Bjork: The World's Only Cheerful Icelandic Surrealist

The idiosyncratic singer talks 'The Simpsons,' Kierkegaard, and the hardboard... er, harbor

Michel Linssen/Redferns
November 20, 2013 10:30 PM ET

Bjork Gudmundsdottir, 28, formerly of the Sugarcubes, is nothing if not sui generis, not only artistically but aesthetically. On the day we met she was wearing a vintage black skirt ("I have full respect for the classical"), Reeboks ("my futuristic pump shoes")and a Moomins T-shirt ("sort of like Norwegian Winnie-the-Pooh only more anarchist").

Women Who Rock: The 50 Greatest Albums of All Time

Her 1993 solo album, Debut, which has sold a half million copies, has secured her a position in the music industry that could best be described as the World's Only Cheerful Techno Icelandic Surrealist. I think it's fair to say that she is prepared for the future.

Before we start, I would just like to say I like that cute fuzzy sweater you wear on your album cover.
Thank-you. I've always been for hairy things.

Does that go for people, too?
Yeah, I guess so. I like things when they're a bit alive. And if you don't have a friend or a pet or you're away traveling then it's nice to have cuddly things to wear.

All right, Miss Voice of the Future. Do you feel like you represent your generation?
Well, I'm definitely one of them, that's for sure. But I look on myself as one of those people rather than as a representative. And to me the future will be about being able to do all things at once. You can be, like, a really good businessman and also be a mother and also be really into health food, and you can do basketball – just pick up the best things.

Do you think that's partly because technology offers so many choices that people can make a custom combination platter?
Definitely. Technology used to complicate things, and now it's simplifying. I've gone up, like, nine points in being a businesswoman because I've got a little organizer, and I can write songs and arrange things. You just need the machine, and you can put out records. So record companies, you won't need them, and you won't need media because of Internet.

You're eliminating the middleman.
Yes. I'm not saying there won't be any record companies or media. I mean, that's a pretty big statement.

That's OK. I don't take it personally.
Well . . . I'm exaggerating. But a lot of people from the '80s, for them, the biggest aphrodisiac was power. And I have never identified with that. And for this generation the biggest aphrodisiac is freedom.

And what do you think are the dangers of freedom?
Well, the good thing is with all this equipment, you can pick for yourself. But when you've got all these choices, you can let them control you.

This is what Kierkegaard calls the dizziness of too much possibility.
Yes, you have to know what you want, and it focuses you – not in a yuppie way, in a freedom way. It's all about "Stop moaning and do something about it." But I can sense a sort of optimism in the air.

Where do you think that comes from?
From a generation that realizes that media and the system are not gonna satisfy them. And maybe the people before expected that and then were disappointed. Now it's more like "They won't disappoint me." And you can see it here, like in The Simpsons, they're just taking the piss, there's no respect. I watch something like Ren and Stimpy, and I love them so much, I wish I could marry them or something.

If you could relive your adolescence, what would you change?
I'm quite happy with it.

Oh. You were the only happy teenager in the world.
We had a laugh, man. We were very active and busy and did stupid things. Like not having any money, so we got stuck at autobahn stations, and we would just eat sugar from the bowls and steal petrol from other cars. We would drink two tequilas through a straw and then go roller-skating on the hardboard.

On the what?
On the hardboard. The hardboard. You know, where the ships are.

Oh, the harbor. I've often thought it was a miracle that anybody survives past the age of 16.
Yes, after drinking all the tequilas, you could sink to the bottom of the ocean quite easily.

If you could live in another time, which would you choose?
I'm really happy about this time. I don't want to go through all the cliche subjects, but just being a woman now has never been better. And to be the generation after the generation that fought all those fights, it's outrageous.

How would you define the different stages of rock music?
Well, in the beginning it's always the same thing and then we lose the plot We start looking at the outside of things and lose the heart. That happens over and over. I was just listening to these records from the '30s, bebop music, with one microphone in the middle and a 50-piece band, and it's completely dynamic. It was like punk. I'm sorry, Sex Pistols, but it was punk. It has this complete hardcore energy.

Right. In the same way that Ethel Merman is a rock & roller.
Yes. And that's what I like: the beginning. The beginning of everything is always about the same thing. Being completely spontaneous, with raw emotion and not censoring anything and just sort of having a lust for life.

Do you believe in Generation X?
That's like Kurt Cobain, right?

Sort of. It's the lost twenty something generation.
OK. I don't live here, but just the overall view for me, America reached its last climax in the '50s. In America you can just sense that they've lost hope. But then eventually it will go up again. I mean, I've been living in London for one and a half years, and that's just so depressing because it's rock bottom there. They're at that point like the Romans when they were just eating berries and overdoing it because that was the only way to deal with just going down the drain. That's what London is like. It's like . . . I don't know if it's the same word in English. Like when a brother has a baby with a sister.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »