Friday, May 14, 2010

"Gleymdu Ameríku og vertu bara hér" / "Forget America and Just Stay Here"

Forget America? But it's so big. Hard to forget, but when I do think about it, I just see a map in my mind, and then on different points on the map I see little cut-out pictures of my favorite people pop up and smile and wave at me. It's a map of relationships rather than of geographical features. I like my scattered and crazy American tribe. But when I think that my time here is almost halfway done, and picture myself getting on the plane and flying away it seems like... Well, like I don't want to think about it, so let's talk about something more fun instead. There's plenty to choose from.

Over the last 48 hours the Universe has decided to give me the gift of the Ultimate Playlist of Life. It all started the night before last at dinner with several of my cousins. The food was delicious, the wine was delightful, the company was stellar and there was ever so much laughter, etc. etc. etc. Eventually dinner was done but the wine was not and we started talking about music. Don't click away from this page yet, this is the part where my life changes forever:

"Do you like Páll Óskar?"
"Páll Óskar. His music is playing right now. Do you like it?"
(I listen for a second, it's very danceable techno-disco style music.)
"Sure, it's ok."
"He's a super famous Icelandic singer, he's gay, he changed Eurovision forever back in the '90s. Páll Óskar."
"Yeah, sure I like it I guess."

*fast forward about fifteen minutes* The Páll Óskar album is still playing in the background. I've stood up from the table for some reason and we're all still chatting. Suddenly, I felt my body start to move in time to the beat of the music, but I didn't remember making the conscious decision to do so. I think first my head was just bobbing a little bit, and I turned to the nearest person and said something like, "You know... This music really is pretty good." Then like, my hips started moving to the beat as well. The next thing I knew, I was fully dancing in the living room, tormenting my cousin's daughter trying to get her to start dancing too, which she wisely chose not to do, and shouting over the now much louder song, "This music is amazing!!! What's this guy's name again???"

Páll Óskar. That's his name. One of my cousins (I really need to remember to start asking permission to use their names in my blog so it's less confusing) said that there is something in the genetics of Icelanders, you can't NOT love this man's music. I really think it's true. How can I describe it? It's like, at first you think you're just listening to regular old pop music that would probably be fun to dance to if you were in a club with your friends and were already getting wild. But then, after a few minutes of letting it marinate your brain... You suddenly feel that... You MUST dance. It's more than just a good idea, or something that sounds like fun. No no no, it's so much more than that. It's a command. His voice, the beat, the melody, it DEMANDS that you dance. Like, my little cousin I was trying to get to dance? She was just feeling shy and I understand, but she actually had to hug her knees to her chest to resist moving, and even then her toes were wiggling. Because she's Icelandic! It went against her very nature to disobey the music and hold still!

Put it to you this way... I've already downloaded one of his albums onto my ipod, and from now on, for the rest of my life, no matter where in the world I am, every single time I have a party, a get together, a simple evening meal with friends at home, any time I'm getting dressed to go out, any time I'm driving some place fun, or some place miserable, every time I'm alone and bored with nothing much to do and nothing good on television... Every time I clean my apartment, every road trip I go on, every time I need some help getting excited about life... I will be playing Páll Óskar. I now borrow the words of my friend Shay who once said about Billy Ocean (best known for his 1984 hit "Caribbean Queen") "Billy Ocean. It's like a pulse, it moves through you." Well Shay, if you're reading this pay attention: Páll Óskar makes Billy Ocean sound like medieval Bulgarian folk music. Yes. He's that good.

So, once again, my Icelandicism was reinforced. I love Páll Óskar, therefore I am. But the night was not yet over...


The "Grandmother of Rock," as she's called, sits in her perch on the large shelf in a corner of Dillon which doubles as a "dj booth." If you want to request a song you have to stand on a chair in order to ask her. She's got long blonde hair and there is a picture of her with Robert Plant on the wall next to the door to the ladies' room. *squeal* Anyway, this was my first experience with a playlist of hers, and it was, may I say... Legendary. She was dealing down the hits like an ageless Rock muse who somehow knew all of our woes and exactly what we needed to hear at each moment before we ourselves even did. I tried to remember some of the songs the next day, but I was so lost in the moment at the time that much of it is a blur. I'll make a little youtube playlist of the ones I remember in a moment and will include it at the end of this post, but for now let me just say...

You know how there are those nights where you dance and it seems like every song you dance to brings up some memories of a time or place that you're ready to let go of and suddenly the expression, "I just want to dance it out," makes sense? And as you dance you're reliving little bits and pieces of places you've lived in or driven through, broken hearts, incredibly amazing fun times, adolescent angst, long and pensive car rides, disappointments, elation, even religious programming you need to shake out of your mind? This was one of those nights.

My favorite thing about it was that so many of the songs were the kinds of songs that in America, they would never think someone would dance to. For example, "All Along the Watchtower" as played by Jimi Hendrix, or Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," or Metallica's "Enter Sandman." Never ever have I been in a bar where anyone other than me wants to keep on dancing once those songs come on. They're not really considered "danceable." So you can imagine my shock and delight when I looked around, expecting to be one of maybe three people still dancing to Led Zeppelin, and finding that the whole floor was packed with people. By the time we got to Rage Against the Machine's "Killin' In the Name Of" I realized that - man alive!- I FIT IN! You heard me. Even though there's a bit of a language barrier, I can't shower in front of my friends, and I don't like Opal liqueur, I actually kind of sort of belong here! No one said, "Hey calm down there little lady, we all like 'Rage' but you can't thrash around like that in this bar." Au contraire! As soon as the song was over one of the many dancing long-haired rocker dudes stopped, we looked each other in the eye, nodded in approval of our mutual ability to rock out and gave each other high-fives.

Then Helga and I got our coats and went on to this Celtic place for after-hours beers, and I looked around and realized that except for my Austrian half everybody else was of the same origins as me, we all look sort of related the way people who come from any country besides the "melting pot" of America do, they were all speaking in the language I grew up using as a secret code to talk with my immediate family without being understood by others, it was a sunny morning, and I was about to go wash down a sandwich with some sweet chocolatey kókó mjólk for crying out loud! Does life get any better than that?

Moral of the story: It's fun being here, and rock and roll just might save the world. And if it doesn't, I'm fairly certain Páll Óskar's got it covered.

Here are a couple of good ones from the drive to Akureyri and back yesterday. Will write more about it later, but since I'm posting music here are a couple of good ones. That guy from "Live" really knows what he's talking about.

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