Chapter 41: Human Behaviour
from the 1993 album “Debut” by Bjork
handed to Emily while disembarking at Rockingham Airport, at 20:37, 12 July 2019
They’re terribly, terribly, terribly moody of human behaviour
Then all of a sudden, turn happy and they and my hereafter
The world breaks. The world heals. We fall apart and come together again. But we never get to see this in action — rare is the case where humanity is blown apart by one massive, earth-shattering event, one that throws the world into chaos and leaves us scrambling in the rubble. Most of the time, it’s quiet, unnoticeable cracks that creep up on a person and break them apart. By the time you’ve found them, caught them … well, usually you’re lucky, and you save them and then you move on. Sometimes, though…
Anyway. I was taught when I was young that people weren’t worth trusting. They always had good intentions, but sooner or later they would find some way to disappoint you and leave you for good. Believing in the goodness of people was a fool’s errand, my mother always said — and I didn’t believe it, not at first, but then she kept on telling me this all through the years, when I was growing up and telling her about the people I met at playgroup, at school, at uni. Always “they’ll leave you someday, you don’t have to take them seriously”. I don’t know, maybe she still bore a grudge against Dad for his absence, or maybe people at church had left her feeling cold. Didn’t matter — over time, I got brainwashed. I believed that everybody was really out to get me, that we’d only destroy each other when we had the chance.
Well, you know the rest — I shut myself inside my room all the time at uni, I did disappearing acts a lot, people just forgot about me after a while. I wasn’t really doing anything during those disappearances: sometimes it was just long walks down the coast, Brighton and Southampton and all those places where I was just another someone in the crowd…
“Hey, that line again.”
Shut up. It’s one of my favourite movies. Anyway, beachside walks. Not much to do besides walk in the rain and look at people living their own lives. I listened to a lot of pop then, Prince, Bowie… got through all their stuff in those four years. The soundtrack changed all the time, really.
But regardless of what I’d been playing or who I’d met, I always ended with the same song: Bjork’s “Human Behaviour”. I’ve forgotten how it was that I found it, really — Laura was a fan, but I don’t think we talked a lot about these things, she was always just telling me about how she was out for shoots and that kind of thing. But right from the moment I pressed play on the song, I was bolt upright, listening to everything that Bjork was telling me. Never mind that she was from twenty years ago, never mind that she was just putting on a character. I adored her, absolutely and immediately.
Going It Alone
Even by the time she released that song, Bjork was already a known entity. She’d been in the Icelandic music scene, released a couple of albums with the Sugacubes that became popular underground. Yet it would still have been a risky move — the eccentric singer of an obscure Icelandic band, going it alone to release songs that didn’t even attempt to make rhyme or reason. But then again, she had always been a fiercely independent person, trying to make her own unique way in the world.
Her debut (or should that be Debut?) album was — is still — a very strange affair. Yes, she was still singing about love. Yes, she was still making fun music, music you could dance to. But that’s a bit like saying that a whale is a large mammal, or that Donald Trump is “kind of a mean man”. It was much wider, deeper and weirder than that — that house music seemed to steadily burn through your brain with its sheer power, and the lyrics were weird. They all phrased like they’d been fed through multiple translation machines. But I loved it all the same, because of “Human Behaviour”.
Oh, what am I doing, gushing over a song that I happen to like and which you probably haven’t heard of before…
“I don’t mind.”
You’re a babe. Anyway, “Human Behaviour”. She said she wrote it from the aspect of little animals, crawling along the side of the road like they do in that music video or something, and thinking about her own childhood. And the way she, like, sang those lyrics — I mean, how did she even do that? They were all supposed to be just gibberish, sometimes even just guttural shouts that nobody can really decipher, and yet they sound so wise. They sound like somebody who’s five and a thousand years old at the same time, like someone who’s gazing at the world with innocent eyes and untamed power. It’s magical. And then there’s the changes the song itself makes every couple of verses, it swings everywhere, goes ghostly one moment and technological the next. It’s epic. It’s like watching something explode gloriously in every available direction. I was listening to it, and seriously, even though I was on the beach and staring at the effing sea it STILL felt like Bjork’s song was the bigger entity.
