Alexander Grandjean

Becoming an artist

I’ve decided to start releasing my own songs. I’ve been writing songs since forever, but always given them to other artists. A lot of thoughts have gone through my mind the last year, and somehow it’s been difficult for me to make that choice. But I’ve decided to accept the contract I was offered by Mermaid Records, and release my first single this June. More to come …cover

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Taking Wings

Taking Wings cover

 

THIS IS NOT A STORY of an orange songwriter going to Italy to find inspiration. At least, it’s also a story of a purple young boy trying to understand why he never feels alone even when he’s on his own. It’s also a story of an anima waking up from her sleep and helping a troubled artist to realize that digging into memories doesn’t only bring good things. And, finally, it’s a story about a paranoid man trying to figure out why he’s suddenly so afraid to die.

He had been looking forward to his trip for months, and as much as he loved spending time with Luisa and his family and friends and colleagues, he was happy to have this trip for himself to write.

It came out of nowhere, the anxiety. Clear as the blue sky and dark as Luisa’s hair, it stood there right in front of him, as if there was no reason not to. Death anxiety.

He was actually a very happy, positive young man in his mid-twenties, an artist full of love and appreciation, and he didn’t understand where this sudden anxiety had come from, or what it wanted from him. At first he wasn’t concerned about losing it; his artistic and infantile curiosity and urge for understanding things were too strong. He wanted to get to the bottom of this unfamiliar feeling; he felt as if a stranger had entered his mind. And even though there would come a time where he’d curse the darkness, curse the fear, even curse the whole trip, it would all lead him to an understanding and a new friend that most people will never find. For it was all in his head, and it wasn’t until later, he understood that the feeling of not being alone, was her all along.

Despite not trusting a lot in horoscopes, he couldn’t help keeping it in mind when he heard that the Gemini should be careful about traveling. High risk of accidents. How on earth should other planets’ positions influent events in his life? How could anyone believe that? Except from the fact that the moon had a rather big impact on physics on Earth. He was actually very open to unexplainable things bigger than himself, but he also valued scientific explanations. But then again, there had been a bit of laughing when someone suggested that Earth wasn’t flat. And just ten years ago, there was smartphones and youtube, but no one knew stem cells could be programmed.

Among many great things, Rome is famous for crazy driving, and even though he wasn’t going to stay in the city, but in a village an hour north, he had decided to get the big car insurance.

In Fiumicino, he was met by the Italian lack of organization skills and English abilities, which made it difficult to find the car rental area, where the car rental office of course wasn’t located. Back and forth, calling, waiting, hanging up, no wifi, closed, can’t help you, talk to that guy, no English, try the information, go downstairs, no phone calls allowed, etc. Finally there, and there it was, the surprise. We don’t accept debit cards. Two things. First: he had rented many other cars with that card. Second: he already paid for the car and the insurance. Two things back. First: deposit 1,200€. Second: no credit card, no car, she said smiling without taking off her shades. Fighting, shouting, but but but, no no no, listen to me, back and forth. No card, no car. Bitch. I’m not done with you. Now we’re closed.

Back at the airport after being rejected by the rest of the car rental companies, he realized there were two options. Taxi one and a half hours and 150 euros, train three hours and 11€. Since he was already late for picking up keys in Sutri, he decided to take a taxi. Sweet old man with long nails and dressed like a mafia boss taught him left and right in Italian and charged him ten euros more than promised. But he did take him north, safe and dry through the wet and windy Italian spring.

As he usually did when things went wrong, he tried to convince himself it was better that way. The whole anxiety and fear of death situation. Not driving himself might had saved him from that horoscope car accident. On one hand, he chose to think that way because he and Chopra and his family and many of his friends, really believed it. So many energies and unexplainable things going on. On the other hand, he needed a sensible explanation to not look like a fool in front of his scientific friends, so another part of him explained it by saying that it was just his system two looking for meaning in life, and that he might as well let it; instead of being in a shitty mood all day about something he couldn’t change anyway.

First luck that Sunday was meeting the neighbor, Luigella, in the street walking away from the building. Danese? Si, scuzi estoy tarde! No worries, she thought he was arriving Tuesday. Italians again, it was all in the mail. She apologized for the weather, saying that last week was warm and sunny. Of course it was.

Great place, a lot better than the pictures, except from the smell. Was it rats, dirt or shit, he couldn’t figure, but it was harsh. He looked for a similar expression on Luigella’s face to see if it were unusual. Seemed not.

Being alone, the anxiety returned. As if he wasn’t alone. As a kid, he used to be afraid of the dark, both in the cellar and in the ocean, and he had had a few strong experiences with spirits. At seven, for example, he had felt something aggressive and very present in the old house his parents were about to buy. It appeared that the previous owner had shot himself on the second floor, and that the house had been empty for years. Except from a lot of energies that it took a sensitive child to sense. Purple and open and not interested in sensitive explanations.

And now he felt it again, as if he wasn’t alone. It took him hours to fall asleep the first few days even though he left the lights on. The anxiety followed him throughout the days. Even though people were smiling and greeting, he felt a constant darkness in his mind. Something inside him told him that people’s smiles were only hiding the fact that they wanted to hurt him. Stop it. What if they’ve been waiting for me? Stop it. Paranoia.

On the third day, he was so uneasy he started asking himself questions like if you die tonight, have you had a happy life? Before falling asleep, he took out his notebook and wrote: why am I suddenly so afraid to die? Came out of nowhere. The feeling that it’s soon over. God, I hope I’m wrong.

Now, this was new to him. As mentioned, he was usually a very happy and positive guy with no present fears or phobias. But he was starting to get nervous about why it was staying in his mind – so present and constant. Why had he still not figured it out?

Reading Jung helped him understand symbols and dreams, and he decided to realize something. The anxiety wasn’t some energy from above, or from the air around him. It came from his own sub consciousness. What am I trying to tell me? Usually his sub consciousness spoke to him through dreams when his ego was asleep, but this message was apparently so important that it could break through his consciousness and take over his attention: wake up, you’re gonna die. Was he going nuts?

