Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Are All Our Own Messengers

Late November Re-Run Edition, Originally from Last March

They arose, like a cold northern wind, chilling and overpowering.

Clearly, they were of the land - that isolated rock near the Arctic Circle -- but kept warm by the prevailing winds and waters.

A land dragged out of the agrarian age one short generation ago.

A place the size of England. But where England is home to nearly 50 million people, this place is home to about 300,000. And most of them live in the capital city... so when you venture outside, the country is nearly empty.

While... not quite empty. There's unspeakable beauty there. Beliefs as old as the ancient Gods. A place where you an literally go to the spot where America and Europe are pulling apart.

A place that looks like this:

A country that still reveres poets. And still eats hakarl (a dish of shark's head that's buried in sand for six months until it ferments and putrefies). And still believes in elves (even if they claim they only play that up for the tourists).

A country that puts on a massive music festival every October that culminates in a hangover party at the Blue Lagoon.

Four years ago, I discovered an Icelandic band called Soundspell. They were young (17 and 18) and had just won an Icelandic songwriting contest. It was clear that they'd listened to a lot of Sigur Ros and wore that influence on their sleeves.

They were so clearly Icelandic -- you could hear the strange wonders of the country in their songs and feel it in their performances.

But they were more rock-oriented than Sigur Ros... and sang in English.

So I made it my mission to talk them up to everyone I met for the better part of a year.

Soundspell made an album called An Ode to the Umbrella. It wasn't available in the U.S. and I couldn't find anywhere to buy it on the internet. On a whim, I found the email address of the (American) producer and wrote to him. Amazingly, he wrote back almost immediately.

I'd heard most of the songs on their MySpace page (yeah, I know, it was a long time ago). If Sigur Ros could break through, surely Soundspell would be the next big thing.

I wanted the album, but I couldn't find it anywhere. When I went back to Iceland the next year, I thought I could be it there.

The band said on their website that the CD was available at a chain record shop on the main shopping street. It wasn't in the racks, so I asked. And a typically gorgeous Icelandic woman went into the back and dug one out. The dollar was not doing well at the time and I mentally calculated how much I could afford to spend... then added 20%. But the actual price was 50% more than that.

So... reluctantly, I did not buy it.

It was cold in Iceland that Spring. There was snow. And wind.

And a car that was stuck in the snow for hours until someone came along and helped us push it to safety.

Over the next couple of years, the guys in Soundspell played a bunch of shows. The album never came out in the U.S. A few new songs snuck onto their MySpace page. Then their website disappeared. And they stopped updating their MySpace.

I wish I knew what happened. Maybe they're working on new material. Maybe they're in the studio. Or they broke up. Or they've just been busy studying, surviving, trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

I mean, they wouldn't have gone silent just because I didn't buy their album when I was in Iceland.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

One in a Million

How Do I Explain

"There's a fine line," she told me, "between wistful and melancholy."

And I agreed. A fine line.

"You're crossing it again."

Maybe. Maybe so.

"It worries me."

It shouldn't. I know what side of the line I'm on.

"Do you?"



Sure. Well, mostly.

"Right. That's where the worry comes in."

It's fine. There's nothing wrong. It's fine.

"Right. Fine. Like the line."

There's nothing to worry about.

"And yet. I worry."


Then we sit in silence for a while.

"Are you sure?"

And I pause. Because you can't really be sure at the time. Only when you're looking back.

I'm sure.

And she looks satisfied. For the moment. As I stare into the middle distance, blurring the line between wistful and melancholy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Somewhat Insane That It's Sort of This Way

I Don't Know How This Plays

So here's something.

Hearing. Seeing. Knowing.

It alternates between seeming like the most natural thing in the world and seeming insane.

At this point, I have nothing.

This, friends tell me, means I have nothing to lose.

They're wrong.

There's always something to lose.

Hope. Dreams. Ambitions.

But isn't it better to know than to live with the fantasy?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The fantasy has been around for a while. It knows how I like my food cooked and knows where I keep the booze.

Maybe, you say. Maybe not.

And when the cold rains move through like an angry bull, the fantasy takes its leave.

Leaving behind a stream, a trail, a sign that it's been there.

Is there a chance or not?

I don't know.

I may never know.

But I want to know.


I pick up

the phone.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

To a Distant Constellation

Storms inside your head can amplify the plight...

The windstorm whispers through the trees: "You'll be there. You'll be there soon."

I dream of neighborhoods in a city I've never lived in. A city I've spent about three weeks in -- spread out over 15 years.

Its tortured curving streets appear to me sometimes at night. And the animals who wander the backyards find their way into my dreams.

When did the details of this city cross over into my dreams?

And why do the animals look up at me and not run away?

In another dream, I'm on the patio. Looking down on the city. Watching the sun set.

I said something then. This was a real conversation.

But what I said has faded in time. Faded with the fabric covering the furniture in that backyard, which has now seen hundreds of additional sunsets.

All that remains of that conversation is the memory of the feelings. Still awake, still alive.

Interrupted by dream-like visions of the other city, the city I have never lived in.

And the animals who wander the backyards of my memory, crossing over from the real city.

Now the wind has died down. Now the rain has stopped.

And I stare at the clouds, which seem like they belong in that other city.

I see an animal cross the street -- but it's not an animal from here. It's an animal from that other city.

The clouds say nothing, give me no clue.

As the animal that shouldn't be here darts out of sight, I wonder what else has crossed over in the moment when worlds and cities briefly overlap, overlay, and open themselves to my heart.