Despite its name, Verslunarmannahelgin, Merchants’ weekend, is not really like Christmas. It dates back to around 1900 as a benevolent gesture of merchants to their employees, who got one extra day off at the end of summer, to share festivities. To begin with, of course, those festivities were not fitting to any ideas you might have of fun, but seem rather designed to underline the underlying melancholic question of this, as it sometimes seems to Us, rotten, existence – underline it or mock it: there were brass bands, marches and speeches. For decades. But that was before World War II and rock’ n’ roll. After fun landed on Icelandic shores, with guns and gum, the merchants’ festivities morphed as did everything else, and for a few decades at the end of the 20th century it was generally seen as life’s greatest escape route: no matter what goes on for the other 362 days of the year, for three days the collective human flesh of the country will roll around in their own alcohol-induced vomit while listening to bad music, even singing it, and committing an atrocious act or two, towards their fellow human flesh. This version of merchants’ weekend lasted, and even grew, for the latter half of the century, until reaching its peak in the eighties and nineties, and then anti-climaxing severely in 2003.
We need a bit more history to make a fair picture of that anticlimax. Has anyone heard of Árni Johnsen? Árni Johnsen was an MP for the Independence Party. He comes from the Westman Islands, where the biggest and, to some of Us, most vulgar variation on the Merchant weekend festivities has taken place for a long time. It dates back to 1874 – of course, to begin with, it was more focused on sports and speeches, rock climbing and such, than later became the case. What later became the case was Árni Johnsen. It seems that he got most of his support, as MP, from having a guitar and a fondness for Icelandic rockabilly. Everyone who has ever been to the festival in Westman Islands has at some point gathered in a large circle, along with thousands of people, centred around Mr. Johnsen, who sits in the middle, with his guitar, and leads you all in song. It seems that people really like doing this, and it seems that Mr. Johnsen is very good at it.
Now, in 2002, Árni Johnsen was arrested and charged for fraud and theft. He had sneaked into some government pockets to build himself a house and a hut. And he didn’t sneak well enough. He was sentenced to jail, where he infamously became a very active sculptor, producing five truckloads – yes, five literal truckloads – of stones to commemorate fallen sailors. In any case, to make a long story short: when he, and the inhabitants of the Westman Islands, pleaded to have him set free from jail, just for one day, just to pick up his guitar and play and sing at the festival, he did indeed get that permission. To the joy of every local soul, but the dismay of many others. Including, of course, most of Us.
And yes, this may have been the line of separation between Us and them. Not the inhabitants of the Westman Islands and other Icelanders, but between those who feel the world doesn’t fit, and those who strongly feel, or at least act as if they strongly feel, that it does. Those optimistic creatures who feel at the peak of human evolution rejoiced in singing with Árni Johnsen in the V-Islands that day. The rest of us went somewhere else. Or went nowhere at all. Which is where Innipúkinn comes along.
Innipúkinn is the outdoor festival for those who hate outdoor festivals. And so it takes place indoors. Innipúki means something related to ‘party-pooper’ only referring to those party-poopers specifically, who stay inside when you are supposed to be having fun outside. It would be used to scold or make fun of sullen children. And as I must have already filtered out those who never were nor will be considered an innipúki, I can act as if We are all alone here and none of the others listening: this is probably where you want to go. Innipúkinn will be playing music that, ever since the British New Wave has produced the minimal amount of fun available to Us, by acknowledging how absolutely doomed to boredom We are. Sexy and teasing acknowledgement of boredom – does that not come close to describing Blonde Redhead? Of course the society of loners is as intolerable as any other society, in the long run, but if you want to rejoice for once in the common awareness that nothing fits, neither the world nor you nor other people, if you want at least to make that sentiment fit for a night or two, Innipúkinn might just be the place. In any case, I, for one, sincerely hope so.
Then us Nýhil poets will be reading our poetry and speaking about it, that same weekend … some American and Nordic poets are involved too, it will happen in Klink og Bank and the Nordic House, and it will probably involve a misfit sort of feeling too … it might even be preeminent. And there will be some sexy poets around. Those who don’t fear an overdose of acknowledgement of the mistakes of god and men should most certainly keep their ears open for the wheres and whens.
Until then: hang in there.
Haukur Már Helgason was a staff writer who apparently had a nervous breakdown. For more examples of Haukur Már’s implosion, check out his unique restaurant reviews on page 35.