That’s Swedish singer Karin Dreijer Andersson in When I Grow Up from her Fever Ray project. The video was directed by Martin De Thurah. DJ Dirt McGirk introduced me to the piece calling it stunning and mesmerizing. I agree.
From an initial brief placidity, the music quickly lets you know that something’s awry in suburbia. Rounding a corner we see a disheveled waif atop a diving board facing away. With contorted steps backward, she gathers strength and begins to writhe and sing as if possessed. The water initially trembles with potential, but soon roils to her incantations. She turns and communes with the water beast which displays its spiritual tumescence.
At the peak of the tumult we briefly see a man through glass darkly – a minder, intermediary, sacerdote there to make sure things don’t get out of hand. He’s like dark energy, the 70% of the universe about which we know nothing and looms large for the fact.
Spent, our shaman folds her wings and the water calms. Even though she did all of the work, it was good for us too and we’re newly invigorated.
Clearly this is not just a “silly little love song” or anything else we’ve previously seen or heard. (Well, at least not this 56 yr old technophobe.) And more than any other video I’ve seen neither meaning nor valence can be teased out of the lyrics alone. Here’s the first verse:When I grow up, I want to be a forester Run through the moss on high heels That’s what I’ll do, throwing out boomerang Waiting for it to come back to me.
It’s oracular. Like, say, the I Ching. Jung wrote in the introduction to the Wilhelm translation that “The heavy-handed pedagogic approach that attempts to fit irrational phenomena into a preconceived rational pattern is anathema to me.” Let it sift for a while, let the other side of your brain kick in. What does it mean to me?
Indeed, Andersson says that “half of what the songs are about is the subconscious… A lot of it is like daydreaming, dreaming when you’re awake, but tired. I try to write when I’m in that state.”
The piece brought immediately to mind African maskers – dancers wearing those beautiful/grotesque wooden masks seen in museums. They are fascinating and often spectacular objects in and of themselves, but purposeful and part of a larger whole in their use. Wearing one, a dancer says “I am not myself” meaning he/she has become the evocation of a spirit.
Perhaps enabling a rite of passage in this case. Try something out. Throw something out there. Wait for feedback…
Masks in museums are shorn of much decoration attendant to them when in use such as raffia, textiles, animal hides, feathers, leaves etc. Their makers say that “their work actually came from the spirits who revealed themselves in a dream or vision…”*
Joseph Campbell wrote in his incredible Hero With a Thousand Faces that: “It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation”. I know Jung would agree, but probably also would an African dancer and Andersson herself.
There’s lot’s at stake. Close to the end she sings:On the seventh day I rest for a minute or two then back on my feet and cry for you
Perhaps she needs our help. Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek wrote in his The Saviors of God “Gather your strength and listen: the whole heart of man is a single outcry. Lean against your breast to hear it; someone is struggling and shouting within you.”
At the very least, as the author of a tome on African Masks** says of them, cultural myths, and Fever Ray also “represent part of a larger cultural ethos”.
That old zeitgeist again. Where, exactly, are we? To enjoy one’s stay here it is important to be comfortable living in that question.
*African Masks from the Barbier-Mueller Collection
**Andersson is the mother of two young kids and all I know is that if I had seen my mom (or my kid’s mom) acting like that I’d think that she’d had too many of what the Stones called “mother’s little helpers”.
*** I once heard Kazantsakis’ widow speak. She said that he’d held that humankind’s biggest problems were the comforts of life and syphilis. The former, at least, seems to be taking care of itself these days…