Our daily scanning of magazines, blogs, news websites, etc. for inspiration led us to the conclusion recently that Iceland has captivated a lot of minds. We do not know why, but it is popping up everywhere. For example, this portion of a wonderful post on Paris Review‘s website about a recent event at Scandinavia House:
…It’s a young crowd, trendy, expectant, giddy even, though I’m surprised to see so many empty seats. It turns out Scandinavia House closed their RSVP list weeks earlier, almost immediately after announcing the event, grossly botching the numbers and no doubt needlessly turning away scores of would-be attendees. But it’s no matter to those of us here—in fact it makes the evening feel all the more intimate.
It’s a coming-out-from-under-the-mountain kind of moment for Sjón himself. Although a well-known writer in Iceland, if Sjón’s name rings a bell at all in the States it’s been as Björk’s frequent lyricist—notably on her Biophilia album, her 2004 Olympic theme song, and Dancer in the Dark, her Lars von Trier film. Things have changed for him in a hurry though, as Farrar, Straus & Giroux sent the poet/novelist on a U.S. tour (Seattle, Portland, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and New York) to promote the three simultaneously released books: the full-length From the Mouth of the Whale and the novellas The Blue Fox and The Whispering Muse. Move over Blue Lagoon, Americans are about to have a new second-favorite Iceland reference.
The five-city, three-book, one-author tour culminates in the event at Scandinavia House, where Björk treats the assembled to the kind of intimate, I-knew-him-when introduction usually reserved for siblings at wedding parties. Then again, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a sort of brother-sister camaraderie between the two.
“I met Sjón when I was sixteen,” begins Björk, whose clear, ever-hopeful voice threatens to trick you into believing that the forty-seven-year-old performer is still in her midteens. I look around: all eighty in attendance already seem mesmerized as she manages to roll nearly every consonant she speaks. “He had started the first and only surrealist movement in Iceland, a group of about six or so members called Medusa.” It’s a telling way to present a writer who makes mischief with mythologies and metamorphoses.
At the time Sjón was about twenty and set about introducing Björk to the work of his intellectual hero, André Breton. “I felt André was all theory, style, cold: seeing things from the outside, not inside,” Björk recalls. “All about intellectual theory, versus the things I preferred: like impulse, emotion, and instinct … Sjón somehow showed me the more impulsive, raw, and feminine side of surrealism.”
The pair soon formed a rockabilly band. Sjón wrote songs and sang; Björk played drums, impressed by Sjón’s “short, explosive pop lyrics without watering anything down.” One absinthe-fueled night culminates in Sjón biting a bouncer’s thigh and then, handcuffed, performing one of Breton’s surrealist manifestos in the back of an ambulance. These stories, yes, warm the audience up and fulfill the hall’s collective desire to get a little Björk time, but they also provide a rare insight into the coforging of two artists’ sensibilities. It’s an odd thing to suddenly be presented with a writer’s work midcareer, several books at once, and it’s surprisingly pleasant to get the portrait-of-the-artist-as-young-man stories before the author takes the stage. Then again, with Björk, she could’ve warmed us to a telephone book if she cared to…
Read the entire story here.