Thursday afternoon was going to be the day where he went to go see the amphitheater. An ancient rock-hewn monument, the pride of Sutri and full of Tripadviser love. It was a short walk out of old town, neighboring the breathtaking tuff rock cliffs that held the mausoleum, the necropolis, and the bosco sacro – the sacred forest – forty feet above the ground. Like a rocky island in the middle of the Lazio woods, made by Mother Nature’s finest volcano ash, and carved out by man two thousand years ago.

It was windy as hell and the shadows were growing longer, but he was drawn by the landscape and the surreal furniture of the cliffs. It was beautiful. Apart from the rainforest-like vegetation and vines, also dark wooden doors had been put in the vertical beige stone walls. The entire cliff had empty chambers carved out all along the sides, like a colossal cheese half eaten by mammoth sized mice. The chambers were old tombs from the ancient Rome, empty remains of death-keeping and captive souls.

That Thursday they were just dark caves in a massive wall, but they got to represent his anxiety. It was getting darker, and he started to wish he hadn’t gone. He checked the map on his phone and saw that he was more or less halfway around the cliff; so turning around wouldn’t be any faster than continuing. He decided to be quick about it and hurry back home. But right as he crossed the small bridge at the southwestern corner of the cliff, a branch the size of a dead horse fell down from above, and landed in the middle of the bridge. The storm had broken it off its mother, and now it was blocking his way, as if trying to tell him something. He crawled through the branch and felt the anxiety grow to fear, as the child inside, afraid of the dark and believing in ghosts, was gaining control. Suddenly, in the middle of his mental battle between a grown man and a fearful child conducted by the dark symphony of the elements, he felt a hand on his shoulder. His fighting stopped as his system one demanded control, and he turned swiftly. No one. Just black caves and the laughing storm. Fuck, I’m really getting crazy.

That night he had a pizza and a Nastro Azzurro, and tried to celebrate how great a life it was to be an artist. He wrote the best song of that week and called it Captive Souls. It still took him hours to fall asleep. But something else happened that night. Like the rest of his adventures that week, this wasn’t something physical, but only in his mind. It wasn’t very dramatic or intense, but it was very important. He woke up his anima.

According to Jung, people’s masculine and feminine traits are often symbolized by persons in their dreams; animus and anima. This way, the sub consciousness can communicate things that are usually rejected by the ego as silly, as the ego might be too busy doing more important things like watching tv or checking facebook. While animus represents the masculine, anima is not only representing feminine symbols like breasts and lipstick, but also the more soft and elusive traits of the human nature such as feelings and creativity. And waking her up in a dream can be a strong image.

It‘s worth mentioning that our adventurer had spent years getting in deeper touch with his emotional sides in order to understand himself better and write more profound songs. Perhaps he would have done something else, though, if someone had told him that digging in your emotional seabed doesn’t only whirl up seahorses and starfish. There are dark forces down there, too. And no sunshine without shade.

Unlike many of his dreams in the past weeks, this one wasn’t about escaping or fleeing or being hunted or haunted or killed. This time he had a train to catch. His friends were there, and everybody wanted to catch this train to somewhere nice. But he was missing something, and he had to go get it. So he went off through the city, into this apartment block that he’d never seen before, climbing the stairs to one of the apartments and prepared himself to break in. He didn’t like that part, and he hadn’t done it before, but he had to. He had to get that pillow. In silence, he entered, and snooped around the apartment, through the dark unfamiliar rooms, searching. His mind was troubled, and he thought of his friends having fun at the station while waiting for the train. He had to catch the train, but first he had to find the pillow, so he kept searching through the entire apartment until he found the bed. Strange, it was right next to the front door where he came from, but he hadn’t seen it when he entered.

And there she was, asleep in the bed, with her head on the pillow. No beauty, no witch either. Not sexy, nor ugly; not a Madonna, nor a whore. Just a regular, normal girl at his age. He was afraid of removing the pillow, terrified of the consequences if she woke up. He slowly and carefully reached for the pillow, almost closing his eyes and making that awkward face we all do when something frightening is about to happen; as if trying to make your eyebrows and cheeks meet while slowly sucking in air through your teeth. And she woke up.

But instead of freaking out, screaming, or calling the police, she just looked at him kindly and asked what he had come for. If she could help him. They spoke for a while, and he started to like her more and more, as he got to know her. Finally, he got up and left with the pillow, and she came with him to catch the train.

When he woke up, it was almost noon. He didn’t pay much attention to the dream, but he knew that he wanted to return to the amphitheater to make peace with the place. He left right after his yoghurt with fruits and nuts and blueberries, and felt brave. It felt good to gain control over his mind.

Through this day and until he went inside the cathedral that afternoon, he had a feeling of non-presence. As if he were watching his own life through a movie. Like he weren’t controlling his own movements, or even being there himself. As if he were dreaming, and that he could just let go, and everything would keep on going on its own; and even if he wanted influence he wouldn’t have much.

This time, he went the other way around the cliff. Starting from the exit sign, he took the contrary route hoping to get a different perspective of the place. It was still windy along the western wall of the cliff, and the two hundred meters walk before the southwestern corner gave him time to think that it seemed like nothing had changed since yesterday. When he reached the small bridge at the corner, he saw that the branch was gone, and that he could now cross – turning left and east. As he crossed the bridge, the wind disappeared, and the weather left him alone with the rays of the sun burning a massive hole in the azure sky. He noticed the horses on the other side of the river and he started laughing, as he realized how absurd it had been to let himself be scared of this place. In daylight, he could now see the back of the cliff caves, and they too had transformed into something less frightening; from giant black, empty eye sockets to hay covered animal shelters with nothing creepy about them.

