my break-up with Bjork.
I have been avoiding coming back to and finishing this post. Kind of like dirty laundry – once it’s done I will feel better, cleaner. But just as I sometimes have to put off the washing for the sake of my physical health/capacity, writing this and thinking through all of these feelings is a workout for my emotional and mental health/capacity. Taking it slow, but here goes…
though it pains me to say this: I think we should see other people. it has been a long, beautiful run and you’ve been there for me during some really tough times.
this isn’t entirely accurate. I’ve actually only seen you three times in my life; twice at home in Toronto and most recently, in New York.
well that’s the thing, you don’t seem to see me at all.
if folks in my life know one thing about me, it’s that I (used to) love Bjork. LOVE Bjork. Like…lovvve her.
We share a birthday - a fact I have joked made us celestially linked. The first two times I saw her live, I cried, unpredictably and uncontrollably. The first time it happened the friend I was with held my shoulders gently and asked if I was ok. The second time, I was ready – sort of. So when my eyes welled up at the grandeur of Cosmogony, I let the tears fall calmly and felt gratitude that art had the capacity to crack me open like that.
I’m a performer and, at least 4, if not 5 of my recent routines have been choreographed to her songs. It became a trademark of my stage name and me. I was endlessly inspired by the ways her songs and the sharpness of her lyrics could both cut through and heal my heart.
It was luck, and love, and the generosity of close friends that found me in NYC to see her perform from her newest album, Vulnicura. I traveled and attended the concert alone. I told everyone I knew that I was going and each time was met with equal measures of excitement, because that person knew how much such a trip would mean to me. I saw her at the NY City Centre seated in a comfortable mezzanine chair with a great view of the stage and a friendly guy with binoculars to share sitting beside me; a marked difference from catching interrupted glimpses of her while simultaneously squeezing closer to the stage and trying not lose my balance. I stayed with family during my visit and as was reported to me the next morning, I was so blissed out from the concert that I gave a clear and emphatic declaration of my adoration as well as swooned on and on about her hallowed onstage presence – in my sleep!
The morning after the concert, a Thursday, I awoke with vociferous whispers evaporating back into my unconscious and a new, abounding love and admiration for her artistry.
Exactly one week later, on another Thursday morning, I began the day with her energetic ripples smacking me in the face as I received alert after alert reporting that Bjork had recently said the n-word in a magazine interview. In the interview, she was speaking about the sound system at a venue and she quoted/repurposed an infamous Yoko Ono quote stating “sound is the n****r of the music world, man.”
Since I was a kid, whenever I have come across that word, particularly if I’m reading it (as opposed to hearing it in song) I have an involuntary physical response. As if suddenly electrocuted from within my own body I jolt from an internal twitch, and a hard kick inside my chest interrupts my breathing and pulse.
While my body tried to resist the thrashing in my gut, my mind tried briefly to disbelieve it. Lost in translation? No.
She just said it. She thought it (believed it). Didn’t see a problem, and said it.
Put it out there and carried on and as of this writing, has not commented on or apologized for it. Though to be truthful I doubt that an apology or an explanation (gross!) would do much to salvage my respect for her. Online folks were calling her out and categorically going through other problematic issues with her. Folks were loudly proclaiming that this is why they don’t fuck with white or non-black artists and this is why they’d never listen to her again.
I cried. A lot.
I got angry.
Then angry, again.
Then sad again, for a while.
this is what it felt like (stay with me here)…
My heart was an egg.
Bjork comes up - crushes it in her fist.
My heart bleeds gold through her fingers.
She slaps me across the face with a slimy hand.
Turns and walks off giving me the finger over her shoulder.
Am left standing there with egg all over my face.
Through my tears that day I went around my home and took down every Bjork related image, piece of art, ticket stub, and placed it in a box. I think at the time I thought I might return to it when some kind of amends between her and I could be made. Now, a couple of weeks later, I don’t imagine that to be a likely scenario.
In between the sadness and the rage I felt palpable waves of humiliation. Everybody knew how much I was into her and it felt unreal that in addition to the dealing with my feelings of betrayal, I would have to swallow my tongue in my friendships and artships and my life in general. Perhaps another reason this has taken me so long to complete.
To give an idea of the impact – before that day, I listened to her every. single. day. I had certain albums for particular seasons. I had dreamplans of visiting Iceland (partly because I just really want to see that landscape and black rock mountains…) mostly due to its relationship to her work and its inspirations.
I haven’t touched one of her songs since. I tried, a week or so later to listen to one of the songs that was a go-to days before. A song that would jazz up my day and sprinkle glitter around my feet. Less than 30 seconds in my head was on the table and I was sobbing and ripping out my headphones.
A lot of my life up until recently had been surrounded by and infused with whiteness. From the homogenous suburb where I grew up to the crunchy-granola college town I went to for school, I was almost always the only black person and if I wasn’t, the numbers rarely reached beyond what I can count on my two hands. It takes a lot of work and process to breed blackness in where whiteness has taken residence (see: gentrification) but I feel blessed that my life has become deliciously darker as I’ve gotten older and more intentional with the souls that surround me.
However, as I immerse myself in this beautiful ancestral renaissance I am also witness to the complete disregard for black life in the world. Whether it’s within the injustice system in Canada and the US, the deliberate defunding of services for and by black folks, or the tearing up of our cultures into malleable, easily appropriated mouthfuls for white and non-black bodies to devour.
And above all, daily, daily I witness the methodical, repetitive, systemic, blatant, and horrifyingly familiar murder of Black trans women, Black men and women, Black queer and trans spectrum folks by agents of the law (cops, security guards, border patrol, judges, wardens, social workers, psychiatrists…).
My blackness is beautiful and magic and beloved. And it is constantly under attack.
Art, music, poetry, and dance are all ways my communities use and I and have used to survive and heal from the tyranny of white supremacy. The art and artists that get us from day to day in this unrelentingly violent atmosphere are the ones I want to be giving my energy to. Making, viewing, and supporting these survival offerings is what keeps the blood flooding my veins at the same time as the blood of our dead continues to flood the streets.
Being a black Bjork fan felt innocuous before, it feels impossible now.
There is no room in my universe for Bjork and her casual racism.
Break-ups are hard. But sometimes they are so very worth it.