Why Iceland?

“Why Iceland?”

I still remember the first note of “Untitled 1 (Vaka)” chiming into my ears. (Listen to Vaka here). I could feel the ocean of sheets calmly beneath me as I closed my eyes, and felt warm melodic waves lapping up against my sides. I was sinking into my entire bed, in a giant heap of musical notes bursting into the air like seagulls above my head. They sang the most delicate tune, something unlike any gust of wind I had ever heard rushing through my ears. It was more like ten thousand wind chimes twirling about at once. This was my first encounter with the band Sigur Rós, and I knew from the moment I heard them that they were more myself than I was. The instant I felt those first few notes, the ambient and foreign voice of Jónsi mixed with the atmospheric notes and strung out hums, I was pulled. I was the entire ocean, letting the moon softly guide me into my own lullaby. I felt like the music was expressing some sort of essence beyond anything I could every truly perceive or experience. I felt a collective consciousness between myself, the notes, and the fog settling onto the trees outside of my window. It was such an ethereal feeling, as if  it captured every single hum of whatever this thing called Being actually was. There were silent rockslides, waterfalls falling into reverse back up into the sky, all through Jónsi’s delicate lips.

I remember spending that entire night, unable to sleep, listening to life beginning around me. I felt that everything I had ever previously known was nothing anymore, just an idea falling away from me like the smell of lavender diffusing higher away into the air. But it wasn’t the lavender that was floating away, it was myself. I was simply existing without any tangible idea of what I was. I just, simply, Was. I died that night, and came back to exist in pieces that only strings of a violin could stitch back together.

Knowing almost nothing of the music I had encountered, I decided to research them that next morning. I immediately found out that they sung in Icelandic, which invoked this urge to look up their lyrics and see how they laid themselves out as words instead of foreign sounds. I found out that the specific song, “Untilted 1 (Vaka)” was not in Icelandic, but rather something that fans of Sigur Rós called “Hopelandic,” a form of glossolalia or perceived lyrical “gibberish,” as the band once called it. It meant absolutely nothing, yet was filled with such an ethereal tone. It was the emotion of that sound that made me feel enlightened. I would spend every night with them in my ears, every drive through the countryside. I would listen to them when I felt empty, and I became a flourishing forest draped in some glowing essence like tinsel or fog. I was complete. Never had I felt so much passion and emotion for something. They became less a band and more a rhythm of my life. Their beauty was foreign, and it intrigued me. That’s when I sought out for the source of their music, the influence behind it. It was simply, Iceland. I watched their documentary “Heima” where they travelled across the entire island playing shows in small fields and old houses, abandoned fish factories and big towns. I fell in love with Iceland, I felt their music within it even though I had never been there. And as a result I also began learning the language. I discovered the Sagas, the Eddas, the history behind such a beautiful place, and I just couldn’t keep away.

A few years later, on April 10th, 2013, I jumped upon an opportunity to see Sigur Rós live in the flesh. I had gotten tickets months before, and was anxious up until the very day of the concert. I remember all too well that aching feeling as I waited for them to walk onstage. I could feel my muscles retracting, contracting, retracting, as I tried to keep my balance on the concrete floor, nerves frayed and running rampant throughout my body. I had to hold my own hands to keep them from shaking. A curtain covered the entire platform of the stage as we waited, and suddenly the room went dark. My hands shook, and as the lights slowly brightened, I could see the silhouettes of Jónsi, Ori, and Georg appearing as soft outlines through the semi-transparent curtain. I suddenly imagined the entire stage as the platform of land right behind the famous waterfall in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss. A thin veil of water was the only thing between us. When the curtains fell away at once, when I saw Jónsi in all clarity on that stage, from the very first hum escaping his lips, I broke down and cried. After that night, I wrote in my journal, “If you condensed the air between my face and Jónsi’s, in that very moment, we would be face to face with an atmosphere bending around us, like a halo. It was overwhelming, this feeling like giant waves of a waterfall were crashing down from the skies at all corners and angles around us, and it was only myself and Sigur Rós there amidst the seclusion.” I couldn’t help but feel weak and vulnerable as I was doubled over, shaking and overwhelmed. All the bodies weaving back and forth around me were like an extension of Jónsi’s voice: a collective consciousness. Everything, even his murmurs, felt beautiful and tangible. It was and still remains to this day the most beautiful moment of my life.

