The other day Lulu and I joined some friends to see the movie Paddington Bear in Brooklyn. I had planned to blog about the adorable young bear from Darkest Peru and his antics in another great destination, LONDON, but I got sidetracked as you will soon see. The movie was enjoyable, and turned out to be a whimsical, perhaps unintentional way to promote travel to London.
While waiting to enter the theater, there was a hushed excitement between the adults. The singer Björk was on line several people behind us, also waiting to nab good seats to watch the film.
“Björk?” I asked with doubt. “The ethereal musical artist from Iceland? At a kids’ movie in Brooklyn on a Sunday afternoon, waiting in line with us ordinary people?” That seemed implausible.
Sure enough, it was she. She ended up sitting two rows in front of us, presumably with her daughter. After leaving the movie, I remembered reading a headline recently on the music site Pitchfork about her as “The Invisible Woman.” This could not be further from the truth, of course, and after a quick search on my phone, I discovered just days before she had released a new album.
Yesterday, as I prepared to hunker down for the record-breaking-snowstorm-that-wasn’t, I skimmed the New York Times and on their “suggested listening list” for their snowed-in readers was her new album Vulnicura. I bought it, and looked again for that Pitchfork interview to read. (So worth the read, I’ve included the link.)
I learned that her latest album is yet another musical triumph, in her long history of influential work. But to my surprise, it is also a very personal album, as she sings painfully about the dissolution of her relationship with the artist Matthew Barney, the devastation to her family, and her loss.
One particular paragraph of this article, written by Jessica Hopper, stood out to me:
“As much as this record is about him, it is also about Björk returning to herself. In motherhood, one quite literally becomes a vessel—a role that often continues postpartum. The young family takes precedence, and ambition takes a back seat; a mother can become the net around her loved ones, their needs veiling her own. It is the natural exile of domestic life. And it is a strange and powerful thing to imagine that one of the most singular vocalists in modern music could lose the tether, just like any of us. But here, Björk opens up about coming back to music from such a scene, filling her house and her days with loud songs.”
These lines were like catnip to me. And it altered my perspective on Björk and her music, as subjects we relate to as individuals tend to do. I always admired her as an artist, her music, even as an actress in her incredible role in the 2000 film Dancer in the Dark. But reading about her as a mother coming back to her identity, after mourning the loss of love and the death of her family which she valued dearly– well not only was it familiar, but it also humanized Björk as a person.
Death of her family. She actually uses those words in the song “Family.” Death sounds like an extreme word to use, but I knew that exact feeling of mourning over family lost, with which I grappled for the first years of Lulu’s life.
So this album hits close to home. But other than the powerful lyrics, the music itself is a beautiful mix of grandiose strings and eclectic electronic beats. At moments the music sounds heroic, at the same time the lyrics can be heart-wrenching– an intoxicating combination. And to give an idea of its orchestral impact, she will be performing in March at Carnegie Hall here in New York City. Carnegie Hall, that marvel of acoustics! I hope to sit in that audience and be transported by hearing her perform live.
An explorer bear who takes himself halfway around the world for adventure, and an artist whose recent creativity was inspired by changes to her identity after loss and motherhood. Who knew a Sunday afternoon could bring two random subjects together, yet both so near and dear to my heart?
Vulnicura is now available on iTunes.
Björk’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC opens on March 8th.
Paddington Bear is now in theaters.