He followed the path along the walls and turned left towards the amphitheater. It didn’t seem less impressive in daylight, but certainly more inviting, as the ten arena doorways now had more than just blackness in them. Crossing the arena, philosophical thoughts started appearing in his mind. He thought of the symbolism in life as the stage, and how difficult it can be to understand life while living it. Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. How can you see the whole picture from ground level? In the middle of the arena remained a single flat stone from the ancient times; the rest of the arena was covered with soil and grass. He balanced with both of his feet on the rock, looking first down at his worn-out grey converse, then up. It looked as if someone had covered the whole sky in blue, except from one big hole where the light broke through. He noticed the remains of the old royal box where the majesties had glanced down at the games, predicting success and fiasco, with godly control over life and death. He would die for a taste of that view, so he started walking towards the dark staircase to the left, and noticed how the wind disappeared as he left the center of the arena. The airstream only blew in a straight line at ground level from the northern entrance to the southern.

Climbing the three dark flights of stairs, he approached the royal box. It was only twenty-three steps but dark enough to make the sunlight bright white when he stepped out in the open. With the sun in his back and the overview of the arena, he had what he later considered a revelation. He saw in the empty arena how people spent their lives chasing each other trying to survive and impress. He saw how little meaning there was in all the things they thought of as important, and how most apparent patterns were just mind-made illusions to create some meaning in the mind of too conscious animals. But most importantly, he understood that his anxiety was all about change. His sub consciousness had detected all the major changes in his past two years, but his mind had been too busy enjoying life and writing songs to worry about the risks. He had moved to a new country, ended a relationship and started a new one, learned new languages, finished his education, new work, new people, lots of goodbyes and hellos, and he had changed a lot. Grown up a bit. His reptilian instinct brain, and the beige meme, had reacted on the changes as signs of danger, and since his ego never really had related to it, his sub consciousness had looked forward to the whole Italy trip as a chance to reflect on this new life. The strongest weapon was the death alarm, and it had been switched full on to make sure he was aware of the potential dangers in change of surroundings. Ultimately saying you go on that trip, and you won’t leave as the same person, ‘cause we’ve got some things we need to talk about.

He saw all that from the royal box, and he realized that he needed to do some thinking and reflecting, and that he had at least one goodbye and one hello to make.

Spiritual but not religious, he usually said. So when he entered the cathedral, it wasn’t for God as much as for energies, inspiration and an open door to the divine. He felt more and more as if he was starring a movie, and the perspective changed from POV to bird’s view as he entered the beautiful Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Never had rubber soles made that much noise, and the reverberation seemed to go on forever as they ricocheted between the eleven hundred years old stonewalls. He stepped on the outer edges of his shoes until he reached the aisle whose cosmati tiles were so old and worn out they didn’t make 21st century sneakers wail anymore. There was no one else in the cathedral. The high vaulted ceiling was full of godly paintings, and the room was decorated in every corner with shiny marble pillars and countless golden and wooden details. Though he was curious to know if a priest was awaiting him in the confessional, he didn’t feel like he had anything to confess. At least not to others. He sat down on row Santa Maria something in Italian, and studied the row name to find something symbolic about that exact bench that his sub consciousness had chosen for him. Disappointed that that was not the case, he closed his eyes and tried to gain control over his thoughts.

Looking down at himself meditating with folded hands, a straight back and his head slightly bent upwards, he noticed the wind losing and gaining strength outside. Inside, there was a deafening silence, and still no sign of other people. Still with his eyes closed, he imagined the cathedral in his mind, and thought of it as warm, bright, and full of colors. He accepted that his thought activity was too busy to allow meditation – even though that was the point – so he opened his eyes, and was disappointed by the room. It had lost most of its colors from his mental picture, and seemed now like a dark and almost black and white version of it. The marble wasn’t even real. Most of the walls were painted to look old and heavenly. He got up and approached the two staircases in front of the altar, slowly and slightly sideways like a cautious hero in a movie. He stopped and looked down, and could see that the stairs went below the altar: the crypt. He had seen those in countless other holy buildings, the most famous of which could be found only forty kilometers south of Sutri. Usually located under the heart of the church, the crypts or catacombs guarded the divine, the dead. He felt like a burglar, even though he hadn’t come to steal, but he thought of his dream as he went down the stairs. The silence was complete now and made up a massive noise in his head. There was no door into the dark, narrow corridor, only a small metal box on the left wall next to the crypt entrance. One euro for a minute of light. As he leaned into the black crypt under the church, the fear returned. It was pitch black down there, and silent like the grave. He imagined how it would look from a dead man’s eyes to come flying towards him through the deep darkness. No way. He turned around in one quick movement and hurried back up, still looking back. He felt like a coward. Wasn’t this what he had come to do? Face his fears and reflect to understand them? He slowed down as he upped the stairs and reached the aisle, as to try and save his dignity. Though no one was there, he knew someone was watching; at least the many parts of his own persona and shadow and so on. Sometimes he thought of himself as a kid following him around, and that made him feel a pressure to be grown and strong. There was always expectations, even in the church. Fuck this shit.

On his way out he stopped in front of a sculpture with candles in front of it. He decided to light a candle for his grandmother, like he and his mom had done so many times. Oferta, forty centimos. He took out his beige leather wallet and found four ten cent coins and inserted them in the tin box one by one in a slow, dramatic way. Clonk, reverb reverb. Clonk, reverb reverb. He then picked up the matchbox and took out one of the few unused matches. He thought of his grandmother and stroke it. Nothing happened, so he stroke it again and tried to hit the last strip of phosphor left on the side of the box. It fired the third time. Unintentionally, he changed his mind as he picked up a candle from the bottom shelf. He wasn’t going to light it for her. He would light it for himself. He lit it and put it back on the top shelf in the middle, and said goodbye. He promised himself not to be afraid anymore, not to let the anxiety and darkness take over his mind if it wasn’t constructive.

