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The Iceland Of My Heart

Published April 29, 2010

Lately, we hear a lot about Dubai being the Iceland of the desert or Greece being this year’s Iceland. Iceland, however, is more than just a metaphor for economic stupidity. Songwriters have long used Iceland to illustrate a variety of emotions and events. None of them good.

The Sinking of
the Reuben James
Performer: Woody Guthrie
Year: 1942
Iceland reference:
“One hundred men went down to their dark and watery graves,
When that good ship went down only forty-four were saved.
T’was the last of October, they save the forty-four,
From the dark, icy waters of that cold Iceland shore.”
Metaphor: While both geographically and historically accurate in the case of the first US ship lost during WWII, there’s something particularly tragic about being drowned off the coast of Iceland. Some versions say “cold, icy shore,” but Iceland sounds more to the point. The shores are as cold as the sea. And so, no doubt, are the people.

My Heart Stood Still
Performer: Frank Sinatra
Year: 1963
Iceland reference:
“I laughed at sweethearts I met at schools
All indiscreet hearts seemed romantic fools
A house in Iceland was my domain
I saw your eyes, now castles rise in Spain”
Metaphor: Pretty obvious here. Iceland is cynicism and loneliness, but thankfully it is just a state of mind. It only takes love to remove you to Spain where all is bliss. All you have to do is believe, and there will be no more Reykjavík. Originally composed for the 1927 musical “A Connecticut Yankee,” where the hero dreams himself to King Arthur’s Court. Yes, everything is possible.

War Nurse
Performer: Bruce Springsteen
Year: 1972
Iceland reference:
“She was the reincarnation of the virgin Mary
She was the hooker down in San Antonio
And although her heart was somewhere in Iceland
Commanding the dawn patrol
Blessed in this blood and stitched in these bones
The war nurse left us all”
Metaphor: A song from a bootleg of unreleased material, which includes lines that will later appear on his debut. Bruce here mixes the two “Iceland metaphors,” the cruelty of war and the lack of love. It is, however, unclear whether the titular character’s Icelandic heart is better represented by the Virgin Mary or the San Antonio hooker. The dawn patrol is still active in Iceland and can be seen late on Saturday evenings/early Sunday mornings throughout the country.

Performer: Lars Winnerbäck
Year: 2004
Iceland reference:
“Ner faller löven
och bladen blir mull
Jag kanske åker till Island
Jag kanske super mig full
Jag är för fattig för London
Jag är för tyst för LA
Det finns en anda i Dublin
men den är skadlig för mig”
Metaphor: The singer proclaims his intention to leave his native Sweden before the end of summer. He is too broke for London, too silent for LA. There is spirit in Dublin, but one not very good for you. He might go to Iceland to get drunk. Well, at least it’s good for something. Skål.

Yellow Submarine
Performer: The Beatles
Year: 1966
Iceland reference:
“Hljómsveitin er íslensk”
Metaphor: It is a little known fact that parts of the Magical Mystery Tour movie were shot in Iceland. It is even less noticed that somewhere around 1.45 of Yellow Submarine, you can quite distinctly hear someone say: “The band is Icelandic.” And in Icelandic at that. Could it be that the Beatles, like James Bond, are actually Icelandic? Or did they merely reuse old “Thor’s Hammer” tapes and forget to delete them first. What can it all mean? Iceland on the brain, or something that got in there?

I’m on an Island
Performer: The Kinks
Year: 1965
Iceland reference:
“I’m on an island and I’ve got nowhere to swim

Oh what a mood I am in
I’m on an island
I’m on an island since my girl left me behind

She said that I’m not her kind

I’m on an island”
Metaphor: The Kinks played eight successive concerts in Austurbæjarbíó in September 1965. A couple of months later, Kinks Kontroversy came out, featuring this song supposedly written in Reykjavík. The metaphor here is similar to the one employed by Frank Sinatra, ‘The Island’ (Iceland) as loneliness. In the next verse, the island becomes tolerable, if only the girl were there with him: “But there is nowhere else on Earth I’d rather be if my long lost little girl was here with me.” 

