Thursday, February 5, 2015

Björk and Stuff

I want to write about music today. I’m not sure where I’m going with this one, but I know where I’m starting – with Björk.

We all know how the internet works. I started by looking up 808 State because they were mentioned on the Nerdist Podcast (during the intro for a fun interview with Rainn Wilson) and ended up on the Wikipedia page about my favorite Icelander, Björk. Because nobody ever logs onto the internet, checks the one thing they were looking for, and then leaves.
I also have Björk on the mind because of her new album.


I didn’t actually know she had a new album until an acquaintance on Facebook mentioned it. The last thing I heard from Björk was the single “Earth Intruders” and I have no idea when that came out. I really liked it, but for one reason or another I never followed up on getting the related album. There’s a story there, but first I’m going to conduct an experiment regarding my perception of time:

EXPERIMENT

My first thought – without looking it up – is that “Earth Intruders” was released a few years ago.

Then I have to think that “a few years ago” according to my own personal definition would be post-2010 because it is currently 2015 and I know it was longer ago than that.
Then I think it must have been around 2007.

But that’s the year my son was born and – holy crap that was seven years ago (going on eight) – I know it was before that.

At this point I don’t know if it was before I got married in 2005 or before or after I met the future Mrs. Troublemaker in 2004 and I have to give in and look it up before my head explodes and I am SO FUCKING OLD and so many things have happened recently that are actually over the past decade and WHERE IS THE TIME GOING I’M DYING SOON.

Earth Intruders” was released on April 9, 2007 which, for some reason, makes me feel a little better.

It wasn’t a decade ago, but it was before my son was born, like I thought.

END OF EXPERIMENT

So that was just a small sample of how disorienting it is getting old and thinking about things that have happened. It’s usually awful because I’ll just be sitting there, all comfortable with life, the universe, and everything, and then all of a sudden I’ll think of the Beastie Boys.
Here is how these thoughts occur:

Hey, I haven’t listened to the Beastie Boys lately”

Man – that last album was great. Why haven’t I listened to it more? It was so much better than To the 5 Boroughs.”

But that one isn’t really as bad as I thought it was the first time I heard it. There are some great tracks on it. “Crawlspace” is actually pretty fucking awesome. When MCA’s part…”

fuck. MCA is dead.

I don’t want to think about that.”

Licensed to Ill came out in 1986 and that was almost thirty years ago.”

I don’t want to think about that, either.”

Holy shit, Paul’s Boutique was so amazing and I didn’t even appreciate it when it first came out because it sounded so different. I was so dumb!”

And then I’d think about all of the albums, then related acts – Luscious Jackson, DFL, maybe Northern State – and on and on like that.

Which I guess is how I end up going from 808 State to Björk.


The first time I became aware of Björk was when I saw the video for “Human Behaviour” on 120 Minutes. The video – by Michel Gondry – was gorgeous, the girl singing was adorable, and the bear was super creepy. The song wasn’t like anything I had ever heard, which to a certain extent describes everything Björk has ever done. 
 
I didn’t jump on that first album – Debut – because I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of the musical style. This was 1993 – I was seventeen years old and still pretty heavily focused on metal and hip-hop. While I found the sounds of Björk interesting, the music just didn’t fit into my somewhat narrow idea of things that I would buy and listen to regularly. 
 
It occurs to me that MTV played an important role in my life. It was the venue where I discovered new music. In the pre-internet days there was radio and MTV and radio was extremely limited. MTV, on the other hand, played everything together on one station. Within the space of a few hours you could hear Soundgarden, Big Daddy Kane, the Spice Girls, The Pixies, and Slayer; just to name a few. While there were obviously plenty of good and great artists that never saw play on the channel, it still provided a valuable avenue to discover new things. It was the channel that you just left on in the background and every once in a while heard or saw something exciting and new that really clicked.

We don’t have that anymore. And that might be how my brain, in a roundabout way, came up with this post.

I’ve had an idea brewing for a few months now of using the music of independent artists after the intro of the podcast rather than trying to find something appropriate to the subject matter that comes from a bigger, well-known artist. I’d much rather spotlight somebody that you guys might not have heard of than play some artist that’s already all over the internet and iTunes and sells eighty million t-shirts a year.

So I’ve already spoken to a couple of folks and that’s going to be starting soon. We’re no MTV, but at least we can do something to help out the little guys.

Okay – let’s get back to Björk and wrap this thing up.

I didn’t get fully into Björk until I saw her live, and that is something of a story unto itself.

