My Personal Gay Anthem: Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love”
I’m an avid fan of Bjork.
As in, I’ll-travel-to-Mexico-City-Quebec-City-Reykjavik-wherever-just-to-see-her-in-concert Bjork fan.
Bjork has reaffirmed, in various ways, my devotion and fervor for “art”. In every avenue of her craft, mainly music, she gives her undivided attention, tuning out the typical restraints of marketability, brand, even fan service most artists find themselves subjugated. Sure, her albums are glossed and gleamed as most record labels will do to any musician or band, no matter how flexible and lenient they are to their artistic integrity. Bjork, however, somehow found a way, as an aspiring artist in the early ’90s, to merge the marketability and eccentricity of her brand. Since her debut album, aptly titled Debut, she fosters this rare harmonious union, curtailing each album with pristine detail and a personal flair matching the likes of Madonna, Lana Del Ray, Lady Gaga, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos.
Having discovered this question-mark of a woman, she never fails to influence my own work, reminding me to be genuinely vulnerable and playful in everything I write. In fact, she’s one of the few artists who inspired me to take up poetry, something I would’ve balked at two or three years ago. In recent years, Vulnicara and Utopia, two phenomenal LPs that would be sources of envy in anyone’s discography, have been encouraging insights of an artist harnessing a personal tragedy into meaningful, moving listening experiences. These two LPs have also made me question my own prospects of art, mastery, cliche, and presentation, regarding my relationship with my experiences (my life) and my writing.
Yet, nothing can compare to the one track that struck me to my core, the one that tenderly embraced me, fostered the insecure ennui I experienced months after coming out to my parents and upheld me through my constant straight crushing.
And to discover, years later, the truth behind that track, the source of pain and heartache Bjork fettered to create a moving, touching song, I’m grateful I have encountered such a personal anthem and hope to sow my gratitude in my future work.
A brief dip into Bjork’s career.
By 1996, Bjork established herself as a burgeoning icon. Though not as well-renowned as Madonna, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, or any of the female artists emerging in the ’90s, she was an instant success in her homeland Iceland and gradually making a name for herself in the UK. At that time, she wasn’t perceived as the zeitgeist of “The Underground Zany Artist” she is today. More like an adorable, authentic singer/songwriter who had successfully, up to that point, incorporated unusual musical components into her work, such as orchestral accompaniment, trip-hop, ambient, chill-out pop, and other various avant-garde electronica.
Additionally, up to that point, the only controversy Bjork needed to stomach was a bitter altercation with a TV reporter. And yes, I’m leading up to that creepy, horrendous blot in her career, a scarring incident she is, perhaps, still grappling with to this day.
Ricardo Lopez was an American living in Hollywood, Florida, worked as a pest exterminator, and a Bjork fan. To the T. Writing her fan letters, daydreaming of traveling back in time to befriend her as a child, and disconcerting jabs at his feelings of inadequacy and body dysmorphic disorder, resigned to a lifetime of fantasizing about his true love. Within time, his love slipped into obsession, and from there, a dangerous cocktail of infatuation and hatred. Triggered by Bjork’s then-relationship with English DJ Goldie, the balance was lost. If Lopez couldn’t have her, nobody could.
Set for revenge, he comprised a letter bomb containing sulfuric acid meant to disfigure her, mailed it to her London home address, and killed himself. All recorded on an excruciating, uncomfortably intimate video diary. Thankfully, Lopez’s landlord alerted the Hollywood Police Department due to the smell and blood leaking from his apartment. Finding the grisly scene and video diary, the HPD contacted Scotland Yard, and the package was intercepted before it could harm the singer/songwriter or anyone managing her fan mail at the office. And if it seems I’m breezing through this dark moment in Bjork’s career, I am. Having watched clips of the 22-hour video diary, that’s not something to revel or scrutinize even for an article. There are some things only fit for personal research and solemn contemplation. As far as horrific, bizarre events are concerned, the Bjork stalker incident is one harrowing tale, an unnerving descent into the pathetic madness of a lonely individual who relied too heavily on a celebrity for his personal comfort.
“You’ll be given love/You’ll be taken care of/You’ll be given love/You have to trust it.”
Why bring this up? This, in my opinion, was a turning point. This is where Bjork showed her true colors. Her reaction to this terrifying ordeal was the best I would expect from any artist confronted by an unhinged fanatic.
She paid her deepest condolences to Lopez’s grieving family, sent them a card and a floral arrangement, and has rarely spoken of the incident since. Initially, I thought she was brusque with her avoidance; surely, such trauma would warrant a handful of interviews on the subject. It then occurred to me, however, that this was out of respect for Lopez’s family and their infamy in the dark recesses of sensationalized media. Bjork could’ve easily exploited this tragedy into one of boastful, personal growth, divulging to the public the horror inflicted upon her and her son, and how she will see through this stronger and wiser. Which isn’t necessarily sleazy, but it seemed, as an artist, she recognized the importance and relevancy of her medium. This wasn’t the time to indulge in her pain. Her art, her work, would show her growth and perseverance.
