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"Gift" from a Greek Star #BlogSeven #AlysiaHelming #RealLifeStory

“I felt so nice that this American writer chose me to inspire her character that I wanted to do something special for her and the book. Something extraordinary.” - Kostas Martakis, Greek Star (Artist, Singer, Actor, Model)

When I finally met Greek Star, Kostas Martakis, I knew there was something special about him. He has this warm, charismatic energy that makes it easy for me to see why so many people in Greece love him. Even though he is a big celebrity, ridiculously attractive and frequently in the press, Kostas is not above ordering the coffee for us during a business meeting or personally selecting the exact fish we will eat at dinner. He’s a genuinely good person.

After meeting him, it was his generous heart and spirit that made me hope that we would somehow find a way to work together on my book project. For this spirit embodies to me the warmth and hospitality that I feel with so many of the Greek people when I am there. This is a big reason that I am so passionate about Greece now.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t have to wait long to discover how we would work together. Within only a few weeks, his manager, Lia Papadopoulou, reached out to tell me that Kostas wanted to give me a ‘gift’. In Greece, when someone feels honored by something you have done for them, they often reciprocate by doing something to return the favor.

In this case, Lia told me that Kostas wanted to give me the ‘gift’ of a song. He would work with a team of professionals from Panik Records to create and compose a theme song for the book. This would not just be any ordinary song, but it would merge sounds from America and Greece, using both the English and Greek languages, to bring the magic of Greece to the world. All of this would be done as Kostas’ gift to me because he was so honored and grateful to be the inspiration for my character, Ever Sarantos.

Okay…so what?!

Let’s put this in perspective for a moment. My immediate thought was, “This can’t be for real!” After all, I was basically a stranger to Kostas, just a mom and business person from America. Although I had written screenplays before, this was my first novel. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me! I have no idea about the music industry, nor what goes into writing, composing or performing a song. I have never been a fan of any celebrity, so I didn’t even know if this was normal.

But of course, I said “yessss!”

Then, it got more interesting. I didn’t recall doing this, but somehow, I must have mentioned to Denia Metaxa, who managed the live shows at Panik, that I had written poems in my past. A few days after we started discussing what the song would be about, Denia asked me to send them my poems. They wanted to use some of my own words in the lyrics of the song.

I was immediately touched by this level of personalization. Kostas and Panik were making a big deal out of this, taking the time to make the song special for me. The only problem was that my poems are very personal to me. Some were written many years ago, even before I was married, when I was in the midst of a major life change and a dramatic heartbreak. Sending my poems to Kostas was like giving him access to my private journals. No one had read these poems except my husband and close family. It was a bit scary for me to send them.

But this was a big deal. It was time to set aside my fears. I mean, it’s not every day that a famous rock star offers to write me a song! So, I swallowed my pride and pushed through my fear. I think I felt my stomach lurch as I finally forced myself to hit ‘send’. But it felt great too! My poems were on their way and the song for my book was in progress. A dream come true!

But then, a few weeks went by with no word from anyone from Panik about my poems or the song. I was kind of freaked out, feeling a bit exposed and insecure. What if Kostas hated my poems? What if Panik had changed their mind about the song?

Thankfully, only one more day of this went by before I received affirmation in the form of a selfie from Kostas and Lia which said, “Hi!!!! Excited to be working on the song!” As it turned out, they had put together a whole team of professionals for this project! Also, Denia mentioned that they had selected two of my poems that they liked a lot, but one really caught Kostas’ eye: The Chameleon.

( Photo: Kostas Martakis & George Arsenakos)

For the song, I had not met the Lyricist for the song yet, Vicky Gerothodorou, so I did not understand then that she was the one who took the words from the poem that Kostas liked and transformed them into the actual lyrics for the song that would one day become “Forever & Tonight”.

Of course, the real ‘master’ behind the song is George Arsenakos who is the CEO of Panik Records. He has a special talent – in the music industry it’s called “Artists and Repertoire” (“A&R”) – to assemble the right people into a team to not only bring the song to life, but to predict what most listeners will want to hear in a new song. In this case, this was particularly challenging because George knows the Greek market well, but this song needed to appeal to people across the world and in the United States and to mirror the tone and feeling of the book. To do this, he reached out to others in the music industry outside of Greece to analyze how the song may be received and based on this, to determine what lyricist and music producer to use.

Ultimately, George chose an amazingly talented music producer, Marios Psimopoulos, to compose the musical score, record Kostas’ voice and to mix it all together in just the right way to make the song. Marios had collaborated with Kostas on two of Kostas’ previous hits that I loved, so I was really excited to work with him.

( Photo: Marios Psimopoulos & Alysia Helming, while recording "Forever and Tonight" with Kostas Martakis)

This song would be a new concept for both the US and Greek song markets because it combines the sounds and instruments of Greece, but is performed primarily in English. Almost always, songs that sound distinctly Greek are performed in the Greek language, especially in Greece. Kostas voice is rich and his range is impressive, almost like an opera singer, but his native language is Greek so he is most comfortable singing in Greek. How to make him feel comfortable enough to sing in English, while maintaining the beauty of his Greek accent? For this we hired Terry Siganos, a music industry dialect coach, for Kostas.

For a few months, this team, made up of Kostas, Marios, Vicky, Lia and George worked together to record different versions of the song for the book. Each time, I would approve and/or make suggestions for changes. But here’s the thing: how do I know what a song should sound like? I’m not in the music industry. So, I sent it around to my friends here in the US and asked their opinion, something like an off-the-record sampling; but mostly, I listened to my intuition. Did the song reflect the feeling of the book?