Immigrant Song
Performer: Led Zeppelin
Year: 1970
Iceland reference:
“A-ah-ahh-ah, ah-ah-ahh-ah,

We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde and sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming”
The usual. Iceland as exotic paradise much beloved of shouting longhaired men with bare chests. The first two lines sound as if lifted from a tourist brochure, until Viking imagery takes over. The last two lines are quite apt today: ”So now you better stop and rebuild all your ruins / For peace and trust can win the day despite of all you’re losing.” 

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The Mengi Set


Amongst the fast-changing merry-go-round of music venues in Reykjavík’s city centre, something unusual sprang up around last Christmas: a small, homely, unassuming performance space on Oðinsgata, called Mengi. It appeared quite suddenly, passed around initially only by word of mouth, but quickly become a well-liked venue hosting three shows a week for an intimate, fifty-strong audience. One of the people behind Mengi is bassist, guitarist and composer Skúli Sverrisson. Having lived in New York for over two decades, Skúli had recently moved back to Reykjavík when the project began. “I had been living in a very big city for 25

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Akranes: Where Busted Amps Go!


After carefully lugging my vintage guitar amplifier all the way from New York to Iceland, I foolishly plugged it in without a power transformer. There was an unusually loud humming noise and then it started smoking. The smell of burned plastic gently wafted around my flat. My panicky brain immediately cycled through these thoughts: Smart move, Matt, not only will your wife kill you for nearly burning the place down, but also you’ve fried your amp. There was no avoiding the first problem. The second might just require a good repair guy. I started asking around and all of my

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Quarashi’s Music Video Odyssey


Quarashi is an Icelandic rap group founded in the mid-90s by Sölvi Blöndal, Steinar “Steini” Fjeldsted and Höskuldur “Hössi” Ólafsson (Hössi left the group in early 2003, and was succeeded by Egill “Tiny” Thorarensen). The band recently resurfaced with “Rock On,” their first single after a nine-year hiatus. We spoke with founding members Sölvi and Steini about their history as a band and what thoughts went into making their latest music video. “Switchstance,” 1997 Director: Arnar Jónasson (director of the documentary ‘Rafmögnuð Reykjavík’ (‘Electronica Reykjavík’) Steini: That was the first thing we did, in the way of a song and

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We Want The Airwaves

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We are thrilled to announce that Straumur will host its own Iceland Airwaves off-venue programme at Bíó Paradís, November 5-9. We will have many of our favourite artists perform, including lo-fi indie duo Nolo, who are currently working on their third LP; the ever-so-talented M-band, who released his first album this year; and the hazy newcomer Pretty Please. We are currently in negotiations with other mind-bending acts and we’ll let you know when the results are in. In other news, standard bearers of the domestic disco scene Boogie Trouble just released a new single from their forthcoming and as-yet unnamed

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Time To Get Planny! The Airwaves Schedule Is Up


In case anyone missed it, Iceland Airwaves have released the official festival schedule in the shape of this handy PDF. Once you’ve scanned the lineup (and, if your taste lies on the art-pop side, realised with mounting horror that Future Islands (pictured) and The Knife are a direct Saturday night clash), you can head over to the Airwaves website and start constructing your personalised schedule here. The festival’s official lineup kicks off on the evening of Wednesday 5th November, but for early arrivals or particularly eager festival-goers, there’ll be music throughout Wednesday daytime too. The “off-venue” schedule will be dropping

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Autumnal Blues

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The pouring rain in the past couple of weeks has made it painfully obvious: autumn is upon us. It’s the time of the year when it’s best to stay inside, curl up in a foetal position under a blanket and drink some hot cocoa. For that kind of non-activity you need a soundtrack. Here is ours. Megas: “Tvær Stjörnur”  Autumn is a time for heartbreak if there ever was one, and “Tvær stjörnur,” a song about lost love and the inevitable passing of time, is Megas at his most romantic and bittersweet. Megas, whose vocals are usually raspy and indistinct,

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