Life makes more sense with pop music.
Also, I didn't do too much research to make sure I got these years right. This is my life, after all, and if I confuse 1998 with 1999, well, that's my right.
1997: "Venus as a Boy" by Bjork
During the semester I spent studying abroad, I had exactly seven tapes to listen to. They were:
1. Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup backed with Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever, Amen.
2. The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness with some of the long songs omitted.
3. Blink-182’s Cheshire Cat backed with another album I can’t remember.
4. The demo for my current band—Chinook's Like a Plaid Suit…On a White Couch!
5. A mix of Beatles songs (in chronological order, naturally).
6. A mix tape from my brother including Otis Redding, the Oblivions, the Flaming Groovies, and Whiskeytown.
7. A mixtape from my friend Hayden with Beck, the Magnetic Fields, and William S. Burroughs.
Mind you, this was the summer when the most pervasive pop songs of the day were “Barbie Girl” by Aqua and “Tubthumping” by that silly band that claimed to be communist. (You remember. "I get knocked down, but I get up again," etc. etc. etc.) There was a lot of bad house music going around. Oasis and Morrissey both released albums that summer, neither of which was very good.
After six weeks at Oxford, we were scheduled to leave for Greece, Turkey, and Italy. I was sick of my seven tapes by then, and knew it would be near impossible finding new music in rural Greece or in the bazaar in Istanbul. I had to pick up something quick.
In the days before iTunes, my younger readers should know, having $9.99 was not all one needed to purchase an album. One first needed to find the album, usually at a music store. So when I came across Bjork’s Debut for £1.50 at an Oxfam a day or two before our embarkation, I snatched that right up. (I also got a ridiculous billowy white shirt not unlike Seinfeld’s pirate shirt, which I wore at every possible occasion, but that is a topic for another blog.)
"Venus as a Boy" is the not the type of song that I usually like. There's no guitar on it, for one thing. It's not about street-fighting men or anarchy or thunder roads. It's about as girly as you can get—a woman pining for a pretty boy who excites her the way Venus excites men. And there's that violin, which veers close to world music, which, thank you, I have no need for.
But it's perfect. The song crystallized the exoticness and excitement I felt staring out the windows of our bus as it traveled down the spine of steep Greek mountains, veered over the glittering Ionian Sea, and passed through tiny towns between Igoumenitsa and Athens. I kept listening to it as we toured the Cyclades Islands, then Istanbul, then Rome and Naples.
She was singing half of the song in Icelandic, but it might as well have been Greek. And Venus was right there, in the Ionian Sea where she rose from the foam, in the statues, in the stories, in the museums. Bjork, like Greece, takes you by surprise. Bjork, like Greece, makes you fall in love just a little bit.