26 Nov 2002

Helena Josefsson, backing singer at AGM Studios (III): Winokur's Swedish Diary (III)

Justin Winokur continues recording his first solo album at AGM Studios with Christoffer Lundquist. Remember that Helena Josefsson will take part as backing singer. He writes about Sweden and the Swedish. Really interesting.

2002.11.20 AGM - by Justin Winokur 3

Some people ask me what Swedes are like. I find that the best description is this: Imagine eight millions of blonde Swedish chefs, hurling lutefisk out the windows of their white Volvos like Nordic madmen as they drive (never faster than the speed limit) in search of pickled herring and Viking treasure. Well, not really. But, they are like that in my imagination.

I went into Sjöbo last night to find a pub so I could see some drunk Swedish teenage girls flirting with guys who were mostly preoccupied with hitting each other in the face, but I had no such luck. The pub was almost empty, except for ten youths in puffy jackets. They all looked so beautifully sculpted, but the way they held themselves made it clear that they were painfully average by Swedish standards.

Strangely, I managed to locate what I imagine to be the only Swedish youth who could not really speak any English even after 15 years of compulsory English in school. The fact that they were surely all dreadful students told a lot about their character and the character of their town. They were self-deprecating, constantly talking about how stupid they were. Many had dropped out of school. There did not seem to be the sparkle of hope in the air.

I chatted with them in my idiotic, broken Swedish and asked why there weren't any drunk people fighting or flirting. They replied in Swinglish that I was a day late. I guess Friday was the hopping night, not Saturday. The bar closed at 1 AM, only an hour after I had arrived. My new acquaintances invited me to walk with them to an afterparty at some apartment, and I was happy to have some company and conversation so I happily obliged.

At the apartment, drunk, awkward early-twenty-somethings drowned their sorrows and chatted about things which I could not hear over the unsociably loud stereo. The music sounded like Iron Maiden only a little more recent. People still listen to music like this? Niklas, the boy whose apartment it was, had a corn snake that he let me hold. I spoke a lot with a Finnish girl named Monika who reminded me that in Swedish the word for Finnish people is the same as the word for pimples. I already knew this, but was delighted that the conversation made such a turn in the right direction. Two identical twin girls sat on the couch. Monika pointed out to me that they were twins, and the twins nodded in agreement. I sympathized with them, "You must be so tired of that story, huh?" Again, they nodded in agreement, only this time a bit more enthusiastically.

One of the guys was so drunk that he started to pull down his trousers and wave his fists as he shouted the lyrics to the deafening music. It was 3 AM and I could not believe that the neighbors were not complaining. The conversations I managed to have in spite of the ear-raping metal music were not surprising, though. The boys worked in blue collar jobs such as machine shops or road repair and they all had nearly identical apartments in rectangular brick buildings. The girls did not work and all had low self esteem. Everyone's parent was an alcoholic.

I left soon because the music was too loud for conversation and I could feel the high-frequency response of my ears melting away. But, I wished that I could have spent days and days with each of them, talking with them, maybe helping to dispel some of the stupid things that they believed, such as the notion that they had no self worth or that they would never amount to anything (just like their teachers tell them). Instead I walked alone through the empty, rainy streets of a sleepy, brick-colored town that seems to barely support itself the sort of town where the population will be the same or maybe a little less in 50 years, but never, ever more. I had to find my white Volvo so I could drive back to my cottage, so I could wake up and record again today.

2002.11.20 AGM - by Justin Winokur 4

Christoffer is editing vocals for Never Go Back Again today, so I spent some time doing fun things. I drove to the grocery store in Sjöbo and bought some food, took apart my FireWire hard drive and put it back together again, and spent considerably more time than I wanted to coercing a piece of smoked salmon out from between my upper right molars. Smoked salmon is quite cheap here, so I try to eat as much of it as I can. The low price of salmon is just one of the benefits of being in Sweden.

Here is a list of the benefits of being in Sweden:
  • 1) Smoked salmon is inexpensive. (About $3 for 200 grams.)
  • 2) Nobody makes fun of me for never shaving. Many young men here appear to go months if not years without shaving.
  • 3) My skin is great here. I have not gotten a single pimple, white head, black head, or anything!
  • 4) They have a fantastic array of soft drinks which kick the ass of our soft drinks. Some of my favorites include smultron berry cider, pear cider, and a lightly spiced soda called julmust.
  • 5) Swedes are better looking in general than Americans. (Not that this comparison is saying much, as Americans tend to be pretty ugly people on a whole.) I usually think that babies are about as beautiful as H.R. Geiger's monster in Aliens, but somehow Swedish babies (and small children) seem to be very cute. They look they are all models for Scandinavian travel posters or postcards.
  • 6) The showers are almost all converted bathtubs with hoses stuck into the faucet part as an afterthought. This means that you must awkwardly crouch in a stupid bathtub and try to shower off with a clumsy hose. Perhaps because bathing is so inconvenient, it is quite accepted to not take a shower nearly as often as one does in the USA. This is possibly the best thing about being here.
  • 7) Socialized health care and nobody is homeless. I recently went three years without health care and am never more than a few weeks away from being homeless. Anyone who thinks that the USA will catch them when they fall has no idea what they are talking about.
  • 8) They have FOURPLY facial tissue. Yes, that's right. Four glorious layers of luxurious paper for snot handling. Best of all, there is a brand here called Lammbi with a picture of a sheep on it. It is so soft and luxurious, it's like smearing a sheep on your face!

Here is a list of why it is better to be in San Francisco, California, USA:
  • 1) Andie and my friends and family are there. This is the most compelling reason of all, and it is the trump card that will always bring me home. I miss my loved ones they make my life more complete.
  • 2) More than 5 hours of sunlight in the winter. Darkness is stupid.
  • 3) No matter how much gas costs, it is always less than the $4 per gallon I pay here.
  • 4) Faster internet connections DSL or cable modems in most houses in the Bay Area!
  • 5) They have better facial tissue, but our toilet paper kicks their toilet paper's ass. Their toilet paper is the color of wheat with the softness and consistency of photocopy paper.
  • 6) Dishwashers. I have never seen a dishwasher in any house or apartment in Sweden. They don't actually wash their dishes by hand, do they?
Ok, I can hear from the sounds in the studio that it is time for me to get back to recording!

Justin Winokur

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