Ytterhogdal—a tiny village in northern Sweden April 7, 2008 [editor’s apology for the delay in posting!]
A Night Off…
We awoke to fresh falling snow today. It’s continued to snow all day, accumulating several inches. After performing two school programs this morning, we drove to the next village, named above, where we checked into an historic house dating from the mid-1800’s, now this small village’s only hotel. The bad news: no in-room television, toilet and shower at the end of the hall. The good news: a free evening, with nothing to do but relax and read my old copies of NY Times magazines that I had brought with me from home. And yes, there is a weak internet connection that requires me to stand near the door of the room holding the computer up in order to get connected.
Watching TV on tour
Landing in other small towns on tour with hours to kill led me to watch television programs that I would never watch otherwise. For example, boxing matches, a Discovery Channel special on “monster trucks”, MTV, etc. I’ve watched a few movies, something I rarely take time to do at home. The American films all have Swedish sub-titles, so the whole population gets a collective English lesson every time they watch a Hollywood film. For me, it’s a Swedish lesson. In the total immersion of being in the country, my language fluency increases steadily. By the end of the tour next week, I’ll be speaking Swedish better than I ever did before.
Speaking of MTV, I saw Madonna’s new video with Justin Timberlake. Madonna is brilliant in controlling and changing her image. There was a discussion on a morning program about her…how she’s a forty-year-old competing with twenty-somethings, like Britney Spears. I watched Britney’s video: “You want a piece of me?” Janet Jackson has a great new video. She’s also forty-something and still looking sexy. I still don’t relate fully to the mood of the various black hiphop videos. Every cliché I had heard about violence and exploiting women was presented…which I can only take as a reflection of current culture, for better or worse. MTV International shows more foreign videos than the mix in the states. There are interesting locations and excellent video productions.
As I watch MTV and the Grammy Awards program, I can’t help but feeling completely out of touch with the pop culture’s music scene. I don’t even know who the artists are…I don’t like most of the music…in short, I’ve become a spokesperson for the older generation, just like we all used to look at our parents when we were young. Most of my fellow jazz and classical musicians share these views. This disconnect bodes ill for the future of classical music and traditional jazz if the younger generation never learns to appreciate it. I blame the cutbacks in music and art education within our schools. Into this artistic vacuum slides MTV and the merchandising that follows.
Analyzing MTV from my personal artistic perspective, I think that the video aspect is far more innovative and original than the musical content. The music tends to be formulaic and predictable, whereas the video component can be truly original. Of course, as a culture we respond more easily to visual stimulation compared to audio. And the primary visual stimulation mode for MTV is sexual content, both overt and implied.
Meeting American Ex-pats
Our concert two nights ago was in a small resort town, in a wood-hewn building, the Swedish version of a log cabin. Following our concert, there was a traditional Swedish folk dance, with music provided by one accordion and a dozen local violinists.
After the concert, I was approached by an American woman, a self-proclaimed ex-patriot New Yorker. She explained that her husband had been killed in the World Trade Center, and that afterwards, she wanted to go someplace safe and escape the stress. And so, she lives in this small Swedish town. She had recently returned from a three-month visit to friends around the states. Although her friends tried to persuade her to return, she didn’t feel ready to do that, and so she returned to this small Swedish town.
I spoke with an old friend for the first time since 1984, an American ex-patriot named Erich that I had met on my first trip to Sweden in 1971. Erich was a Vietnam deserter. His story is that he served one tour in Vietnam, fighting from helicopters in 1969. In 1970, he received orders to report for an additional Vietnam tour. He just could not bring himself to rejoin the war. And so he went to New York to visit his parents, and from there bought a ticket to Sweden, where he asked for political asylum. Erich has never returned to the states in the ensuing 38 years. I thought that President Carter had issued a blanket amnesty, but Erich said that there is no statute of limitations for desertion, and thus no amnesty for deserters, that he could still be arrested if he were to return. After all, deserters in battle can be shot on the spot. I feel very sad for Erich and other American Vietnam veterans, who were forced to forsake their country forever. There ought to be an amnesty for deserters after all these years. And yet the fact that there is not is a reflection of the fact that America has never fully come to grips with the effects of the Vietnam War. This would indicate that it will take many years for America to recognize the implications of our current war in Iraq.
An interesting conversation
Our first concert on this northern half of the tour was in the city of Norrtälje, a port city about an hour’s drive north of Stockholm. The contact for our concert was a very charming man named Björn. He introduced the band before the concert, operated the lights in the hall, and treated the band to a great lunch after our morning school concert. Björn was a real charmer, very outgoing and easy to talk to.
I asked Björn about his job, which he related to me was (roughly translated) Cultural Affairs Coordinator for the city of Norrtälje. I told him that there weren’t as many positions in the states like his, at least not for relatively small cities like his. He said that he enjoyed his job of arranging all the logistics for visiting performers. He worked with the local schools as well as the community center, the standard venue for our-of-town cultural events.
As I told him about Healing HealthCare Systems, Björn stated something very clearly that I had thought about but never articulated as well: “In Sweden, unlike in the USA,” he said, “we believe that it shouldn’t be dangerous to get sick.” In other words, dealing with one’s illness or injury should be enough, without having to worry about potential bankruptcy, bureaucratic paperwork, obtaining prior approvals, questionable insurance coverage, etc. Björn related the story of a friend who had been treated for breast cancer, who had undergone numerous procedures but had only been required to pay a modest administration fee. Finally, Björn told me that I should reassure my friends back home that if I got sick or injured while on tour, that I would have no problem receiving medical care. He was very proud to tell me this…rightfully so.