Cupid as a Girl
Nordic Sounds 1997 - 01; pp 14 - 15
The official speech for the winner of the Nordic Council's Music Prize 1997
Dear prizewinners, Mr. President, Ministers, Members of the Nordic Council and all friends of the North.
It is in the nature of art that the factual and encyclopaedic information about it is its least interesting aspect, and will never reveal its true being. Nor will biographical information show us the spectrum of Björk's light. Young as she is, she is older than you might think - and still it is a source of wonder that her career has already stretched over twenty years. There is a spirit of mythological dimensions in her work that moves beyond time and space - a presence in glimpses endowing her with the wisdom of the 'Vølves' or Nordic sibyls.
Even before her solo debut at the beginning of the nineties she had gained international recognition - for example with the group the Sugarcubes. Her discography is so long that, to save space, many writers concentrate on the part belonging to her solo career. But statistics will never uncover the secret of Björk. As always, when words fail, allegories are needed to get close to a kind of truth.
At the beginning of time, the Gods built a bridge to span the distance between Asgård and Midgård - between Heaven and Earth, between the realms of spirit and matter. The seven colours trembled in unison. Heimdal lived at the foot of the bridge and guarded the passage between the gods and men. It is long indeed since the Gods ruled the North; but a new rainbow bridge stands in the sky, rising from the country in which the Nordic version of democracy - the conversation between equals - was born. It trembles and it sings. It pulsates and it plays. It dances and it divines. It has found its new source in a fragile female shape carrying a unique talent.
Few in the world - perhaps none - have been able, like Björk, to link worlds that have been split apart, worlds we have long thought lost to each other. Past and present. Myth and reality. Youth and experience. Intuitive and formal skills. A child of the Icelandic soil, she has become a builder of bridges, and she speaks to the entire planet. She has made jazz and punk communicate. In her hands the stone hearts of hard-core rock open up to poetry and fragility. Like Michael Ende's Momo she makes incompatible entities discover joy in one other. Because she rests so generously within her own talent that there is no room for prejudice and envy, she makes opposites interact creatively.
Her music becomes a rallying-point for all who, regardless of age, know that the secret of playing lies in its earnestness. Children recognize themselves in her, and she confirms that life is worth living. She is treasured by the rootless youth of the big cities because she talks to the best in each one of them without trying to disguise reality.
She is admired by many young performers from the world of classical music, and even more so by its creators - including the older ones - who listen to her attentively. She can bridge the gap between raw strength and vulnerability in a split second. She has the courage to confront the commercial pop world with unpredictability and dedication, thus becoming the living proof that the young people and music con sumers of our age are not as predictable and spineless as their media image suggests.
She has often been called the 'Pippi Longstocking' of rock music, and anyone who has been a child in the North over the last fifty years will recognize the image; but it has to be deepened to do her justice. A Lebanese poet, an immigrant in Western culture, once wrote "God's first thought was an angel. God's first word was a human being." Pippi was the thought of Astrid Lindgren. Björk is a human being.
At a time when anything that comes from small countries or unassuming regions is likely to be called provincial, and when anything that is identical from Seattle to Sydney, from Uddevalla to Uruguay, from Tønder to Toronto is called international, she is the essence of originality. Only something as unique as Björk can ever be truly international and move freely across all kinds of borders. Compared with her artistic strangeness, the expanding copycat culture is revealed as profoundly provincial, even when it originates from the metropolises of the world or the drawing boards of the multinational record companies.
In alternate years the Music Prize of The Nordic Council is presented to a performer or to the creator of a major new composition. This year Björk will receive the Music Prize as a performer; but in all honesty it has to be stated that Björk cannot be dissected. Björk is her own work! Her art, like her persona, is a coherent unity. It is not possible to isolate the singer, the performer, the poet, the dancer or the composer from the whole and say "This part of Björk we praise". You cannot isolate a single colour of the rainbow and call it the most precious one. If you want to walk with rainbows, you must know that the colours are inseparable - otherwise they cannot sing themselves into history and human hearts.
In the days of the gods the road between Heaven and Earth was guarded by a masculine power. Heimdal sat on the mountain Himinbjörg and listened to "the grass growing and wool upon sheep and all that sounds louder". The power needed to do this in our future should perhaps be sought in more delicate figures like Björk's. Like Heimdal, she has a 'Gjallarhorn' and can be heard all over the world.
One of Björk's greatest hits is called Venus as a boy. A slight paraphrase of this may sene as a portrait of Björk herself: Cupid as a girl.
With these words I am honoured on behalf of the NOMUS Committee to hand over the microphone to the President of the Nordic Council, Mr. Olof Salmén, to present the 1997 Music Prize to Björk.