The One and Only: İlhan İrem

Any way you cut it, the most beautiful word to be written for İlhan İrem in Turkish pop and rock history book will be “one and only”.

When we look at Turkish pop and rock history and think about, “Who is İlhan İram, how he looks and who are his predecessors and successors?”, we asked a question that cannot be answered easily. I think, the answer is “no one”, because any way you cut it, the most beautiful word to be written for İlhan İrem in our Turkish pop and rock history book will be “unique”.

Passed away on July 28, İlhan İrem was at the top of the list of artists that can be described as “one and only”. His name was written on the most critical turning points of Turkish pop and rock music. And at every turn, he held his own destiny in his own hands with his celestial stance.

In his life journey that started in Bursa in 1955, he has always been a representative of a quest, and has always succeeded in revealing what is different at the end of his painful creation processes. Instead of making songs that have been chewed hundreds of times and guaranteed market success, he preferred to write non-daily songs. İrem was one of the pop singers of 70’s with long hair, his earrings, sunglasses (even nail polish on his nails); he wrote naive love songs, but made his heart tremble more deeply than his contemporaries. The Gold Record he won with his second extended play, “Haydi Sil Gözlerinin Yaşını / Yazık Oldu Yarınlara”, did not spoil him unequivocally, but also gave him the determination to work to reach higher heights.

When he was about to enter the 80’s, he was not content with what was happening, although his fame was getting stronger, and he accelerated his spiritual searches. The most obvious breaking point was the album “Bezgin”, which he released in 1981. On its cover, a musician crouching on a Turkish carpet greeted us; with his whiskey next to him, with his local cigarette and matches right in front of him, with his piano and notes waiting for him behind him. On the back cover, we cannot see the musician in the same frame. The whiskey was drunk, the cigarette was out, and the notes were scattered throughout the room, some crumpled.

That unique man who haunted the rock world, who took away Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, made “Bezgin” when he was 27 years old. The album was born under the fashion of arabesque and pianist singer; on the one hand, in a country that is in the grip of a military dictatorship. İlhan’s most magical theme was loneliness. Although it sounded like pop, “Bezgin” was implicitly signaling future symphonic rock albums.

Instead of singing love songs leaning on the usual clichés, İrem sailed to the days when he looked like a naive dervish, fluttering like a “bird taking off from the reeds” to search for the reason for existence, calling out to the inner world of people, seeking answers to questions about the need for love. On the journey with “Bezgin”, he had stopped at the stops before “Pencere”, “Köprü”, “Ve Ötesi”.

He supported the establishment of the Green Party in the eighties; He didn’t move an inch when “arabesk” was king. While his first period consisted of pure-hearted emotional pieces, he wrote songs that could not be consumed easily, especially at the last turn, in his mysterious journey from pop to symphonic rock; It was as deep as the grasshopper of a Kung Fu drama, and as meaningful and heartfelt as it was.

Moreover, these were not songs sung from the glass mansion to the people. He was processing the lines written by his wife Hansu Hanım like a jeweler, and circling around the songs that emerged like a whirling dervish. While one leg of the philosophy he put forward expressed the secular enlightened republic, on the other side of his scales was a unique philosophy that was a synthesis of beliefs about mythology, metaphysics, ancient religions, reincarnation and the cosmic world. As a result of her mystical love for human, life and nature, İrem created an emotional and passive front against all evil.

He was voted “Best Male Singer” by Hey magazine readers in 1988, but he never really put his music into a grocery store. Afterwards, he was disturbed by the reaction in which the world and our country were suffering, and he made a radical transformation effort; İrem reacted to the colorlessness and timidity that appeared especially in the music world, with the effect of the dead soil sprinkled on us. There was a song called “Blues for Molla” in the album “Uçun Kuşlar Uçun”, but it was removed from the repertoire because it could not get permission from the Ministry of Culture due to its name.

He was not just a singer or a musician; he wrote poetry, painted, was a complicated artist. That’s why it was “unique”…

Covers of countless magazines, receiving hundreds of awards, followed by albums, books, pictures; above all, we have lost a contemporary poet who left the crowds of people whose thoughts he enlightened. The timeless and placeless dervish who brings light and love together, with no contradictions between his ideas and his way of life; We have lost a man of heart who is synonymous with the word “with light and love”.

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