Resurrection: 0,40€. He looked up at the sculpture and noticed the man’s walking stick. The shepherd was dressed in brown and holding out his right hand as a guiding gesture. That way. Beside him was a small pig. Why couldn’t it just have been a sheep like everywhere else? And why only one?

He pushed both of the doors open like a cowboy exiting a saloon, and the perspective changed back to POV. As he left the building, a pigeon took wing from right in front of the entrance. In Danish, pigeon and dove is the same word, and he felt sure his mom would love that picture. He thought that if he ever wrote a book about this experience, the wind would have been gone when he exited the cathedral.

He remembered his father’s words about the other side of being an artist. If he wanted to be in true touch with his creativity and all of his feelings and memories and thoughts – including the sub conscious ones – he would have to accept the dark sides too. Being profoundly sensitive and spiritual also meant being open to what couldn’t be explained, including sixth sense events that couldn’t just be swept away as the wind or his imagination; because it was exactly in those moments – full of feelings – that he could reach out and find something that could also touch others.

It made him feel courageous to think that it was okay to be a grown man suddenly scared of the dark, as long as he used it to help other people. That’s what heroes did. Facing their fears to gain strength and use that to contribute to society. All those poor souls that had forgotten how to feel.

He decided to believe that the horoscope had used traveling accidents to warn him against change. Traveling is a symbol of change or of the transition to something new, and change is potentially dangerous.

But at the same time, he loved change. He was blessed with a child’s curiosity and urge for understanding things, and he had a strong passion for almost everything. To his consciousness, change wasn’t dangerous at all, just exciting.

If only you could release your ego, your instinct, and your reflections in a amphitheater arena and see if it were a fair match. Or beige instinct against red don’t-give-a-fuckness against blue punishment against orange creativity against green– … No, green wouldn’t stand a chance. He wouldn’t have any idea who to put his money on. But then again, he was Gemini, and famous among his friends for not being able to make up his mind about anything, so maybe he wasn’t the right person to ask. Maybe I don’t wanna know. Perhaps some things don’t have to be turned and examined, like he, after ten years, had discovered was the case with jealousy.

Only seven sleepless nights and forty cents for that kind of insight. People didn’t know what they missed out on. Rushing through the same streets of the same city every day only to look forward to having the same drinks with the same friends in the same fucking clubs every single weekend. Don’t they know they’re destroying the planet and that people are dying of hunger? Children and women! He usually kept those thoughts for a few minutes, and moved on to something positive as soon as he remembered about his own smartphone and laptop and fifty annual flights. As if 25€ to Greenpeace and Amnesty made up for that. And being a vegetarian and giving money to the homeless, but still.

Finishing spiral dynamics on the flight back, he looked out the window over sunny Rome as the plane took off, and he thought of the symbolism in elevation and getting lifted to get a higher perspective to understand his own colors. Overview. Google Earth zoom-out. Taking wings. From blades of grass to small cars to coastline. And he noticed that on both flights, he had been placed at the emergency exit door, out 16D, return A, and he wondered what that might mean.

All that in one year

NOT EVERY DAY is a huge success or a happily-ever-after story for any of us, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of our achievements. Looking back on our accomplishments and positive experiences lets us relive them, and at the same time check if we’re moving in the right direction.

I’m lucky to have an incredible family and the world’s best friends that invite me on trips, let me use their houses and flats and cars and couches. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had half of the experiences I had in 2014. I got the chance to see the Andes and beaches of Chile, dance tango in Buenos Aires, taste wines in Mendoza, Argentina, go hiking in Andalusia, Spain, and see friends getting married on a vineyard castle outside of Venice, Italy. I had writing sessions and great food and laughs on my trips to London, Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm, and I’ve reunited with old friends and made a few new ones.

I spent the most of my time of 2014 in and around Barcelona – writing, thinking, reading, and observing people living their busy lives. The whole idea for me was to go deeper into writing by having more time to reflect. For a long time, I’d wanted to distance myself from superficiality in both life and music. I hear talented people write amazing melodies and make fantastic tracks only to add lyrics about stupid or, at the best, shallow subjects. Even when interesting subjects like love or sex are touched, nine out of ten times (and this is optimistic) only the surface is scratched, and the listener is left with worn-out metaphors and clichés. “The listener wants something simple” or “don’t go too deep, A&Rs don’t like philosophy, why don’t we go with the Gin and Tonic idea?”. But by the other side of the speaker, the alert listener concludes that someone in the top of the pyramid just wants an easy and thoughtless audience. Illuminati. For me, people who reach out to a large audience have a responsibility. Not that we all have to save the world all the time, but let’s at least add some layers and contents. It’s all about making people feel something and give them something to dig into it if they want. We can’t just paint a façade; we need to have the whole fucking house ready and the coffee served, in case someone chooses to enter.

I didn’t always think like this, and I wrote (and released) many stupid songs. But I started thinking about these things. Things I didn’t take the time to go into before. In my own life, I mean. Smaller as well as bigger subjects. I started realizing the greatness of all the tiny things; something I used to be an expert in as a child. And I feel like I rediscovered some of those abilities; letting go of insecurities and expectations, and finding and accepting joy in life. This makes it easier for me to write about new things in new ways. Before, I might have instantly rejected them, because I thought they were silly – or they didn’t even occur to me.
I feel more. I’m more sensitive. I laugh more, and I can cry again – hadn’t done that for years. This, or so it seems to me, lets me express more fundamental things in a more profound way, and I intentionally aim to writing true stories about simple matters.

2014 was by far my most productive year ever (song wise), and still I feel like I worked less. The main reason is that I’m becoming a more skilled songwriter. I make better choices, and I seem to have a clearer feeling about words, notes, rhymes, rhythms and timbre. But I’m also getting better at prioritizing, finishing, planning, organizing, and fundraising. Thank you, Excel docs, Dropbox folders and to-do lists. I used to think planning would destroy my artistry and “creative flow”. Bullshit. It gives me overview, helps me get more songs out there, and ultimately it gives me more time to write. But also, it frees time for me to do other things.