Bjork’s third studio album, Homogenic, is a dramatic shift in her discography. It’s an overhaul of the sweet, bubbly innocent girl who happens to sing. Now she was dedicated to one thing and one thing only: rebirth. The experimental elements and avant-garde musical components present in her previous efforts are still there, yet the gloss and gleam are absent. Homogenic is cooler, harsher, more abrasive and somber in tone, theme, and musicality. Tracks such as “Hunter”, Bachelorette”, and “5 Years” explore the confines and restrictions of her mental and physical boundaries (i.e. gender, romantic relationships, and even relationships with the media), some of which she has built herself. She is taking inventory and then tearing herself apart for the purpose of rebuilding a new self. Her personal challenge culminates in the three closing tracks: “Alarm Call”, “Pluto”, and “All Is Full of Love”. “Alarm Call” is the compassionate yet persistent awakening from her complacency as a Post-Post singer, a preparation for the mental assault and disassembling in “Pluto”. “Pluto” is a cutting deconstruction, reflecting the artist’s interpretation of the god of underworld, through razor-sharp techno beats and Bjork’s signature searing howls amplified to a nearly unbearable cacophony. You can hear her tearing through her “private home”, fostering her hedonistic taste for destruction and chaos. Whatever bubble she was living in had burst, and she was choosing to deal with it.
Which, finally, thanks for waiting everyone, lead us to…
“Maybe not from the sources/You have poured yours/Maybe not from the directions/You are staring at.”
My experiences in rejection haven’t, in any way, matched the devastating blow Lopez had suffered. For one, mine have been grounded in reality as opposed to a fantasy that was improbable of materializing. Yet my own run-ins with love lost, those numerous “sorry-but-i’m-not-gay” or “sorry-but-I-don’t-see-you-that-way” responses if I ever profess my love to my crush, they are real, and they hurt. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, hammering my cramps has been routine, but there are days it gets too overbearing. Wanting someone to be yours, only yours, hoping each interaction carries a sign, a hint, that they like you or are interested in creating a wondrous intimacy with you, wanting to hug or kiss them, only to find out, no, sorry, it was all in your head. We’ve all been there, and some of these dismissals, genial or mean-spirited, have left us aching, morose, despondent over the time and effort wasted, and perhaps feeling guilty you hadn’t recognized them as a friend instead of a potential partner. And as you cradle whatever was left of your dignity, you readjust yourself back to your scheduled programming.
“Twist your head around/It’s all around you/All is full of love/All around you.”
“All Is Full of Love”, after a double whammy of unraveling and worrisome self-actualization, is the touching revelation. To quote one gravel-voiced Dark Knight, sometimes we do deserve to have our faith rewarded. “All Is Full of Love” is Bjork’s achievement of inner peace and meditation. It’s a sliver, yes, only four and a half minutes long, but a substantial unveiling of a beautiful phenomenon: herself. Heartbroken, yes. Spiritually battered, yes. Weary, heavy-laden, certainly. But “All Is Full of Love” reveals the pure essence of her lifelong dedication to her art, her devotion to her fans, and most importantly, to herself. Despite her trials, the nastiness, and cruel indifference the world can spout, she chooses to seek the best in everything. The love in everything and everyone. She has faith the love she seeks from other avenues of life will fulfill her need.
After the boisterous clatter of “Pluto”, the album ends on a hopeful note. An optimistic pitter-patter of harpsichord through the intimidating wall of white noise. A minimalist lush of reverb and gentle shimmying of strings. A delicate blend of rhythm-less trip hop and her wailing minor-key creed. A tender rebirth in the making, a mantra pleading for patience and openness.
All is full of love. All around you.
“You just ain’t receiving/Your phone is off the hook/Your doors are all shut/All is full of love.”
No matter how dejected I get, plagued by gay loneliness, I turn to Bjork for my inspiration. She faced a horrific adversity at the start of her career, a nightmare she is probably still warding off, and she chose to reconstruct inward, not for publicity or philanthropy. She chose to seek love even when there didn’t seem to be any. Out of respect for Lopez’s family, Bjork allows her art to speak for her progress as a musician, refusing to profit from their collective grief and permitting the public to decide for themselves how to process this dark, surreal time in her life.
And though my life struggles pale in comparison to this bleak incident, I am reminded how capable I am to fend for myself and sustain my own needs until I meet my partner. I am still whole, I will always be whole, and love can be derived from the most unexpected places. Love is more than a kiss, love-making, expensive dinners, or Instagrammable vacations.
Rejection can be its own rebirth. You don’t have to readjust back to your scheduled programming. To have faith in the love you are given, the love you give, and the love you hope to receive, is a remarkable, inspirational philosophy. One that is overlooked too often. Simple, yes, but for from insignificant.
So here’s to you, Bjork. Thank you for constantly reminding me how love has many faces, many attributes, outlets, and facets. Thank you for reaffirming my faith in the arts, the humane expressions that help us deal with our socioeconomic, political, and cultural upheavals of this existence. Thank you for teaching me how to harness the ugliness and horror of this world and channel it into something gorgeous and stunning.
“All is full of love/All around you.”
Keep doing you. I can’t wait for the next album.