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Schnipper’s Norwegian Travelogue #3

August 22, 2007

A cab driver in Norway told me he didn’t work for one year, got money from the government and let time pass. He got bored, so he started driving a cab. He is a scuba diving instructor in Thailand a few months each year, for which he makes minimal money, so mostly he just saves what he collects from the taxi business and divvies it through the season. He speaks very little Thai, decent English, wears nineties Oakleys and has a tribal tattoo on his arm. He asked me what The States are like, he’d never been, and I couldn’t think of much to tell him, only, as I said before, essentially people do not care about you. I say that decidedly underogatorily, but I cannot say if I say it with glee. He did not express any great desire to visit.

But everyone is from somewhere. You know? Devendra Banhart, the first act I saw Friday, Oya’s third day, is from Hair City, USA. Stranger in a strange land, Banhart was gracious enough to demure himself, "I'm embarrassed I don't speak Norwegian," he said, and because everyone speaks English in Norway (my natural tongue a new fake Esperanto) they all laughed. This moment of tonal shedding was not the first jab of tentative warming to lingual difference I have experienced in my life, but I will pause here to say that it has, for whatever reason, myriads and myriads of reasons, been what has stuck about Norway.

What is it about language? As someone who finds it so supernatural to use, I find it must, on the opposite scary hand, be terrifying and barbarous. On the plane home I sat next to a newlywed (four days!) couple from France who were so afraid of their customs form. “Of course it’s only in English” I said to her in sympathy, and she nodded but I don’t know if she understood because there was no disdain. She spoke English well enough but not well and the help I offered in “Value of items being brought to the United States that will not return with you” was not huge. “¿Hablas Español?” I offered and “si si si si si si” she said and I tried to help with “regalos por amigos” y “lo siento para mi hablando horrible.” We got it worked out, but I was so behind it was crippling. “New York,” she finally said, “is magical.” “Nueva York es magica,” I thought to myself but didn’t say it.

Devendra, though, he said it. In Portuguese or Spanish, I don’t even know. (It was three or something and I had some free rosé. Sue me.) I’ve written or at least meant to have written about the strange power of first hearing Caetano Veloso sing in English and Devendra was the inverse here, his band of longhairs playing some wonderfully tepid lounge rock while he sang romance in a romance language and freed from the knowledge of his talk about Michigan State and whatnot it was a backwards surprise that during this guy’s set, this guy with the drug rug shirt and the band of all tan wearing bandmembers and weird life they all have because what if that was your life? And then he just gave up English and because I was in Norway and drinking something between red and white (who does that?) I let it go and then Devendra sang a little hook from "Gold Dust Woman" and I will not pretend like even I didn’t swoon.

And then he did the coolest thing: he said “Who has just written a new song and wants to play it?” and he said this to the crowd, not the band and not to a plant, but just to a bunch of Norwegian kids and one of them raised his hand and went through the crowd and was hoisted to the stage which the band left. He whispered to Devendra who spoke into the microphone “This is Finn” and he gave Finn his guitar. Finn said into the microphone, in Norwegian, “This is fucking crazy” (so says bilingual Mona, at least) and then he played a very long love song, in English, and it could have been a lot worse. There are many things many people like a lot more that are a lot worse. Finn needs a stylist and an editor but he can make things happen.

Then I saw Battles and wrote a lot of notes. Technical things make you do that. Here they are, verbatim:
-Fancy jeans and a lot of symmetry
-all wearing buttondowns
-drummer so sweaty ? way too nice looking a shirt for it to get so gnarly
-difficult to understand like the way science projects work when you are in the 7th grade and are like “thank god I got an A because my hydroponic volcano didn’t grow” or whatever
-the way being cool really just ends up about self confidence, being about
-wear a nice shirt, have a cymbal up really high and Wookie noises into the microphone. Really they look cool and all but on the nerd tip I could watch Helmet dude play the floor tom all day long.
-Basically everything they do sounds like electronic bees. CREMASTER/DAVE LOMBARDO

(that’s the end of the notes)
When I was a sophomore in high school I saw Tyondai Braxton (of Battles and Wookie noises) play a solo set in the basement of a dorm. I wrote about this for my creative non-fiction class. The first sentence was about coming in while he was playing. I remember it “The door was heavy to open, and when I did, everyone turned to look.” My teacher said I knew how to begin, always in the middle of the story, action gurgling. So either I’ve lost it since then or I’ve come full circle.

I saw the New Violators and they had their shirts unbuttoned. I thought the singer was a sound tech. Why does this music exist?

Jesus and Mary Chain played and were so boring. I love Jesus and Mary Chain. It was so sad. I tried to explain to my friend how their singer was so dull. “Just like honey. Honey is happening,” I said and I said it really dull like if the phrase watching paint dry was actually the sound of a phrase and not words. Does that make sense? If you know me, ask me and I will say it to you. In their mild defense the sound was atrocious doodoo. Every time the bass was played it sounded like Merzbow, which is cool only if you are Merzbow and definitely not cool if you are the credits for Lost in Translation.

Roky Erikson’s sweaty mullet made people lose it. I cannot explain how much people lost it. He sounded clean and strong and must have let off some sort of ancient Norwegian pheromones. I saw a woman, a surgeon, leap on him. The security guard kept her from entering Roky’s hotel. It was an intense barring. Roky’s band member was bummed out; he liked the attention. Some kid had a cardboard sign that said “Roky always in our hearts.” Think about it, if you had to make that sign in Norwegian, could you do it? No, of course not, you’d be fucked. But you’d never have to. What lives we lead!

Posted: August 22, 2007
Schnipper’s Norwegian Travelogue #3