Back at Strake Jesuit High School, freshman English was about two things: grammar and Greek mythology. Lorded over by the cranky, cynical, chain-smoking and hard-drinking Father Toye, we diagrammed peculiar sentence after peculiar sentence of Father Toye's own devising about the adventures of "Lulu, Mimi and Arabella," who seemed to be living in a New Orleans of his imagining where the year was always 1937 and the Desire Streetcar was always on time. It was vital work, but boring, for him and for us. He was one of the most intelligent men you could ever hope to come across, one who had trained for 17 grueling years to become a Jesuit priest, and here he was in this living purgatory, drilling us fish on subject-verb agreement and gerunds and crap like that.
Sometimes he would lose it. One of my most vivid memories is of Father Toye literally throttling a kid right next to me, just for whispering in class. "Shut up, you little pip-squeak!" he growled, the veins bulging at his temples as his gnarled, nicotine-stained fingers closed around my classmate's neck. To this day, I get pretty damned uncomfortable when I see Homer strangle Bart on The Simpsons. After all, I could have been that pip-squeak. (Indeed, I should have been, for now it can be revealed: It was me talking, not the kid he almost strangled.)
But anyway, come Greek mythology time, decrepit old Father Toye would come to life. Now here was a subject worthy of his talents. He thrilled to tell us of mighty Hercules, noble Apollo and lesser characters like, as he invariably roared it, "Triton! The trumpeter of the sea!" So in his honor (belatedly, the cigarettes finally got him a couple of years ago), and with the Athens Olympics just passed, I've decided to combine the two skills he instilled in me with a dubious one of my own -- namely my useless knowledge of pop culture. So here is a partial pop music pantheon:
Description: Greek goddess of love, beauty, desire and fertility. She was also vain, jealous and, um, impulsive (read: slutty).
Pop manifestations: Madonna, Britney, Christina, Beyoncé, Faith Hill, Shania Twain and almost every woman associated with hip-hop or on MTV. Beauty is their most obvious quality. Another is their willingness to exploit the age-old "Madonna-whore" dichotomy, which is today more commonly described as the "lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets" split. Pop Aphrodites have as many high-profile affairs as their man-eating namesake, both with fellow divines (Madonna-Sean Penn, Beyoncé-Jay-Z) and commoners (Madonna and Britney with their dancing himbos).
Description: Handsome, dull god associated with philosophy, law, healing, reason and technical proficiency in music.
Pop manifestations: Humorless male artists with Important Messages, such as Sting, Chuck D., Michael Stipe, Don Henley and Scott Stapp; also guitar wankers such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, and all smooth jazz.
Description: God of war's frenzy.
Pop manifestations: All jock rock, such as Metallica's "Enter Sandman," that Gary Glitter "Hey!" song, the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," Queen's "We Will Rock You" and "Another One Bites the Dust," and that "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" ditty. Also, all college fight songs, gangsta rap and Motörhead.
Description: Zeus's favorite daughter, the Greek goddess of wisdom, severe beauty and noble war, among other things.
Pop manifestations: Combative female artists with something to say, including Ani DiFranco, Nina Simone, P.J. Harvey, Joni Mitchell and Avril Lavigne. Liz Phair was once an Athena disguised as an Aphrodite, now she's the reverse.
Description: God of drunkenness, ecstasy, mindlessly losing yourself in the moment -- in short, "partying."
Pop manifestations: Lil' Jon and crunk music are Dionysus incarnate. Hair metal was also Dionysus music, as was ABBA, disco, funk, Jerry Lee Lewis, Todd Snider, Little Richard, James Brown, the Beastie Boys, Andrew WK, the Darkness and most music out of New Orleans. If you've ever puked to it, it's probably Dionysus music. Jim Morrison was an Apollo posing as a Dionysus.
Description: Male god of love.
Pop manifestations: All music designed to get someone in the mood for good old-fashioned belly-poppin' -- Barry White, Luther Vandross, "quiet storm" music, Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Prince.
Description: God of death and the underworld.
Pop manifestations: Ronnie James Dio, Tenacious D, all death metal, Styx (you'll wish you were dead listening to them), Marilyn Manson, the Cure, Joy Division and Nick Cave.
Description: Queen of the gods and long-suffering wife of philandering Zeus
Pop manifestations: Regal, wiseladies who have endured much at the hands of men, such as Loretta Lynn, Billie Holiday, Mary J. Blige, Patsy Cline and Lucinda Williams. Dolly Parton is another country Hera in the guise of an exaggerated Aphrodite.
Description: Quicksilver messenger of the gods, protector of travelers, prankster.
Pop manifestations: All shape-shifting musicians, including David Bowie, Doug Sahm, Lyle Lovett, Paul Simon and Beck -- the people whose albums are always something completely different from the last. Also all humorous songwriters, whether sublime or idiotic, a list that includes Morrissey, Biz Markie, John Prine and "Weird" Al Yankovic. (Have those four ever been in the same sentence before? Didn't think so...) Also Twista, 'cause he raps really fast.
Description: Former beauty who wound up a snake-haired monster whose gaze turned men to stone.
Pop manifestations: Unstable women who upset men, such as Karen O, Pink, Alanis Morissette, Stevie Nicks and Tori Amos. Also, wrecked beauties such as Carlene Carter and Marianne Faithfull. And Michael Jackson, whose gaze turns me to stone.
Description: Half-man, half-bull creature that devoured youth.
Pop manifestations: Kid "Bull God" Rock.
Description: Cause of all the trouble in the world.
Pop manifestations: Courtney Love, Yoko Ono. Don't open their boxes.
Description: Lord of the gods, king of kings, master of the universe. Had his pick of the women, and liked to hurl lightning bolts from above at the foolish mortals below.
Pop manifestations: All big boss men: Muddy Waters, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson -- you get the picture.
You can reach John Nova Lomax at email@example.com
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.