Published September 9, 2011
I hope all you readers out there are well and good. Fall is fast approaching and with it comes the typical darkness and doom and gloom and stuff (eventually), but I personally find that all that darkness, doom and gloom provides a nice counterweight to all the happy-crappy million hours of daylight that summer subjects us to.
Yes, I am not unfond of winter. I sorta love shivering in its dark and cold embrace. And then I also love when it finally leaves. I try and love everything. I can’t always do it, but it’s not a bad thing to attempt. I suggest y’all try it.
Now. As we were laying out this current issue of your Reykjavík Grapevine, I found myself wondering (as I am wont). This time, I wondered: “Why do we keep lionising that whole Smekkleysa/Bad Taste gang and its generation? Why are we putting HAM on our cover, and why have our covers or features so often starred esteemed persons of that group? People like Björk, Jón Gnarr and Sigtryggur Baldursson, to name a few. Why has our ‘HISTORY OF ROCK’ series featured a bajillion entries about stuff that happened between 1980 and 1985, while 1970–1975 only got a couple of articles?”
“Why are we holding that generation and its supposed legacy in such esteem?” I wondered. “Indeed, are we holding that generation and its supposed legacy in such esteem?” I wondered. “What about our own?” I wondered. “Shouldn’t we be featuring some current band on our cover, like, I don’t know, Reykjavík! or something?” I wondered [snicker]
I tried answering my own questions. A lot of the decisions about what we feature and why are my own, after all. “Of course, the generation that this group we keep featuring belongs to is coming of age and to power now,” I thought, “and they are probably very keen on cementing their place in history and documenting their purported influence. Indeed, some of them, like Dr. Gunni, write for us. This might be influencing our actions and decisions. And, lest I forget, these people are the people I grew up admiring and reading about in various alt.publications, that must factor in somewhere, too,” I thought. “Also,” I thought, “tourists love them. And we are a tourist magazine.”
“I remember when I was growing up,” I further thought, “the generation that was then at the peak of its power and cultural influence (and still sort of is, except now their power is mainly political), ‘The ’68, SUMMER OF LOVE’ generation, they were very unabashed about tooting their own horns and making all sorts of claims to greatness. They went around asserting that they created rock and roll, love, sex and most other things, and also that they perfected all of those things. Those self-important fucks.”
And I thought: “I remember not buying those self-serving asshats’ shtick when I was a kid, and I’m not buying it now. But perhaps I and we have been buying into a different generation’s shtick and attempts at image making, the one that’s now sort of ‘in power’?”
“No,” I thought. “Maybe,” I thought. “If so, it’s important we remain vigilant and try to separate mythmaking attempts from reality, and remain critical.”
That gang and generation is probably spearheading a reassessment of their cultural influence and importance (who wouldn’t!). And while they’re doing it, it’s important to remember that neither did they invent any particular wheels nor did they redesign them in groundbreaking ways. But they did get up to some cool stuff, and they did make some good points, just like their predecessors in the summer of love did before them.
The Bad Taste/Smekkleysa gang, for instance, actively practiced and promoted a methodology and ideology that should be an inspiration to us all (and definitely is to myself). The mode of thinking and doing things they promote is an inclusive, egalitarian and rational one if I am not mistaken; it is inspired by punk rock and DIY, hell it oftentimes IS punk rock and DIY. At their best, they emphasised doing things for themselves and by themselves, on their own terms; rejecting restrictive and/or suppressive societal values and paradigms.
They might not have always lived up to those ideals, but at least they had them, and at least they strived for something.
An oft quoted cliché from that time and that gang—one that certainly served as an M.O. for the Smekkleysa group, goes: “It isn’t what you can, it’s what you do that matters” [fun fact: this sentence was uttered by then-Purrkur Pillnikk, later Sugarcube and eventual Ghostigital-er Einar Örn Benediktsson in Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s seminal 1982 rockumentary, ‘Rokk í Reykjavík,’ which portrayed, mythologised and defined that generation at a crucial time].
Now, this cliché and this spirit is definitely something us at Grapevine can get behind. We have always aimed to be inclusive, liberal and DIY, and that is not going to change anytime soon.
What I am trying to say is this: by covering the Smekkleysa gang and its members we are not claiming they perfected anything and that everything is downhill from there. We are not saying that they are the epitome, crux or linchpin of Icelandic art, culture, music or anything else. We are not idolising or holding anyone in reverence, and indeed many of them might well be self-serving asshats.
No, we mainly feature some of these folks because a lot of what they do is kinda cool, or at least bears paying attention to. Furthermore, the idea is sort of maybe to underline the good parts of their spirit and ideology, so that they may be an inspiration to ourselves. A motivation to act out, to create, to do more and better and with a greater frequency. If we are lionising anything, it is the spirit of DIY, confidence, independence and irreverence that some of those people tried to live by, with some great results (like uh BJÖRK) and some maybe not so great.
We need to be all disrespectful and irreverent and confident, we need to make and create our own, so that we, too, may one day champion ourselves and our own musicians in print and piss all over our younger siblings and our kids and what they think is important.
As for HAM, they just plain fucking rock. Goddamnit.
Oh, and by the way, older generations, when it’s time to shove you all into old folks’ homes, we will surely keep in mind how you cut down on all those education and preschool (and senior citizens’) programmes when you were in power.