Are you cold? We can keep walking if you like. It’s getting cooler these couple of days. I’ve always liked Munich, really, because it’s just so big and nobody knows me here. Back in London, you always seem to run into someone familiar sooner or later. They always want to ask you how you are, what you’re doing, all those questions to fill up empty space. Agh, those questions. Anyway, let’s go downstairs, there’s a couple of interesting stations I’d like you to see and we can talk on the trains…
The People Around Me
I think the first time I danced around to “Human Behaviour” was after a particularly long walk away from home. It was getting dark and I was all set to pull out the maps, find out where the nearest station was and see if I could get a lift there. So I cued up a song, just anything on Spotify. And then her voice hit me: soft, cutesy, but with such a irresistible tinge behind it that I stood still right there, on the pebbles. I didn’t hear anything. I just heard the echo of the universe in her voice. And for the first time, I knew what it was like to have someone understand me.
Don’t get me wrong, all that shit about being friends you all wasn’t a lie. Well, maybe a little — but here’s the thing, even when I could act normal when I was facing you all, even crack a few jokes, I felt like I couldn’t get to know you all better. You all were aliens from another world, another dimension even — I looked at all of you having fun, being like all laughs and emotions, and it felt weird. It felt like you were all just trying to be civil with each other, that you all were putting on a play that, with a little bit of luck, wouldn’t go horrifyingly wrong before the three years had run their course. Everything felt — well, for lack of a better word, fake.
And this song. This song told me the answer, explained everything. It was because you humans were all just silly peckers, rootling around in the dust for a kind of human connection, and you all wanted to get involved because it was so “satisfying” and so addictive. Yes, I said “you”. Because I always thought I wasn’t part of this all. Maybe I looked down upon all of you for being so caught up in it all. Sometimes, I felt really happy that I didn’t have to worry about it all, that my reputation meant that I could ignore everyone and still get passed off as “Mo being Mo”. But I think deep down I admired you, all of you, for being so able to throw yourself into it. You didn’t give a damn when you had your relationships and friendships and shit like that. You just went for it. It was just impossible. And Bjork — well, there’s no beating about it. She gave me an excuse. She let me shrink back into my little hole. To me, you were all just people living out fantasies, thinking that you all actually loved each other when you all just wanted a chance to get out of it, and I sat there, thinking like I was above it all. But I’d forgotten about Laura.
Running Away from the World
When I first became aware of my powers — when I realised that I was able to do things with water — I didn’t feel really excited about it. My parents were so proud, you know, that the lottery of God or whatever had picked me to be the superhero of the family. But after a while it stopped being special. It was just water, for Christ’s sake, nobody was wetting themselves over it —
Ha. Well-spotted, Thomas… anyway, yeah. I thought my powers were gonna make me feel special. But then everyone around me seemed to have a use for their powers — you can go anywhere you like, Laura could change her appearance anyway she liked. Me, I might as well have gotten nothing. So I hid away from you all, tried to paint myself as unremarkable.
And maybe I believed that. At least, that was what I thought I was doing. But maybe it was something else. Because there was always this voice inside me, telling me that you lot weren’t my level, and not being able to relate to you all felt off. It wasn’t painful or anything — I wasn’t ramming my head against the wall simply because I didn’t have a lot of relationships and you already remember my time with Harry — but it just felt like I could never reach in and enjoy myself as fully as you all seemed to do. I could never get involved in the exchange, as she sang so longingly. So I chose not to play. I hide myself, I pull disappearing acts when it suits me. I want to play, and yet something within me just won’t let go.
So that’s me. Trembling and breaking and hoping that the world will one day become real for me. And perhaps it will — perhaps one day I’ll wake up and discover that making friends isn’t such a big deal after all, or that the cracks in me have healed and come together. I doubt it though. It feels too distant a prospect, to conquer me and my fear.
God, it felt good to have spilled all of that out of my chest. Thanks for last night.
About what you asked me last night: I still don’t know, to be honest. Sometimes it feels like I’m really trying to separate myself from the people in my stories, and yet sometimes it really feels like I’m just writing down my own experiences, over and over again, trying to find a way out of everything I do.
And why shouldn’t I, you say? Because I laugh at these people a lot, or I used to think that they were silly. But now, over the past year, like I found myself to be having the same problems. I don’t know whether it’s only because I’ve been writing about these people a lot that I internalize everything, or maybe — horror of horrors — I’m like them. I’m the people I’ve been poking fun at. And God, that would be horrifying, wouldn’t it?
Hope you liked the holiday. I think it might be time for us to stop writing these things for a bit? I’m finding it difficult to write too much about Thomas and Morgan, at least in a coherent sense.