Published July 25, 2003
The Sagas often take pains in pointing out how well received Icelanders were at the courts of kings and chieftains. It seems Icelanders have always measured themselves by how foreigners perceive them, and no one can really be sure whether anything is truly good until they’ve been praised by people abroad. No one in this country was actually sure Björk could sing until she started getting praised by the British music press. No one was even sure Halldór Laxness could write until the Swedes took a liking to him and sent him home with a prize. For some merely asking tourists the ever popular “how do you like Iceland” will not suffice, and every so often you see an interview with some local celebrity on vacation in London or New York, apparently on the verge of world fame, who then comes home again in time for Christmas and the escapade is never mentioned again. Before the days of Björk, several attempted and all failed. These are but a few:
Bubbi Morthens was first spotted in 1980, when his debut album Ísbjarnarblús came out, chock full of anthems for fishing industry employees. Fronted a series of rock groups such as Utangarðsmenn (The Outsiders), Ego and Das Kapital, and made a memorable appearance in the Rock in Reykjavík concert film. Went to America to become world famous, was offered the part of Thor in some Z-film on condition that he did steroids, opted for cocaine instead, came home and went through the inevitable drug bender/rehab/mellow album about wife cycle. Lost his hair, become born again, and did a number of commercials, including ones for Visa, Hagkaup and B&T car dealership. Currently hosts a boxing program on Sýn TV channel.
Björgvin Halldórsson was a massive pop star/sex symbol in the late 60´s and early 70´s. Such mania did he inspire that teenage girls were known to break their teeth attempting to imitate his adorable front tooth dental gap. Made his first stab at world fame with Change, who appeared on British television dressed like the Bay City Rollers. Were since called the girls from Iceland by the few who had heard of them at all. But Björgvin (Bo as he is affectionately known), undaunted, made another stab at world fame when he participated in Eurovision on behalf of the nation in 1995. Tragically, he failed to win and currently voices over coming attractions commercials on Channel 2.
Herbert Guðmundsson had been a ships cook and record store employee before going to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. Neither was found, so he returned to Iceland and joined the band Kan, which soon became the biggest live draw of the West Fjords. They released the album Í ræktinni (At the Gym) in 1984, and scored a hit with Megi sá draumur. He released the album Dawn of the Human Revolution as a solo artist the following year, and the song Can’t Walk Away became a Christmas hit. Having conquered Iceland, he went back to Hollywood in 1993 to record a video for a song of the same name he had written there on his previous outing, turning pain into poetry. Currently runs the ice cream store Stikkfrí (Síðumúli 35) and works as a travelling book salesman, but his fan club, The HG Club, is still going strong, churning out T-Shirts and badges and even organising a mini festival at Laugarvatn.
Rúnar Júlíusson was in the mid-sixties the king of the Iceland scene. He was bass player and vocalist in the country’s most popular band, Hljómar (Chords), played in the national football team and dated Miss Iceland. But too much is never enough, and he went on to attempt world domination, renaming the band Thor´s Hammer for international consumption. Despite dressing up as Vikings on occasion, world domination remained out of reach, so he returned home to participate in various other classic rock groups, most notably Trúbrot (Broken Faith). Still lives in his native Keflavík, is married to former Miss Iceland, and plays in a band with his two sons. Applied for the job of bass player with the Rolling Stones when Bill Wyman left in the mid nineties. Was turned down. Managed to have the last laugh of sorts, as the Thor´s Hammer material has become a much sought after collectors item in Japan, and has since been rereleased on CD.