The drugs and drink behind him and an early morning regime of workouts in the boxing gym have produced a man who exudes health and energy; a man in his prime. And, as Bubbi celebrates his 25th anniversary as a professional musician, he has never been happier, nor busier. A new album (his sixteenth), the publication of a children’s book, the second series of Idol, a documentary and a regrouping of Egó are all to be packed into the next six months. But now is the summer and summer, for Bubbi, means Iceland and fishing.
“As a kid I spent the days fishing out on Meðalfellsvatn, rowing and hooking trout out of the lake the whole summer long. It was a total freedom. I set off each day on adventures, the lake, the river or the mountains – I’d take my pick. When you are a kid you can step into whatever world you want to step into. I would only come back when I was hungry. It was glorious, it was my life and my joy to be there.”
Nicotine gum and fishing instead of drugs
Bubbi’s itching to get down the river, but he also seems happy to talk a while longer. He pops a piece of nicotine gum into his mouth; since giving up smoking a few weeks ago he chews it with the determination of a major league baseball player.
“When I got off the drugs I knew that I had to do something that was normal.
I started to think, what was the thing that I loved the most, what was it that meant the most to me? Well, it was fishing. So I said to myself, ‘I’m back into the fishing.’”
He has studio time booked to finish the new album. For some, fishing is a complete break for work but for Bubbi it can be part of the creative process.
“I get a lot of ideas when I’m on these trips. I find that words or melodies, they come easily out here. I don’t have to work for them, and if they come when I’m fishing, they’re fresh and they go to ‘the bank’ and they stay there. It´s nice really nice. When I’m fishing I’m in a good state of mind, I’m in balance with nature.” He laughs. “I’m unplugged!”
Communist, traitor and anarchist
We head off down to the river. The northerly wind brings with it a chill and the prospect of bad weather. “I hate rain. Fisherman will always tell you that rain and cloud are good for the fishing but I don’t like it. This is not the way I want to see nature. I like sunshine, hot weather. That’s my kind of weather.
You know, we finally we have a generation who are growing up to believe that their country is their mother, it’s a living creature. It’s not just a piece of rock. But we have a government who really aren’t that committed to it. They look at our country and say, ‘What can we squeeze out of it, what can we get out of it?’ So they build damns, aluminium smelters and they ruin the country and they will tell you that they are doing it for the people.”
“I protested against Kárahnjúkar, but the problem is that too many people here are too scared to make a stand. Too scared to say what they truly believe in case down the line they can’t get a job or a career. I spoke out and will continue to speak out against Davíð and Halldór selling the East to Alcoa, I tell people that it is only Alcoa who will make any money out of it. I get called a communist, a traitor, an anarchist in return (sounds like a good mix -ed). More people should be prepared to speak out.”
Fighting to keep it
Bubbi has always been outspoken and it is hard to find a topic that he is reticent about, but his manner is always lighthearted and the rants, which come in waves, are interspersed with laughter and humour.
“It almost like this government doesn’t see tourism as real project. They see it as a cheap buck, easy money… they don’t want to plan for the future. We have guys who used to fish showing tourists the whales, they start to make whale watching good business. But the government says: “Well we’ll just keep killing a few during the tourist season.” What sort of message does that send? It’s just like in my grandfather’s times. ‘I’m my own boss, I don’t care what you say.’ All that old shit. It’s like listening to Einar Benediktsson…It’s so short sighted. They don’t see into the future, they don’t see reality. The future has to be tourism. People come in their thousands to see our country; they don’t come to see aluminium factories.”
We are down by the river now and the air is thick with the calls of the whimbrels, terns, snipe, plovers, all who have come to lay their eggs before heading south for the winter.
“Listen to that. Isn’t it amazing? We need to get more Icelanders out into the country in the summer. This whole valley’s alive with birds. It’s the same all over the country. To be here, to witness it is part of a much bigger thing. If more could people could experience this they would fight harder to keep it.”
Egó strikes again
The sun has decided to break loose from behind the clouds and Bubbi now stretches out on the bank to grab some rays, the young man who sat and stretched his legs, smoking a joint while being interviewed in Rokk í Reykjavík seems a long way away. This summer sees him pulling his band of those days, Egó, together again.
“This will be the fifth version of Egó. Me and Magnus Stefánson, we decided to form the band with new members. We are not just getting together for three gigs; we are planning to write and move Egó forward. We will do an album. We’ve been working really hard, firstly getting the old material together. When I’m there singing some of these old lyrics, I think, ‘Wow, Man!’ This is an arrogant attitude, this is something. Then there are songs that are so brilliant – I am speechless.” He grins as he says it.
“I’ve always liked working with a band. You are less exposed than when it’s just you on stage with your voice and your guitar. It’s ten times more difficult; you have to keep everything in the palm of your hand. If you do anything wrong it screams out from the stage. You are so vulnerable up there alone. In a band you are part of it. It’s more like a family relationship.
The only way. Man.
“We are going over for the first gig in the Westman Islands for the holiday festival. We’ve put together a great set, I can feel it all ready. It’s going to be great. They’ll hear the new Egó play the old songs in a fresh way. We’ll play some Utangarðsmenn songs, a few from my solo career and we’ll put some others in there like ‘Guns of Brixton’ and maybe some other Clash numbers. But mainly it will be Egó. We´ll fly in, play 1 1/2 hours and go and then fly out.” Times have changed.
He leaps up and strides over to unclip his rod from the roof of the car. “Man, what am I doing? There’s fish in this river and I’m sitting here talking…”
Another stick of gum and Bubbi wades into the neck of the pool to catch his first fish from this river this season. If he does he will release it. This too, is a thing that has changed.
“Make sure you tell them that Icelanders should stop killing every salmon they catch. We’ll have none left for our children and our rivers will be dead. Catch and Release, Catch and Release – it’s the only way, man.”
And so I have.