It goes like this: I get an email from “Mugi Mugison” saying that the Icelandic pop star is in Seattle, and that we need to meet for “bears.”
A couple hours later, I get the phone call. Mugison is performing at, of all places, the single gaudiest, least graceful structure ever fabricated: the Experience Music Project. He doesn’t have a phone, but I should just call the Director of Icelandair and swing by the performance, which is part of the introduction of the Seattle to Keflavík direct flights.
And so I go to this hideous building. And I can’t find an entrance and eventually, strangely, the Director of Icelandair answers his phone and greets me warmly, and walks me over, and there’s Mugison.
We drink a couple beers. He smokes cigarettes. We look at a crowd of 300 influential people. There are a lot of short movies about Iceland being screened. There are speeches. There are women in traditional Icelandic garb.
“This is going to be a rough audience,” Mugi says. I nod. The bartender nods. And Mugi wanders up to the stage.
When he says “So I used to watch a lot of porn when I was 17,” half the wait staff runs over to me and says “Does your friend know who he’s talking to?” I shrug. I’m pretty sure he does.
“And so because Jesus’s mother never got to come, I figured when I was seventeen she put a curse on all women that when they came, you know, when they came during sex, they would say her son’s name.”
That’s the climax to Mugi’s joke, or the point when my new friend the waitstaff of EMP declares “Holy shit, that was amazing.”
Through brilliant seating arrangements, one of the most influential DJs in town doesn’t see the scowls. Kevin Cole of KEXP will later write in his blog “I nervously looked around at the audience of travel industry-types, but thankfully, they were just as charmed by this handsome, polite Icelandic musician, and thought it was hilarious, too.”
From where I was standing, there was a lot more nervousness than laughter. There was some tisking. Fuck, Mugi pissed of 90 percent of a crowd of 300 extremely influential people in five sentences.
With that joke, though, Mugi hit the sweet spot. Not the sweet spot God apparently missed when he poked Mary, but the nerve that makes music feel genuine and transgressive at once. The moment where someone can step into the most banal of situations – a massive banquet in this case, I guess Elvis going on Ed Sullivan would be similar – and connect an honest and disarming note to those few who are willing to listen.
I’ve known Mugi a while – it’s been five years since I featured him in an Icelandic magazine as the poster boy for awe shucks small town Icelandic brilliance. While I liked him, I felt his flaw was his interest in pleasing everyone.
Now, he’s hit his stride. He’s the dude that will walk into a building created by the elite of Seattle that resembles the stool you would pass if you ate chewing gum, barbed wire and silly putty for a week, and he drops the Hail Mary of Vagina Monologues in their laps.
There are two ends to the night. First, Mugi agrees to play another show for the people in the crowd really interested in music, and he takes them to the men’s room and puts on a hell of an acoustic set – staring us down and throwing out tunes like a true bluesman. That blows the music fans away, as it should.
The second ending is that I take Mugi out for a drink; assorted friends meet up and ask him if he’s ever met Björk or some such Iceland questions. Just as I’m about to introduce one friend who happens to have been a Christian missionary, he explains the Jesus joke one more time.
Later, she will tell me she was charmed.
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