all those Grammies. But I knew what was going on, I was on top of my interests.
When I finished my years at the club, I was left with two-year old songs in my iTunes. I didn’t have a clue about which movie won Oscars last year or what the heck was that “How I Met Your Mother” show everyone was fuzzing about. I was completely lost in my indifference to my former areas of interest, and summer was approaching, with nothing going well in my life.
In 2007, a terrible summer started with moving from Beyoglu to Uskudar, a drastic change of habitus for me. I left the “life” on European side and moved to so-called “calmness” on Anatolian side. It did not help. I was restless because of many unspoken things, many intended heartbreaks, and a huge ingratitude. I went to Amsterdam; it didn’t help. I knew it, Summer of 2007 was going to be another hell. When I came back from Amsterdam, I had to start my internship in an academic NGO in Etiler. It meant at least one hour commute everyday. I needed music, I needed new, popular, good music.
I remember exactly how I got to know Amy. I had noticed the fuzz about her, just like that meeting the mother show, but I didn’t pay attention. I had never felt the urge to type her name on YouTube or download at least one song of hers. None. Klum.
A boring weekend, I was zapping through channels in my decadal summer position and I found a black and white video clip on MTV. A woman with a big mouth and some tattoos was singing a song of a great pain. She was so intriguing that I could not notice the lyrics at the first time. I could not take my eyes off of her, and I felt that I finally found the voice for my summer. So hurt, so self-intolerant, so conscious, so deep. Later, I would find out that the song, Back to Black, actually described my summer before that, Summer of 2006, word by word.
Amy became my companion that summer. She told me that she knew what was going on, and she even wrote that song for me. I survived Summer of 2007 thanks to her, but four years later, probably around the same time I got to know her, she passed away.
Now, I am sitting in my hell-like dorm room, in the middle of New England. I am here to learn an extremely hard language, and going through a lingual crisis. My “mais”s became “aval”s and I am not liking it. On top of that, I am struggling with the loss of a huge talent. I wish it was as easy as another artist, but this time, maybe just because it is summer, it touched a lot. She punched a hole on that great wall for me, and her voice meant the soothing power of the sea. Now, she is gone and I will have to wait for my next black and white angel to save my summers.
So, kids, this is the story of how I met your Aunt Amy.
Filed under: art, music | Tags: academic writing, album, multilingual individuals, optum, sezen aksu
Sezen Aksu has finally released her latest album last week. In her last album dating 2009, she sang her own songs that were previously sung by others, and there were only 2 “new” songs in it. She kept a low profile in 2010, except her surprise in Tarkan’s album, and her involvement in the Referendum debate. I was among those who did not cared what she said but appreciated an artist’s bold stance taking in that intense discussion. As always, even her involvement in politics was different than her peers in music industry. Anyway, she finally released some marvelous 10 songs this month, and I feel like I have been drugged since the first moment I listened to it.
But this entry is not about Sezen Aksu, or her new album. This entry is about how I can’t write about Sezen Aksu in English, and why this is a great thing.
When I was 15 years old, something terrible happened, and I was introduced to literature. I did not only read some great writers, but I also learned that literature, as a life component, was like food, alcohol, and sex: Mind-blowing experiences that years of tradition offer to a 21st century individual. However, as American commercials for alcoholic beverages put it, they should be “consumed responsibly”.
I personally succeeded limiting myself before I got too much of them. (Yes, food topic is debatable, given my “development”, “framed” by more uncomfortable jeans every month) Only literature, which should be understood more than texts, was kept out of this limitation, and the results might have been catastrophic. After a painful undergraduate experience in International Relations, I am doing anything but IR now. I have incorporated my love for moving images with sound, and my Proustien point of view to my studies, but I have reached to a point of speechlessness when a friend of mine asked what my hobbies were. I replied; I study my hobbies, those moments when you escape from this world. I read theories that frame them, with a determination of writing my own one day. I consume so much literature, now I may have lost my affection for literature. Sezen Aksu proved me wrong.
English is the academic language of the era, and even in Turkish Studies, I am entitled to publish firstly in English to accomplish whatever I am trying to accomplish. My training for the last year has heavily been in English, and I have managed to express even some very personal issues in this language. The more I mastered the language, the more it became vocal in my personal expression. Turkish has been reserved for amicable moments, or depression, or silenced memories as well as for some kick-ass poetry or novels. I can’t and probably won’t write about Cemal Sureya in English, ever. I did not know that until I listened to Sezen Aksu’s latest album.
I wanted to write something here about her fantastic songs, or how they are connected with each other, or how you can trace Cemal Sureya’s shadow in them; but I couldn’t. Her songs were so sacred, were so emotional, so about human life and my own journey, they seemed too deep for my academic English. I wanted that motherly touch of Turkish, for expressing such intense experience. I needed words that grew up with me. I needed expressions that only Sezen Aksu could tell and understand, and we would pick Turkish to depict our eternal connection. She definitely succeeded her goal, she kissed me, and I did not have enough competence in English to describe that moment. I did not transfer her to my academic realm, and she stayed in a very reserved lingual space for me.
Listen to her, she will probably do the same for you, and maybe you will find your own language by that.
Lately, I am doing what I am supposed to do. During Spring Break, I have had the chance to catch up with my research on Turkish cinema. One year ago, I chose a moderate life in the middle of Sonoran desert to a far-below-the-poverty-line life in NYC to study cinema, and whatever it would bring along. It brought more than cinema, and I almost lost my focus between midterms to grade and theoretical discussions. This break has been a comeback; I resumed my cinematic love with a broader perspective in theory, thanks to my advisor.
Bourdieu, Foucault, and any other usual suspects of theoretical framework that a first year grad student is familiar with are great mentors in text to understand the magical world of the movies, there is no doubt to that. However, it is still more about cinema, it is still basically about sitting in a dark room, and looking at bright images larger than you. Oh, and about the subject of this entry: the music of movies, a larger concept than the soundtrack.
On one of those good days of college, I bumped into a classmate, with her earphones on. Keeping in mind that she always knows the best of music, I asked what she was listening to, and she replied: My soundtrack list. She added, “I love listening to soundtracks, don’t you?”
That question brought me back to my middle school years, that we spent together in the same school, without actually getting to know each other. I could recall my soundtrack madness started with Titanic. It then got a vintage depth with My Best Friend’s Wedding, entered into the rock world with Armageddon, got to know jazz with the Talented Mr. Ripley, proudly accepted classical music with Hillary and Jackie, celebrated anger and fear with the Phantom Menace. The turning point was the Hours, though. It was too much sorrow, too much intensity, and too much humanity. I stopped listening to, or let’s put it that way, paying attention to soundtracks because it hurt too much. The moment my friend reminded me the OSTs, I already had Adorno in mind, the philosopher who condemned cineastes for abusing the magic of music to get their images through for the sake of totalitarian influence of the mass culture. I thought I could never get back and make a truce with the music in movies. Even Ferzan Ozpetek could not help.
You may turn your back to music, but you can’t shut the door to its face. It finds its way. The soundtracks stroke back with during my immersion in studying cinema. Text brought me the music. I should tell you, it is an exciting experience. They not only reminded themselves, but also helped me to feel the music of movies, something you sense rather than hear. Soundtracks are not the music we hear during movies, they are means to an end: exploring the music of movies.
I am glad the soundtracks are back to my life, with their awesome gift. Let this video be a celebration to that.