Saved by a Volcano

I came through a crowd of protestors on a hot day in Philadelphia, it was the Republic National Convention, the year was 2000, there were anarchists breaking things, and socialists selling newspapers, and college kids chanting. In the melee, I saw her face on a t-shirt, like some kind of albino seal pup. The slanty eyes. Those fat cheeks. It was her! The man wearing the shirt began to converse with me, we discussed our love of the singer, her music. He was chubby, in his thirties, wore glasses, and looked like a mole.

But there was something different, soft about his demeanor, elusive, as if he was afraid of me. The man was peculiar in other ways. His shoulders weren’t very wide, he talked with a lisp. He asked me if I wanted to get a cup of coffee. And then I realized that he was gay, and I had to tell him no, there would be no coffee. I was renaissance enough to admit I loved the singer, but that didn’t mean that I was playing for the other team – maybe he wanted to be Björk, you see, but I wanted to be with her.

A poster of the singer hung on my dorm-room wall, naked, tongue out, covered only in a leaf, like some nymph out of Eden. But I was afraid of her because she was like some kind of vaginal Icelandic volcano that could erupt at any time and bury my soul like Pompeii in hot lava. To hang her on my wall, to see her flesh each day was to me a political statement, a weapon, a way of retaliating against commercial ideals of feminine beauty around me.

As men we were told to worship Baywatch, to drool over Pamela Anderson, buy her posters, hang her on our walls. Maybe our real-life girlfriends bore no resemblance to the curvy models, but we were supposed to be thinking about them secretly, kissing our girlfriends in New York or Washington, DC, but really thinking that we were on a beach in Hawaii or California locking lips with Pamela Anderson. It was a lie and it disgusted me because Pamela Anderson never did anything for me, never has, this embodiment of these sort of livestock-like qualities within with Western womanhood has been constrained, a world of faces and torsos and measurements and nail jobs, the ideal of the perfect bone structure and hourglass figure, a regime under which all females will be ranked according to their conformance to the babe ideal, like cattle ranked for milk output, and our role as men in the equation was not to ask any questions and to support the commercial ideal of what a woman should be. It was our duty.

And then along comes Björk, a little wrecking ball who sang of “big time sensuality” and “emotional landscapes.” She wasn’t “perfect,” sometimes she was actually quite grotesque, and I couldn’t really look at her without thinking that her breath must smell like that fermented whale meat they eat in Iceland, but at least she was genuine, creative, honest — a genuine communicator, an immediate vision of primitive femininity, this kind of womanhood that is buried in the back of each man and woman’s brain. I knew on first sight that the woman liked to have sex, such a wonderful, sugar-glazed feeling for any man, not that she was flaunting her sexuality like Madonna with her stupid conical bra just to prove something, but that she simply liked sex, the way we all like strawberries because they are delicious.

And the problem was that there were far too few of her. There was just one Björk. There were some imitators, but, mostly, she was considered some kind of demented freak. Maybe it was because she was inbred, or her Hippie parents smoked too much pot, or she was dropped on the head as a child. And did you see how she attacked that journalist? Or that music video were she sewed pearls into her skin? When a friend saw her singing Dancing in the Dark, he thought she was a mentally handicapped person. “What the hell is this shit?” he grunted. “Turn it off.” He wanted to watch a football game on TV. My friend was a sergeant in Pamela Anderson’s army, you see. The pint-sized witch from the big island with no trees had no place in mainstream society.

But when I fell ill with depression in college and didn’t leave my dorm room for two weeks, the little volcano came to my rescue. The days came and went. It would be dark and then light and then dark again and I would still be in bed. One morning though I happened to open a magazine beside my bed, one that I hadn’t looked through before. And she was inside it, dressed up like some kind of surrealistic flower. And I thought, “This is a person who is not afraid of life.” Then I got out of bed, took a shower, and went outside.

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