I had a good friend that I would go and see shows with. We saw The Roots with The Pharcyde and Spearhead, The Beastie Boys, and a bunch of other shows that I’d have to look at the ticket stubs to remember. She really wanted to go and see Björk at The Masquerade. I wasn’t all that interested, but I really liked going to see shows with her and in general I’ll go see anybody live. So we got tickets and went. This was August 2nd, 1995.

Now, I had no idea what a huge, giant deal this was. Björk has apparently only toured the US once and 1995 was it. And she played less than thirty cities. So not only was it pretty special that we saw her, it’s amazing that we did so in a setting as intimate as The Masquerade. Most of her appearances since Post have been at massive festivals.

Time wasn’t the precious commodity back then that it is now, so we arrived in time to see the opening act – a common practice that exposed me to a ton of new bands. Some were good, most were not. The band opening for Björk was a NOT. It was a bunch of loud, irritating noise. We couldn’t even understand what was going on. I think the tickets were a tad on the pricey side, though, so I was determined to stick the nonsense out.

I hadn’t even really thought about that nightmarishly bad opening act until I did some research online to find out when this show took place. And that’s when I saw that the opening act was Aphex Twin and my brain did that thing that brains do when they’ve been confronted with two opposing and yet entirely true facts.

You see, I really like Aphex Twin. A guy I worked with at a music store years ago opened my eyes to the magic of Richard D. James and it was like a light went on. I don’t love everything he does, but I totally appreciate it. And there are a good number of songs that I like a lot.

But I hated Aphex Twin that night. Because I had no context, because I was waiting for Björk, and because my musical palette simply wasn’t ready. I was those kids from 1955 watching Marty McFly trying to do an Eddie Van Halen solo on the guitar. 
 
Once that noise wrapped up the diminutive Icelandic pixie took the stage. She was wearing this pink, see-through vinyl dress that I tried not to be too distracted by because my friend was there. I don’t remember if there was any banter – I’d imagine not – but once she started singing, she was incredible. INCREDIBLE. I can’t get over the massive sounds that came out of that little body. 
 
There have been a few times that I was truly moved by a live musical performance. There’s always a reaction, but I mean moved. Like, when you feel yourself filling up with emotion, but it’s so intense and powerful that it’s a physical feeling. Like your body is being filled with a warm, electric fluid. 
 
Faith No More did it.

Tori Amos did it (yes, really).

They Might Be Giants did it (though, oddly, not the first time I saw them).

nine inch nails did it.

Björk did it.

Right there that night, she made me a fan. Seeing that performance was massively powerful and, in 1995, was a huge influence on my taste in music. Or at least, on my willingness to expand my taste in music.

From that night on I followed Björk enthusiastically. I can’t claim that I stuck with her all the way.


Dancer in the Dark was just too much for me. My girlfriend at the time insisted we watch it and it bummed me the fuck out, but only because it is the most depressing film I have ever seen. From that point on I just couldn’t enjoy the music as much, which is saying something about the power of that movie. The following album, Vespertine, never stuck with me. I suppose the after effects of that particular relationship might have soured things a bit, too. Those years of my life often seem like an unreal nightmare.

I didn’t really come back around until the aforementioned “Earth Intruders”, which I believe was released as a free download. Or maybe I paid for it but was just excited to see something fresh and new from an old favorite.

The song was fantastic. I dug it, but for some reason never bought the accompanying album, Volta. I think I didn’t quite trust that little Icelandic nymph to not suddenly bust out some depressing dirges that would be reminiscent of Dancer in the Dark.

Side Note: Yes – I am well aware that the movie was an even worse experience for her than it was for me. Working with Lars von Trier is no treat.

That pretty much brings us up to date. I downloaded Volta shortly after I started writing this and I intend on adding Debut, Post, and Homogenic to my music devices as soon as I get home. I suppose I’ll even give ol’ Vespertine another shot. As soon as the new album, Vulnicura is available on something that isn’t iTunes I’ll get that one, too.

It’s funny how the brain works. My brain, anyway. I hadn’t really thought too much about Björk in years, but for whatever reason that post about her sparked something in me. I vividly remembered all of those experiences – hearing “Human Behaviour” and “It’s Oh So Quiet”, watching Tank Girl with the accompanying perfection of “Army of Me”, and of course that live concert experience that remains one of the most powerful shows I’ve ever seen. 
 
I don’t know if everybody is this way, but music is very much a historical tracker for my brain. There’s nothing else that can evoke memories and feelings so quickly and clearly. So many songs have very specific ties to my soul, so strong that every time I hear them I feel events as though they were still happening. Even when they’re bad feelings they’re still important – not just because I feel alive in a different way, but because that bad feeling is just a memory now. It’s over and I got through it.

As for the good ones – I’m glad there’s something that can trigger those memories in the way that music can. And it turns out that Björk brings up more good than bad.

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