The next day, April 11th, I remember waking up only to burst into tears on the spot. I couldn’t gather my feelings, couldn’t tell if I was crying out of happiness or just pain that my moment with Sigur Rós was over. I just knew it would never be over in my mind, it would always remain with me, reverberating in my ears. It was endless. After that night, “endless” became a word I associated pure beauty with. One of Sigur Rós’s albums, Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust” (translated to “With a Buzz in our Ears we Play Endlessly”), chimed into my mind like the first notes I had ever heard from them. Months before the concert, I came to define my life with this simply coined phrase. I spent 18 years of my life living with this constant, dull buzz in my ears, yet I kept going, and going, and going. It was a painful buzz, one of confusion and ache, and I felt that i had to keep going because it was a noise and inconvenience I had to overcome in my life.  When I found Sigur Rós, that buzz became a melody. It was something I didn’t just have to endure, but something I could play along with. With a harmonious buzz in my ears, I played endlessly. Endlessly. In Icelandic, “Endalaust.” That day after the concert, I had the word tattooed onto my forearm, endalaust, a constant reminder that beauty was always an endless ache. This endlessness to me was not linear, it didn’t flow like time, into the future. Rather, it was cyclical. It circled back around, over and over again, like a ouroboros unknowingly eating its own tail. I came to place my moment with Sigur Rós on this endless loop, hoping that one day I would loop back to the moment, and feel the same way I felt, standing between myself and a beauty only Icelandic had ever induced.

Endalaust

I think by falling in love with Iceland and wanting to travel there, I’ve been trying to chase the moment lingering on that stage. In in effort to feel some morsel of their beauty, I decided to take up the Icelandic language. I bought all the sagas, read countless books on the culture, started teaching myself the language, and began planning a trip there for he summer of 2014. It has been nearly 10 months since the date of the concert, and I am very submerged in the rhythm that is the Icelandic language. As a poet and an artist, I’ve been able to find this beauty in the linguistic properties of Old Norse. Every day I spend three or more hours practicing the language, memorizing noun declensions, listening to Icelandic music and television shows like the famous Næturvaktin (Night Shift), watching live broadcasts on RÚV (the National Icelandic Broadcasting Service), and soaking myself up in the culture of Iceland. It is unreal to think I have absolutely fallen for a country I have never been to, but there is a pull towards it that cannot say otherwise. The country, from a distance, has never made me feel so alive.

One thing that is outstanding to me is that Iceland is so in touch with it’s roots, and families are seemingly so close and united. The whole country, from what I have heard from others, reverberates with this air of belonging. I have never been close with my family. All my distant cousins, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, they aren’t prominent in my life. Many have hurt my family very deeply. So all I really have is my parents and a younger brother. It’s difficult, not growing up with a big family. I think subconsciously I’m hoping I’ll find a sense of community and unconditional love in Iceland. Even if I don’t receive it myself, I want to see it, and know that it is tangible.

I think those are main reasons, and aside from that I cannot forget to mention the pure aesthetic of the nature there, the history, language in general, music in general, and just the feeling I get when I submerge myself in the culture, whether I am actually in Iceland or not.

I understand it may not be what I hope or expect, but for now it has given me a sense of drive and ambition, as well as an internal purpose in a vast and meaningless world. It’s purely something beautiful to experience and I’ve latched onto that. So I move on, endlessly, endalaust, towards something with an overwhelming energy I can not and could not ever explain.

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One Response to Why Iceland?

  1. Pingback: Why You Should Listen to Icelandic Music | Endalaus

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