I decided to learn to play the guitar. I usually write at the piano, and I’ve never taken the time the start on the guitar chapter for real. 2014 was also the year where that happened. I’m definitely not killing it yet, but I wrote my first handful of songs on it, and for me it’s a tool for creating, rather than something I must master to the fullest.

I went from speaking no Spanish to being able to have real conversations about most subjects. I’m far from fluent, but I can spend a whole day with Spanish speaking people, and understand most of it. I’m proud of that, since I’ve done it on my own without taking classes – except from completing the online Duolingo programme, reading kids’ books and speaking Spanish every day with as much people as possible.

I finished my bachelor degree in musicology at the University of Copenhagen, which obviously also required a certain amount of time and energy. From that, I received some musical training and a bag of handy tools, but mostly I learned to handle subjects from an academic point of view. As my wise parents told me, the education would teach me things I couldn’t appreciate until after learning it. And that, of course, was true.
Having more time also brought back my joy of reading. It had been missing for a handful of years as an effect of busyness. But now I’m back at the buffet after years of fasting, and I started reading a few books a month. The library is once again my friend.

I stopped eating meat in May, and haven’t missed it. Once in a while I have fish, and that satisfies my need for dead animals. I lost a bit of weight, but not in muscle. Understanding the amino acid mechanisms made me realize that I don’t just need proteins to build proteins, I need amino acids. And, obviously, there are plenty of those in vegetables. Following a plant-based diet makes me feel better, lighter, stronger, faster and more creative. Plus it helps me sleep better at night; it reduces my environmental footprint and assures me that no animals were hurt in the process of feeding me.

When I came to Barcelona 15 months ago for a three day trip, I met a girl at the beach. She was a waiter and a hippie and the world stopped spinning. I changed my flight ticket and asked if she had a boyfriend. She did, she said, so I went for a walk. There was no real boyfriend, though, and the hard-to-getness was keeping a girl safe. We found out we had a lot in common, and today we live together. Now she’s learning Danish and applying for an education in Copenhagen. We might move North soon.

I’m still growing up, still learning to understand life, and this doesn’t seem scary any longer. I’ve made peace with a few ghosts in my mind, which cleared my view a lot. Getting ready for a couple of new chapters in my life. I made a few career choices in 2014 that already made a big impact on my life. This has led to more confidence in my songwriting, and a belief in things I used to question.

I’m writing this from Fuerteventura, Spain, and I’m already looking forward to my scheduled trips to Rome, U.S., Stockholm, Greece, and Copenhagen, and I can’t wait to see what experiences, people, and opportunities that will bring. The other day, someone told me something I’ve kept in my mind. Some of the best days of your life haven’t happened yet. That might be today.

Two hundred and forty minutes

Photo: Mike Nybroe

Photo: Mike Nybroe

I WAS SITTING AT Nou Celler in Princesa when I realized that it was not just some subtle alteration. It wasn’t a huge life changer either, like when people win a trigozillion in the lottery, but some things had definitely changed. It had been more than six months since I moved, and I still felt every day like a holiday. New country, new culture, new rhythm. Nonetheless, I had somehow managed to form a few habits and a sort of everyday routine. Not like scheduled people have, but still kind of patterned.

For quite some time, I had woken up at 9 something by the sound and smell of breakfast being cooked. Since Luisa had a scheduled job – something I repeatedly swore to keep myself on a safe distance from – she was in charge of the alarm. Tak for mad, de nada, vi ses senere, thanks for waking up with me, enjoy your day, tú también.
     After breakfast I’d take myself to the cafetería at the marketplace. A local café with a warm atmosphere and an ever-grumpy señora behind the bar. The place had no sign or shown name, but a few posters and an old menu hinted that it had once been called Bar Caribe – apparently referring to the former owner’s fascination with the Caribbean (not that he ever went there). I never found out what troubled la senõra, but something – or, rather, everything – could clearly be improved. Some costumers had the miraculous ability to bring a genuine smile of all teeth and loud gestures on her. But most (like myself) made her roll her eyes and – with the last air of a sigh – offering “dime” (“tell me”). In my best Spanish, I’d ask for a breakfast (no one else would know it was second breakfast) consisting of a bocadillo with cheese, a café con leche and a croissant. About halfway through my sentence, she’d leave and bring me whatever I had had time to say during those seconds.

I somehow enjoyed this strange atmosphere and lousy service (not the least because the bread came from Baluard – Barceloneta’s best bakery – and the entire breakfast cost three euros and fifty centimos). At 12 noon she closed. Obviously. This gave her a siesta lasting two hundred and forty minutes, ending at 4PM before another two seemingly never ending hours of hard eye rolling behind the bar.
In the meanwhile – at noon, that is – I’d go for a walk along the beach. During the fadeout of summer, mixed feelings had started arguing inside me. As much as I loved the sun and the heat and the cool water, I’d started disgusting the drunk Germans, Italians and Danes (like myself not long ago). DJ Ötzi and condoms in the water. With the arrival of autumn, these summer features – beauties as well as beasts – vanished, and something else showed. Space and nobody-ness. “Nadie, te lo juro, NA-DI-E!,” as Luisa exclaimed in excitement. No one was at the waterfront anymore, and a whole new atmosphere and tranquility was found. But, of course, the price was sun and summer.

These walks – and their philosophizing and appreciating – either took me to the sand on warm days or a beach café on windy ones. I tried to go new places every day, reminding myself that there had to be a reason why new places made me feel things, and Starbucks and Costa Coffee didn’t – except from where did that money go. Feeling something didn’t necessarily mean an orgasm of appreciation and happiness, but, rather, staying awake and stimulating the brain and the heart.

