“Now, forget the size of the human body. Remember that you are a gateway between the universal and the microscopic - the unseen forces that stir the depths of your innermost being, and nature who embraces you and all there is. We are on the brink of a revolution that will reunite humans with nature through new technological innovations.”
-from the introduction to Biophilia, narrated by David Attenborough
It was a full moon and I was on the brink of a revolution. There were rockets outside the science museum, relics left behind of a World’s Fair that captured this nation’s imagination some decades ago in Queens. There were gyroscopes, tornados, and a hall of mirrors to play with within the museum.
Tim and I played with these toys, waiting for the venue, the Queens Hall of Science, to open up for seating. We had eaten some pot brownies on the walk to the museum after eating at a great Mexican restaurant in Corona, Tortilleria Nixtamal. The brownies started to take effect when we discovered all the optical games there were to play with at the science museum – the hall of mirrors, various spinning hypnotic discs and a screen that shadowed your body in the different colors of the light spectrum.
We went into the Hall of Science early on once they started seating people since they had given us a colored sticker to go in during one of the first groups since we had arrived at the science museum so early. A perimeter of people one deep had already formed around the square of the stage. We quickly found a spot with a great view and stood mere feet from the stage, only one person between Bjork and ourselves. Waiting for the concert to start, I got more and more excited, started traveling back in time at this point, knowing how jealous my 15 year old self would be of my current self, how he would not to be able to believe that I would be standing only several feet away from Bjork as she performed for such a small audience.
I first saw Bjork play when I was 16, nearly a decade and a half ago – May 15, 1998 at the Capital Ballroom in DC. Aside from the fact that it was a Bjork concert and she was one of my favorite musicians of the time, aside from the fact that music is for whatever reasons able to effect us the most emotionally during those later teenage years, this concert also holds such mythic import in my mind, in the recounting to myself of the history of my relationship with music, because it was the first concert I attended having purchased the tickets myself, not something I had been taken to by my parents at some stadium or park.
And that time when I saw her then, I was a ball of giddiness, swaying, eyes watering up, my heart ready to jump out of my throat, thrilled to such a degree by the sounds I was able to see perform lived, by even being in the same building as this woman who made this music which I would lie in my bed at night and listen to on my headphones while my family slept safely in our house in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and I experienced a world of beauty that I had never been exposed to before, had no idea even existed. I had fallen down the rabbit hole and saw the most strange and lovely place, was shown other worlds.
Last night, the brownies certainly helped to some extent, but I was again taken back to those days, that swell of feeling and emotion brought about music, specifically this woman’s. Waiting for the show to start, I kept on thinking that there was only this one person between me and where she would be, waves of excitement kept crashing hard against the shore, the sea swelling, something on the way, and I could not fucking believe that this was happening, that somehow I was able to get so close to the stage, that I was going to see Bjork in person, so close, singing. Her backing choir of some twenty or so Icelandic girls came out on stage and Bjork came out soon after that.
They stood motionless, lights dimmed on them, and there was David Attenborough’s soaring introduction explaining that the pleasure we receive from music occurs because through it we are returning closer to nature, that music puts us in touch with objects at a remove, hidden, but part of us, puts us again in touch with these things.
And they started to sing while music was played and they did so for the next ninety or so minutes and I smiled ear to ear for most of that duration, often shaking my head, not believing that I was able to experience such joy, that there were things capable of this still, that music could provoke such things, that any art could. I was thrilled with the knowledge of art’s potential, of our ability to stir up magical things in other human beings, that magic does exist.
There were moments, again let me point or not point to those brownies, when I thought of covens and The Craft, that there was something witchy going on here. Bjork, the sorceress in the middle, singing in this tower under a full moon in her mysteriously evocative plastic blue dress, these young Icelandic girls encircling her, adding their voices to the spell. Something was being called forth.
I kept having flashes of what it meant to first experience music. There was also a bit of sadness that that first experience is so far removed, that the experience of music has become so common, that a great deal of its powers have been diminished. Perhaps that is why I have found myself attending two Bjork concerts in the course of the past year, one of them taking me across the Atlantic, to Manchester, to see this woman.
I have been trying to get something back. Something has been lost. Skins are shed over the course of time. Gray hairs appear slowly on scalps, hairlines become not as strong as they once were. All very small signs of aging, but signs nonetheless. Music and one’s relationship another sign of that I think. Getting absolutely deliriously lost in the spell of music was something that used to happen so easily, be such a common occurrence. Now those moments come much less frequently. They do still appear, often when I am stoned late at night, alone, headphones on, listening to songs online. But I don’t lie in bed and listen to stuff on my headphones and stay awake late into the night to do so. The Internet, like it has done with many forms of engagement, has made it more difficult, made me too easily distracted, that it becomes too easy to skip from one video to the next, search this person or that, and to get lost in an album is more and more rare. Did I mention I have been off of Facebook for a good month now? Only slightly related seemingly, but there is this big problem that I think exists with our ability to engage with art and to get lost in the wanderings of our own thoughts when we have this constant feed of scattered thoughts from some hundred or so people, throwing us so far off the trail of the scents we were following.
I am trying to get back to something and so I have been going to Bjork concerts because that is where some fourteen years ago I felt something more strongly than I ever have, that I have always been wanting to repeat that moment with every concert I have attended since. I have very often been able to do so, have had something close to a spiritual connection with the music being made and performed made in front of me. However, I would be lying if I were not to admit that those moments happen less and less, now to the point where I sometimes wonder if I still hold the capacity to be moved, or whether the world and my length of time in it have inured me to such pleas.
I know they haven’t, but it is a matter of continuing to keep those paths open, to clear the branches that fell on the trail and make it walkable again. And so I go to see Bjork and know that it is still possible, that things can still do this. A few songs into her set, she played “Mouth’s Cradle,” and it happened. It happened again and again throughout the night. The swell really almost flooded the place when she opened her encore with a very minimal version of “One Day,” accompanied just by the sound of a hang drum being played lightly by Manu Delago. It was such an insanely beautiful and soul-rousing performance. She left the stage after a performance of “Declare Independence,” calling back to the still cheering crowd, “Raise your flags!” And we all yelled back, very certain and damn proud to exist in this world after the time spent under the spell of this woman, yelled back, “Higher! Higher!”
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