Elevator Music

“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready to get confused
There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic
To human behaviour
But yet so, yet so irresistible
And there’s no map
They’re terribly moody
And human behaviour
Then all of a sudden turn happy
But, oh, to get involved in the exchange
Of human emotions is ever so, ever so satisfying ”
-Bjørk

I used to work in the Bertelsman Building in Times Square. It was the headquarters of the BMG record company, and P. Diddy–he was still Puffy then–had offices on the floor below us. Once he got meeting locations mixed up and ended up on our floor. Our gentle receptionist, Paulette, wouldn’t let him in.

This was shortly after he’d been hauled up for punching out a record executive, and his ‘roids were still raging. He leaned over the desk and yelled at her to find the meeting room NOW. The office manager scurried out to see what was going on. They argued briefly. Puffy threatened. Steve told him to leave immediately or he’d call security. I’d like to have seen the confrontation: our slight little hippie with center-parted hair, a handlebar mustache, and tie-dyed shirt ordering Puffy and his people to get out. It’s a mark of how nerdy we were in that software company that no one recognized him, even while his remix of Sting’s creepy stalker song was number one. Afterwards his people sent please-don’t-sue flowers.

A few days ago I stepped into the elevator at work next to a tiny woman bundled up in what looked like a black duvet, speaking to a friend in…Swedish? Not Swedish. I picked out bits from the lilting: “hurdy gurdy gurdy…Public Enemy…” The clear, girlish voice was familiar, but it took me four floors of sideways glances to work out that it was Bjork.

That morning I’d started a book that had been on my wishlist ever since my friend Max told me it was his favorite novel: Halldor Laxness’s Independent People. Max has great taste in everything but women, and sure enough, this is a gem. It’s an Icelandic novel about sheep. If you deserve to read it, that won’t put you off. Iceland’s storytelling tradition is as strong as Ireland’s, and this book is reminds me Liam O’Flaherty’s Aran Islands stories. It even starts with Columcille, an 8th century Irish missionary. Battling the elements is good for art.

The introduction to my edition says that “Self-Standing Folk” would be a better translation of the title, and in Bjørk I see Laxness’s people. It takes self-standing folk to wear that swan dress to the Oscars. (It’s in the Met’s Costume Institute now.) It takes self-standing folk to have her quirky perspective on human beings. Her Debut album was the soundtrack to my college years. Tiny and scrubbed, she still looks like a college girl years after the rest of us have had guilty thoughts about Botox.

Maybe if I’d had _Independent People_ in my pocket instead of on my desk, I would’ve told her how much her joy meant to me. But Bjørk’s been known to punch out stalkers, too, and I didn’t want to interrupt her chat. We got off the elevator and walked down Broadway side by side. I silently wished her extra warmth, along with her duvet and her stripy tights, against from the New York winter.

2 thoughts on “Elevator Music”

  1. I have loved Bjork from the first time I heard her, about ten years ago now. I don’t know if it’s the sympathetic northern climes or the fact that she is the most brilliant arranger since Gershwin.

    Whatever it is, she speaks to this boy’s soul.

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  2. You can hear the snow fall when Bjork sings “it’s so quiet” so if the flurries are swirling around Brooklyn when you read this, you should let Bjork finish the occasion with some of her quiet work.

    The Irish photographer Clare Langan captures some of the blue of Bjork’s landscape in several still and video installations. I’ve always thoughf Langan’s Blue Lagoon pieces should hang with Bjork backing tracks.

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