I started appreciating the little things like atmosphere, faces, smiles and small coffees. Until very recently – I realized – I had spent too much time on seemingly important and ‘big’ things like hurrying, making and spending money, and being busy – usually for no reason. Busy meant important, and details were a blur as I passed by. I began to realize how essential time (and plenty of it) was for me to be happy.

What happens when we listen to music?

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I’VE BEEN LOOKING into the musicological discussion about what happens when we listen to music. How do we interpret it, what happens in our minds, and do we understand the music in the same way? And, does the author or composer necessarily determine the significance of the piece of art, or can the listener participate in the creation of the meaning? I researched a bit, and there seem to be consensus among at least a few of the experts. Here’s a very short summary.

REPRESENTATION: According to Jamaican born cultural theoretic Stuart Hall, one the most important processes of listening is the way the listener’s mind connects the musical parts in the music with the experience already stored. Hall calls this process representation, referring to the meaning that the musical objects represent when interpreted by the mind of the listener. There are three theories or ways of perceiving representation and where the meaning of the music occurs. The reflective approach tells us that the meaning is in the object (the music), as opposed to the intentional that tells us that the author dictates the meaning. The third, and, in many musicologists’ opinion, the most interesting, theory is the constructionist approach which assumes that ‘true’ meaning cannot arise from either composer nor listener alone (or in the object itself for that matter).

COMMUNICATION: American anthropologist Steven Feld pretty much agrees with the constructionist point of view, from where – according to Feld – music must be approached as a language; a social interactive process. Not in the direct sense we think of linguistics, but rather as a communication tool used to share meaning and worldview between sender and receiver – in this case composer and listener. With this tool the author can create a ‘concept’ in his or her mind, produce it and thereby communicate it; the same way we use signs and written languages to share meaning in social spaces.

While being exposed to music, Feld suggests, one takes various ‘interpretive moves’ through the mind while trying to connect the musical impressions with experiences and memories in order to create or find meaning in it. And, like with all sorts of communication, this process of audible meaning sharing needs sender and receiver to agree on a common set of rules (or a common map, as Hall puts it), in order for them to be able to communicate.

This map is made of culture, if you ask Danish anthropologist Kirsten Hastrup; she argues that a big part of our culture is inherited, and that one’s worldview is determined by one’s point of view – which, again, is determined by the inherited culture. This point of view claims that experience and memories (not the same thing) define the way one interprets and relates to music, and that these maps change as we experience and expand our horizon. To many, this is not new, but what, to me, is interesting is that once again it goes both ways: People’s cultural point of view is determined by their culture, which, of course, is defined by the point of view of the people. This means, we’re co-creating and defining our worldview and musical culture, both in an intellectual way by talking about it, and in an emotional way by listening.

But there’s a paradox hidden in this process: We experience the music in time but “in order to manipulate it, even to understand it, we pull it out of time and in that sense falsify it”, as Nicholas Cook puts it. Metaphors, for instance, must be seen as an attempt to describe (or, “as imaginative representations that, at best, can in some way add to or empower”) what we experience while listening.

As an author and consumer of music, I think it’s motivating to think that all members of the musical ‘society’ have the potential to co-create meaning. The distance between artist and fan, songwriter and listener, is short and the connection is strong; and listening and interpreting, too, is creating. That’s why, when you ask songwriters what our songs mean, sometime we reply I don’t know, you tell me.

yellow.gul.amarillo.gelb.

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DEEPAK CHOPRA TOLD me to pay attention to coincidences, and even though I’m not religious about it, I do keep my mind open; if for nothing else, just for the fun of it. And today everything was yellow.

I noticed it at around 1AM when I for the third time heard this song on the radio and went to google it. I found the band on Spotify, and the album cover was a completely yellow square with the title in the middle. At the same time my girlfriend came out from the bedroom in a yellow dress and told me in Spanish that she was ready to go. Thirty minutes before, I had returned from the market with a bag full of pineapple, bananas and oranges announcing that today the smoothie would be yellow. Then I thought about my trip to the gym this morning, where I was continuously distracted by two guys staring at me through what felt like the entire sixty minutes I was there; both of them wearing yellow t-shirts.
We went to the library where, of course, all walls were yellow – as they also are in my own stairway, I found out today – to search for a few books that Luisa needed about Barcelona. While waiting, I went to the English novels section and decided to keep playing the yellow game. There was of course a complete random selection of international writers from Bukowski to Coelho – all in English – and I took out the first yellow book I saw. Of all the stories it could have told, it was about a young man who moved to Barcelona as a foreigner. Since that’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment, and that both front and back of the book were yellow, I thought OK Deepak, let’s see if this is a sign from the ‘nonlocal part of the soul’, and I brought it home.

Luisa went to work and I went to have a Spanish omelet. It was yellow. And so were the restaurant logo and walls and balloons and t-shirts of workers and all. I felt stupid – as if my sub consciousness was playing a trick on me while eating popcorn and laughing about how easy I was; but I hadn’t noticed it until then. Next I went out to buy a gift for my girlfriend’s birthday this week, and had to go to a few different stores to find it. (I’m not gonna tell what it is, since it’s not her birthday yet and she might read this.) This present is usually green. But for God knows what reason, they decided to make kind of a limited edition version of it, and it of course had to be, yes, yellow. One left, I’ll take it.
Reading the first half of my new book, I was sitting in Plaza del Tripi with my back against the playground facing Oviso. The sound of a plastic ball suddenly bouncing behind me interrupted my reading, and made me think of the only other ball I had heard or seen that day; that had been in Barceloneta – and yellow. Since I had only heard this ball – not yet seen it – I decided to do some magic (actually MAGIC! was the name of the band I heard on the radio this morning…). I said to myself when I turn around that ball is gonna be yellow. I kept that thought for a few seconds and turned around hoping for that ball to be anything but fucking yellow, so I could get up from my chair and yell you see that, there’s no magic here! Only science and coincidences! Of course it was yellow.

