Hey there. I’m Hannah. I’m an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, and I’m the host of a podcast dedicated to exploring Iceland’s museums. Why? Because Iceland has a staggering 165 museums (that’s way more museums per person than most places in the world), and most of them are fantastic places run by fascinating people who are passionate about their institutions and communities.
I launched the Museums in Strange Places podcast for anyone who loves Iceland, museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. In each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity. If you’ve got suggestions for which museum I should visit next, send me a tweet @hannah_rfh.
Beatle-Town, Iceland: A Visit to the Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll
In the last decade, Iceland has developed a reputation for itself as an incubator of musical talent, and even Americans who mix up Iceland and Ireland know Kaleo and Of Monsters and Men. Since you are reading a Grapevine article, chances are good that you are in the official fan club of at least a few Icelandic bands, and that there’s a cultural hole in your life that only the Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll can fill.
I wanted to fill in the gaps in my own knowledge of Icelandic popular music—past and present—so I took the bus from Reykjavík to Keflavík in early January to explore the Rokksafn, as it’s called in Icelandic. After an hour spent blissfully wandering through the exhibits and listening to music on their iPad app, I sat down with the museum’s Managing Director, Tómas Young, to learn more about how the museum came to be, why Keflavík is sometimes called the “Liverpool of the North” or “Beatle-Town,” why Páll Óskar gave them multiple truckloads of his memorabilia and costumes, and how every single one of Elly Vilhjálms’ dresses ended up in a thrift store in Hafnarfjörður.
If you are wondering why Elly Vilhjálms and Páll Óskar, two of Iceland’s biggest pop stars, are in the Rock ‘n’ Roll museum, it’s because the Icelandic word rokk doesn’t directly translate to rock in English. Rokkmeans popular music more generally, and so the Rokksafn covers everything from the punk scene to Eurovision stars.
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