There are a handful of artists worldwide who can transform emotion into music that offers entry into the human soul. They write lyrics that are simultaneously poetic and powerful, and encase them in notes that can illuminate the heart or seize the gut – or sometimes both. One of the best of these artists is the Greek-English-American singer songwriter Athena, whose newest release Hands on Glass invites you deep into her life and her soul – and maybe yours.
Infected with Covid-19 last November, Athena was isolated in a hospital in Greece for a month, separated from her husband and two-year old son, their only contact was their hands on opposite sides of the glass window in an isolation room.
The aching pain of a separated mother, the longing for human touch, the emptiness of isolation all flow together in a song that is both desperate and inspiring – a combination that few can achieve but that Athena is a master at. “It hurts, it hurts; it hurts” she sings in a voice at once breathy and pure, a cry from the heart – a mother’s heart, a wife’s heart –that rivets your attention.
Supported by a gentle but purposeful piano and soft and sometimes urgent backing vocals artfully arranged by her long-time producer Ethan Allen, she pleads “help me out, help me out, help me out of this madness”, and you feel the cold hands on the other side of glass as if they are your hands. She takes you inside of that experience, not to feel the pain – although it is there – but to understand the emotional depth and life of another human.
But the song’s pathos is not only for her isolation, it is for all of our isolation from each other. About halfway through Hands On Glass, she makes a profound request , she begs us to “Tell me it will all go back to when the word was intact,… when the earth was new and we all knew love”.
I can’t tell her that, but I am happy that for Athena, who reunited with her family after a month of isolation, the core of her world is intact now. In the US, where the pandemic is subsiding and a new Administration will have over 2/3 of the population vaccinated by this week , the answer is that it is possible, but not yet a reality.
But for life beyond the pandemic, her request is as troubling as it is profound. Some say the answer is never – we are all too far apart and can never understand one another and know love, pandemic or not. But as long as there are artists like Athena who show us how to enter another’s heart and understand their pain and their joy, maybe it is closer than we think. For now we just need to keep our hands on the glass.
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