About a month ago I had the same experience with a symbol. My mom gave me an African bead with a spiral on it, and after that I saw that symbol everywhere. On my own bracelets, on the front cover of the book I was already reading, all over the city, and even on my girlfriend’s tattoo. I realize that both yellow and spirals are some of the most common things in the world (actually yellow is the most highly visible of all colors), and that it’s a normal tendency that as soon as we notice something, it pops up everywhere. So I’m not saying there’re more yellow things today than there were yesterday, but they certainly came a lot more to my attention. Some of my friends believe these coincidences are the synchrodestiny and my own sub consciousness connecting to our common intelligence and guiding me in life. Most of my friends, though, will argue that we are exposed to millions of impressions every day, and obviously there are going to be patterns in the chaos, and some days will be more exciting than others: the mystery of randomness.
But when psychologists say that yellow is the color of optimism, mind (as opposed to heart and feelings) and new ideas, and semiologists say that the spiral symbolizes the constant changing cycles of everything; what would Chopra get from this? That I should stay optimistic about changing elements in my life? That my new song or business idea is great and will last forever? Or simply, that I should keep eating omelets and pineapple smoothies?

To my big surprise there was not much sun today. Woke up to tropical thunder and it’s been changing from heavy rain through grey clouds to glimpses of sun. Again, changes? Cycles?
In traffic lights yellow means change – so do spirals. And if nothing else, all this yellow gave me some sunlight on a rainy summer day.

Verano en Barceloneta

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THIS SUMMER WILL be warm. At least for me it will.

Not long ago I was looking at my calendar and noticed that I’m spending most of my time outside of Denmark; US, Spain, Holland, Argentina, Sweden, UK, Chile – but I’m paying my rent in one of the most expensive countries in the world: Denmark. Bad business, Alexander. So, I made an easy choice: this summer my base will be Barcelona. First of all because my girlfriend lives there, but also because for me it’s a perfect (as close as you get in Europe) mix of beaches, culture, city, and laidbackness. Mañana. Which is perfect as home when my trips to e.g. Copenhagen or Stockholm are usually pretty tied up with sessions and meetings.

Of course, as with every choice, there are always pros and cons. Family, friends, studio, apartment, fear of loneliness, work, contacts. What happens if something happens in Copenhagen and I’m not there to fix it? What if I’m offered something fantastic and I can’t join? But I realized that a three-hour flight is nothing and that many things can be fixed online. And that I write just as good songs in the sun as in the cold north.

So, I bought a one-way ticket and last night I arrived to Calle del Monjo.
See you around!

STOCKHOLM PT. I:  T  H U  R  S  D A Y

RIGHT BETWEEN 7-ELEVEN and the 37-Celsius Margaretha Krook we became friends. It was past midnight on the first day we met, and we’d already been sharing more personal stories than even extrovert artists usually would with strangers. Everyone had been telling me that he was a great (as in ass kicking talented) poet and I knew he’d won a lot of prizes and stuff, but since my Swedish wasn’t perfect, it was hard for me to tell if he was out of this world or just good. Calling himself the greatest voice of our generation could have made me laugh or turn away, but his charming persona somehow made him get away with it. I guess I wanted to believe him.

I’d just finished a whole day of co-writing somewhere else in Stockholm when I arrived at this studio that my friend back in Denmark had set me up with; they were supposed to be extremely ‘interesting and talented’. They were laying down this support song to get a Swedish journalist released from an Arabic prison after he wrote a critical article about 9/11 twelve years ago, and I just kind of ended up hanging around there. Despite the serious matters, the vibe was truly hyggelig, and I was quite captivated by the crew that seemed like the best and oldest friends this world had seen (I discovered later that several of them hadn’t known each other for that long; they were simply open-minded, happy people). Apart from the poet and an artist I can’t mention by name, a few other persons were there. The blond girl was a Swedish topliner living in London; she had the voice of an archangel and seemed to have a great understanding of melodies, and was a great match with the Iranian producer who also owned the place. It was huge, the interior and the rooms were incredibly cozy and the location was per-fucking-fect; so I started to believe that these people had to be as skilled as they were nice. Probably one of the most amazing studios I’ve been to.

After dining Mexican, shooting mango ice cream, and recording for six hours, my new acquaintance, the poet, started walking me home telling me about his origins, runaways and the time he bicycled to Spain. We stopped there, right in front of 7-Eleven, when he asked for my story. Forty minutes later we realized we had more in common than we thought, and if we didn’t make some kind of art together, it’d probably be a mistake. He would write truths about our worlds and I’d turn them into songs. No chance I’ll ever learn to pronounce his last name, but if he’s half the poet he claims to be, we might save a life or two. It wasn’t until the next day I thought of the perfect symbolism of us talking about mixing pop culture and art right between the Royal Dramatic Theater and the #1 franchise company in the world. I’ll keep you in mind, Daniel.

 

The Danish songwriter association DPA organized and financed a one-week songwriter camp in Stockholm in April, and I was one of the lucky ones to go. I had six co-writes, two keynote sessions and a whole bunch of networking; this is one of four diary posts.

 

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26A: Homeless?

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I NEVER SAW a homeless on an airplane before. Neither had the flight attendants or  the passengers, it seemed. Unlike the southern cultures, Danish people tend to not show much interest (often pretended) in other people’s business. Something about seeming unimpressed, I suppose – or maybe it comes from our famous law of Jante. Nonetheless, most of us couldn’t hide our astonishment when this guy slalomed down the aisle; boarding completed.