(Photo: Marios Psimopoulos, Kostas Martakis, Alysia Helming, Terry Siganos)

But each time I heard a new version, something was always missing. Finally, in August, George invited me to go to the studio where I met Marios and watched as they recorded a new version of the song. It was during this session, that it hit us what was missing all this time: me. As I sat next to Marios, Kostas sang directly to me and it made a huge difference. I helped him adjust his English and to simplify some of the lyrics; and in return, his voice really came to life.

I must say that while this was an amazing experience, it was also a bit strange for me. It felt totally surreal to have the real-life man who looks exactly like the character I wrote, singing this incredibly romantic song to me, the whole time staring into my eyes like the story I wrote was real. For Kostas, this was no big deal. He serenades women while on stage as part of his regular job. But for me, this was not normal and had never happened to me before!

(Photo: Vicky Gerothodorou, Alysia Helming, Kostas Martakis, Marios Psimopoulos)

It was then that an idea hit me: I needed to write this scene and the feelings I felt into the book. Through this experience, I decided to modify a chapter in my book “Protogenesis” to add Ever singing a song at the school dance to Helene, a song that he wrote just for her. I also enriched the descriptions of Ever’s Greek accent, added references to Ever being Helene’s “Chameleon” (with his eyes changing color with his varying moods) and interspersed some of the lyrics into other chapters throughout the book.

Ultimately, we decided to model the song a bit after the theme song from “Titanic” sung by Celine Dion, “My Heart Will Go On”. To enhance the sounds, we hired a top Greek musician, Thanasis Vasilopoulos, who played a flute-like instrument at the beginning called a lute. Then, in the middle of the song, we added an instrumental solo with the clarinet. I did not realize it, but the clarinet is used a lot in Greek music. It was amazing for me to be there with Marios and to actually be a part of the composition of this score.

(Photo: Marios Psimopoulos, Alysia Helming and Thanasis Vasilopoulos)

After nine months, the final version of the song, “Forever & Tonight” was finished and it is truly incredible! Kostas’ voice is rich and beautiful, and it feels as if he and the musical instruments are in love, singing back and forth to each other in perfect harmony. To my American ears, the clarinet solo sounds almost like a saxophone from the smooth jazz songs we have in the United States. Something like Kenny G. The song has ultimately become an embodiment of the magic of Greece and the essence of the other-worldly romantic story in the book.

I am most thankful to everyone at Panik Records that made the song a reality and for this very special ‘gift’ from Kostas Martakis, my friend and collaborator, for the book “Protogenesis”.

Watch our "Making of the Song 'Forever & Tonight' for Protogenesis" video here:

Forever & Tonight Original Song by Kostas Martakis*

On a night like this, the stars above are shining As a chameleon, I'm changing in your eyes I will be yours till the sunrise

I want you now, don't you see? Burn your boundaries and come with me I want forever and this night Take me in your arms and hold me tight

I want you now, don't you see? Feel the way I feel and be with me I want forever and this night Eternity begins tonight, come hold me tight…

Clarinet Solo

On a night like this, the world becomes our heaven And we chameleons who fall in love with light Fallen’ in love with forever

I want you now, don't you see? Burn your boundaries and come with me I want forever and this night Take me in your arms and hold me tight

Se thelo tora pio poly (I want you now, even more)

Feel the way I feel and be with me I want forever and this night Eternity begins tonight…

Clarinet Solo

Se thelo tora pio poly (I want you now, even more) Oooohhhhh… I want forever and this night…

I want you now, don't you see...? Feel the way I feel and be with me

Se thelo tora pio poly (I want you now, even more) I want forever and this night Eternity begins tonight, come hold me tight…

*Produced and recorded by Panik Entertainment Group Ltd with Kostas Martakis, Marios Psimopoulos and Vicky Gerothodorou.


The Chameleon

Poem by Alysia Helming Copyright ©2017. Alysia Helming. All Rights Reserved.

We are one…the same, created from a similar mold. You are me and I am you, as the tale is destined to unfold. This is why your mind and spirit strive to be with me. So much common energy, such luminous creatures are we.

You are the Chameleon, your multi-dimensional nature in plain view, Yet your ever-changing demeanor, one can easily misconstrue. Through the many shades and shadows of your soul, I sense your overwhelming desire to make me whole.

The complex nature of your being, Will be your demise, surrender and seeing. You invade my serenity and confidence so pure. I feel your presence standing there, so demure.

I am filled with a brazen state of awe and wonder, The hidden storm brews, striking like thunder. Oh, your radiant rays of color bring me to my knees, The fire ignites as a rustling wind stirs up the trees.

The delicious touch of your body haunts me like a dream. I watch as white swans swim among the rising steam. There, you touch me. Oh, I am weak. And now I hunger for you… Oh, so sweet.

I want you now. Don’t you see? I cannot hold back most endlessly. It is you that I so totally desire. The sun rises and sets as if it were on fire.

One day, in the sweetest depths of night, I shall call upon you. You will suddenly see my rich color in the most brilliant hue. I will rouse your deepest emotions in a stunning display. And you will understand what it is about me, I daresay.

Will you not see that we are really meant to be? One in the same…Oh, so effortlessly. I know you will fight the awesome energy, Not believing for a moment in endless destiny.

“I know you,” one chameleon says to another, “And I know you,” the other responds, seeking to hover. As the rich colors of our glistening eyes meet, the dream will begin. For then we will know for sure that ever-lasting love is within…

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