Inside Denmarkby Jason Flores-Williams
1. I went to a sex club in the suburbs of Copenhagen last night. A Danish brunette named Heidi sucked my dick through a glory hole while some Swedes stood around, then I fucked a Norwegian while her husband jacked off on my back. I know it sounds like a good gig, but it was joyless and mechanical.
The husband: “You fuck her now. I watch and play with my penis. Don’t make noise.”
The Scandinavians are for sure a race of super humans with their long legs and social programs, but the vibe here is oppressive. The cornerstone of Scandinavian culture is Jantelov, or the codes of conformity. My impression is that what it really means is don’t stand out, don’t express yourself—don’t move your hands around and get passionate about anything or you’ll be shunned as an ugly duckling foreigner.
2. Watching Danish TV, eating fish, drinking coffee—on the morning of the Mudhoney show. They pump in the most fucked-up images of America here. White trailer trash screaming at the police. Blacks with six kids selling rock in the projects. Fatasses in North Carolina gorging on McDonalds. I know we’re the most disgusting pig people on the face of the planet, but when your clubs are filled with our music, your streets with our fashion, and you love Snoop Dogg and Harley Davidson….Fuck, at least we have races to be races against. Five Turks try to get across the Danish border and it’s a national news alert.
Note to Lars Von Trier: your government’s moving hard to the right, you have racists on TV screaming about foreigners, your newspapers are intentionally provoking Muslims with humiliating cartoons, the police are shutting down Christiania, the free zone in Copenhagen—maybe take a look at your own country.
3. Backstage at Vega before the show with Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney. I’ve been listening to Mudhoney since ’89. Keep It Out of My Face is song one on the inner-soundtrack. Both Arm and Turner, after nine albums, still have to work day jobs. We’re talking about what it was like to have the Seattle scene explode and not make all that cash along with it.
“We never made an intentional decision to be commercial,” says Arm. “Shit, we would be commercial, it would be great to have money and not have to work but we never went into the studio trying to do anything other than make our own music.”
Does that mean Nirvana went into the studio looking to be commercial?
“Yeah, of course they did,” says Turner. “Kurt was conflicted about it. Nevermind is an incredible album, but they made it with the idea that it would reach a large audience. Kurt never thought that they were going to be bigger than, like, Sonic Youth, but he still wanted that kind of attention.”
Does wanting and getting attention for your art mean that you’ve sold out?
“To sell out implies that you had beliefs to begin with,” says Arm. “These new bands like No Doubt and Blink 182, they can’t sell out. They’re just empty and disgusting.”
Turner gets into it: “When you let commercialism into the process, then I think you have sold out. Because it’s not all your vision anymore….But then look at Pearl Jam. They’re huge and rich, but they take serious political stands. They’ve sold out on one level, but I still respect them.”
Vega is an intimate mid-size music venue that’s exciting to be in—the kind we don’t have in NYC anymore because of the yuppie gentrification. (Apropos of shit but I have to get this in: above all, the most revolting habit of yuppies is when they move into an apartment above a loud bar, then start making noise complaints.) The place is packed. The Danes take a lot of booze to get going, but once they do they go hard and heavy against Jantelov. The people are chanting for Mudhoney, taking their shirts off, making out, rolling on the floor, pouring beer on each other. The last few shows I’ve been to in NYC have sucked because hipster crowds are uptight, but these rockers are ready to rock the fuck out.
Mudhoney takes the stage and the shit blows up. Twisted, hard driving guitar at the heart of the American sickness. Warped psychedelia grinding into punk like a strung-out road trip. This is an American working class band that oozes the frustration of our churning souls. But fucking tight. Yeah, buttfucking tight hardcore punka rocka and I’m in the pit catching a sneaker against my face from a stage dive and I could give a fuck because this is what it’s about. Mark Arm is a lead singer from the depths of our underground.
The crowd is raging and I see it clearly. This is what we do. The one and only great thing that America has given to the world is our subculture. Our intensity and alienation with the fuck you courage to express it.
After the show the band hangs with everyone. The old punk rock ethics, so long gone—the band is no different from anyone else. No hierarchy. We are all in this together, fighting the system, fucking the man, trying to keep from drowning in this sewage world.
4. I’m sitting on the ground, high, across from an outdoor cafe in Christiania, the Copenhagen free zone since 1971. Low-grade drugs allowed and communism mandated. The new right-leaning government is dismantling it piece by piece so they can build lofts and condos. The cops are heavyhanded, a few people are protesting, most are apathetic. What else is new.
What we will do when the good madness of our world is gone? When everything is commercialized, bordered, labeled, controlled, then excluded…...Denmark is a cool country with enlightened policies, but what I get here is the importance of chaos. Passionate pointless shit that freaks people out. No system can ever be perfect. There needs to be to be rock n’ roll action that confronts it. We’ve got to break free from our own private Jantelov. We’ve got to stop asking ourselves what the point of everything is—because you don’t know who it is inside of you asking that question.
JASON FLORES-WILLIAMS is a lawyer in New Mexico.