He had the crippled posture and shallow cheeks of a drug addict, which was of course the first thing you noticed. Then the brand-new jacket, which made the rest of the beaten clothes appear even more messed-up. All his movements seemed like in slow motion, as if decades in shallowness and alcohol had extracted all possible stress and meaning from his mind and body. The stink arrived with him, and I had to pull my shirt over my nose when he stopped at the row in front of me. 26A. I was 27B, and when he a few minutes later leaned his seat back, I had a perfect view and a hundred and seventy minutes to study him. Even though I could easily had done without the well-known smell of streets and piss and alcohol, I had all the sympathy in the world for this guy, and I realized I had never stayed this close to a person like him for longer than it takes to pull out a few coins. This guy didn’t need money (I found out later) and I wasn’t in a hurry, so there were neither excuses or exits; and sitting side by side both decreased the gab between us and somehow underlined our differences.
I’ve never seen such deeply bitten nails. I mean, people bite their nails all the time, but this was some next level shit. Filthy, darker than black and shorter than the bit I lose when I cut mine. His hands and face were full of bruises and scars, some of them new, and a few of them covered with a black, greasy substance of some kind. Though not in their best shape, all teeth were there and he had a great, honest, lazy smile. Around his neck he kept a golden chain carrying the old symbol of a circle with a triangle inside; could mean anything from protection and freemasonry to homosexuality or AA. Since the only thing our friend carried was an open bottle of airport whiskey I put my money on the latter; rehab failed. I stopped being surprised when his iPhone rang for 20 seconds during the safety demonstration, and they had to stop the procedure to send someone to 1) inform him that his phone was ringing and 2) kindly ask him to turn it off since this was a plane, and that all electronic equipment should be turned off during takeoff and landing. Since he didn’t 1) understand English and 2) didn’t know how to turn off his phone, this took a while.
26A would like a sandwich and a beer (which the attendants refused him, so he had a coffee instead), and since he had no euros he had to pay with card. This part seemed new to him, and he didn’t understand what “writing his name” on a piece of paper had to do with purchasing a meal. It took about ten minutes for him to decide, communicate, and purchase these two items, and in the meanwhile I was trying to detect his mood; which was not easy, since he didn’t show many facial expressions. He could be having the time of his life, or thinking of suicide – I couldn’t read him. Only a few smiles, and only a few doubts made him seem both deep and shallow in a mysterious way; he made me think of a homeless dog that had too many beatings to bother anymore.

The situation left me with many questions: What’s this guy gonna do in Barcelona? How did he buy this ticket? And what about the credit card, the necklace and his clothes? Was he out of a rich family; was he a former businessman, or a criminal? Something had been good in this man’s life, and some things had gone wrong. If he were asked to write a song at that moment, what would he tell? How being on a plane made him feel like the others, since we were all equal in this neutral timeout after paying the same for the ticket and sharing the same leg space and simple choices of salty or sweet snacks; none of us being more at home than other? Or would he write about running from something or towards a better life?
I wonder if he was aware that he made a big impression on somebody that day. He has probably been told a few times to get lost, and I can imagine that his thoughts could be elsewhere in general. But if I met him in a year and told him that he inspired me to write songs about him, and that his presence that day made me consider many things about myself and the kind of life I live; what would he feel? Pride? Joy? Nothing? I’d hope he would feel good about contributing with unexpected positive energy and a reminder of how good it can be for us to tear down borders – even if only for a while – and reflect ourselves in each other. You made my day, 26A.

Foreign Land

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FOR SOME STRANGE reason I started on a song about cheating today. Caused me a lot of trouble. I was asked to topline this track from a former L.A. based hiphop producer – now living in Copenhagen, actually – that I didn’t work with before. The verses were complete ripoffs from an urban Billboard #1 from a few years back, and the chorus had these weird major progressions that made the vibe kind of broadway in a strange 143 BPM popstep universe. Anyways, I had no inspiration at first. No melody, no words. All I could manage was to sing along on the chord stabs’ melody notes like a parrot repeating what’s already there. Tried with the track, then without it; I tried stealing from other songs in and outside the styles and then modifying it to this song, but nothing worked, really. I mean, parts of it were fine, of course, but since the producer had told me that the last few toplines on this track hadn’t really worked out, I decided my shot had to be gold. But again, no wonder it was a hard one; these chord were strange and somehow not inviting at all.
I had been walking a marathon in this two room Barceloneta flat I’m staying in (plus laundry, dishes, 150 pushups and five minutes of planking (procrastination FTW)), and my neighbors were probably getting good old gruñones by listening to the same beat over and over again, but suddenly it was there – the hook. Not like one of those times where the song just pops up writing itself; more like shy pieces only sticking their heads out. I had to drag them out of there one by one; a few words from my notebook, a couple of new melodies, and one whole line that I’ve been carrying around for a few weeks. And after some hours of searching and tugging I had it. Most words weren’t there yet, but the melody was complete. Fuck yeah!

10PM: Since I now had the melody I decided to change location and go to a bar and write the missing lyrics for it. I know this great place serving Barnawoods and 1,40€ macchiatos, and I thought this would be perfect. The 7 minutes walk ended up taking me an hour and ten minutes, since I paid zero attention to directions and instead thought about lyrics and the subject of sexual cheating. During this “stroll” I mentally went from hell yeah to why did I do it – cheating, that is. Listening to all these cheating songs and thinking a million thoughts from I know I shouldn’t to I hope I won’t get caught, made me more and more paranoid with an increasing gut ache feeling of guilt and shame. Behind every corner I expected an undercover girlfriend ready to bust me.
I never cheated, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one on this planet excluded from the club. Never even close, actually, and not planning on it, so I don’t know why the song had to be about this. But I guess those chords where so outlandish to me that I had to put on a stranger’s hat to feel them. In this case the hat would fit John Legend and Christopher Martin better than me, but somehow the guilt and stomach ache all felt kind of familiar to me, probably based on kindergarten shovel stealing and movies. Is that empathy, or am I just transferring familiar feelings to foreign situations? Or maybe cheating doesn’t even have to feel that way.

Finally, I’m here, and I’ve got the whole thing now, thanks for asking. Bridge, chorus and post; verses left open for rap. Tomorrow I’ll record it and send it over to the producer – keep an eye out.