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Interpretation of “Illegal passenger” by Pavlos Pavlides

Pavlos Pavlides is a extraordinary songwriter whose beautiful songs add colour to our life while also providing insight into profound meanings and universal truths. One such work is “Illegal passenger” (Λαθρεπιβάτης): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljahjzRmLrE.

Below are the lyrics, my translation of them, and subsequent philosophical commentary.

Note that Pavlos was the lead singer of the old Greek rock band Ta Xylina Spathia (Τα Ξύλινα Σπαθιά, “The Wooden Swords”). I have already interpreted a couple of their songs:

Λαθρεπιβάτης

Τις περισσότερες φορές που ταξιδεύω με τα μάτια κλειστά
ένας μικρός λαθρεπιβάτης από δίπλα με κοιτάει σιωπηλά
Καμιά φορά μου τραγουδάει ένα απόκοσμο τραγούδι μα εγώ
κάθε φορά που επιστρέφω το ξεχνάω όσο και αν προσπαθώ.

Και όπως φεύγουνε οι μέρες και περνούν τα χρόνια
τόσο μοιάζει ν' αντηχεί πιο καθαρά
σαν κραυγή από πουλί που διψασμένο αιώνια
καθρεφτίζεται στης λίμνης τα νερά.

Τις περισσότερες φορές που επιστρέφω κουρασμένος αργά
ένα αόρατο θηρίο πλησιάζει κι ανασαίνει βαριά
Καμιά φορά μου διηγείται ιστορίες που ίσως έχουν συμβεί
Τις περισσότερες τις είπα και άλλες τόσες έχουν πια ξεχαστεί

Και όπως φεύγουνε οι μέρες και περνούν τα χρόνια
τόσο μοιάζει ν' αντηχεί πιο καθαρά
σαν αρχαίο βουητό που ταξιδεύει αιώνια
και σκορπάει στου καταρράκτη τα νερά

Τις περισσότερες φορές που ταξιδεύω με τα μάτια κλειστά
ένας μικρός λαθρεπιβάτης από δίπλα με κοιτάει σιωπηλά
Την προηγούμενη φορά του είχα πει κάπου σ' αυτή τη στροφή
ότι θα άλλαζα πορεία κι ότι πια δε θα μπορεί να με βρει
Illegal passenger

Most times while I travel with my eyes closed
a small illegal passenger watches me silently from the side
Sometimes he sings for me an otherworldly song, yet
each time I return forget it no matter how hard I try

And as the days go by and the years pass
so it seems to echo more clearly
as a cry of a bird which eternally thirsty
mirrors on the lake's waters

Most times I return late and tired
an invisible creature approaches and breathes heavily
Sometimes it tells me stories that may have happened
I have already told most of them and as many have been forgotten

And as the days go by and the years pass
so it seems to echo more clearly
as an ancient sound that travels eternally
and dissipates in the waterfall's waters

Most times while I travel with my eyes closed
a small illegal passenger watches me silently from the side
Last time I told him that somewhere on this turn
I would change course and that he wouldn't be able to find me

To me, the illegal passenger is an alien being that accompanies the poetic “I” when it aspires to its highest. It is “illegal” because the instituted reality of humankind already has little tolerance for foreigners, let alone otherworldly presences or lofty standards.

The illegal passenger figuratively is the deity that is always by the artist’s side, ready to support them in their endeavours. This peculiar fellow traveller is the source of inspiration of all great works and the impetus for the apparent creativity of the person.

What Pavlos is doing here is to follow the several-millennia-long tradition of not taking ownership for one’s work. The ancient Greek creator would appeal to the Muses (goddesses of arts, letters, and science) for inspiration. The relevant Muse would sing and the human would create.

The creator, then, is not the owner of the work that would conventionally be assigned to them. The intent of the Muse is to share the message with humankind at-large. It belongs to the cosmos. The creator is but a capable messenger, which is a great honour and a matter of responsibility towards the world.

This is not to belittle anyone’s work, but to couch it in terms of the fact of non-ownership. Sure, the legal order may envisage that words, concepts, artefacts, etc. must have an owner, yet no law or edict may render this relationship inalienable. The thing being owned can subsist or be conceptualised independent of its owner, and vice-versa.

[ Read/watch: Who can be a philosopher ]

By attributing the work to the Muses or some illegal passenger, we stop providing assent to the notion that anything can be owned. We learn to let go and, in the process, feel no disturbance when something or someone is eventually—and inevitably—taken away from us.

We also acknowledge that we do not control how others will interpret our works and how those may inspire them to also heed the call of the Muses.

The other meaning of the “illegal passenger” figure is that of the misfit, the ever-alien, who speaks a truth whose profundity is only realised years later. They are a misfit exactly because they cannot be assessed using ordinary criteria. Going by appearances, the illegal passenger is unremarkable and, at times, an altogether invisible creature.

This reminds me of an occasion where I was asked if I earn an income from philosophy. The idea was to determine the worth of wisdom by the proxy of profit. I replied negatively, thus validating the person’s opinion on the uselessness of philosophy.

An artist may perform at some festival and earn an income. A painter might exchange their paintings for a sack of potatoes. What about the philosopher? How much should this omniscient market pay for insights that have the potential to remake a person, either directly or through their reverberations?