By J. Henderson
It has been just four days since Auburn’s tragic loss to LSU. Today, we have only our anticipation for a victorious remainder of the season in which to drown our sorrow; in 1988, after a similar Auburn loss resulted in a small, localized Baton Rouge earthquake, we had an extra something else, an extra something special.
A 42-0 blanking of the Akron Zips hadn’t done it for us, but fervent worship at the altar of exquisite Icelandic rock ‘n’ roll? That could prove quite a balm.
Reykjavic Rock Revelation
Auburn philosophy professor and libertarian Roderick Long pedestals Iceland – at least kingless, medieval Iceland – as a fantasy novel of free-market-regulated representation and conflict resolution through arbitration.
No Thors, No Masters.
Anarchy, in other words.
He was working on his doctorate at Cornell when an Icelandic band called The Sugarcubes parked their tour bus amid the RVs and the roped off tailgates to play the Auburn Student Activities Center in 1988.
He was a Sugarcubes fan. He missed out.
To a certain extent, The Sugarcubes claimed anarchism, and with more than ancestral pride. (Their forbear KUKL released two LPs on Crass Records, the label extension of the early British punk band Crass’ anarchist experiment, living and recording for a time in Crass’ quasi-notorious anarchist commune.)
But their cultivation of the philosophy was much more aesthetic than political.
Still, had Long been there that October night – Thursday, the 20th – he would have heard the Viking legacy.
He would have seen MTV cameras straining to capture it over the big hair of bouncing Auburn coeds and he would have heard it in the deliberately obnoxious growls of a generically Euro also-ran named Einar Orn Benediktsson writhing in the shadow and echo of a 22 year old Nordic siren named, simply, deliciously, perfectly, Bjork.
It was a free concert sponsored by Auburn’s University Program Council during a time when bands skirting the norm were labeled ‘progressive’ rather than ‘alternative’, the second year in a row MTV had deemed Auburn worthy of its New Music College Tour. Originally just New York’s Living Colour and Britain’s The Godfathers were on the bill. However , The Sugarcubes, riding a wave of college radio success from their haunting single “Birthday,” had embarked on a small U.S. tour, and an MTV television special was planned in observance. They played “Saturday Night Live” the Saturday before the Auburn show, rubbing elbows with a cast that included the great Victoria Jackson, who was quoted in a Plainsman feature story written on her two days prior as saying, “I love Auburn. The only fun experiences I had in college were at Auburn.”
It is certainly not a stretch of the imagination to think that Jackson similarly sang praises of her alma mater to Bjork.
MTV Network executives contacted then UPC coordinator John Burgess not only in regard to adding a third act but to see if the Student Activities Building could facilitate the additional sound, lighting and film equipment necessary for what would now be a major production. It could and did.
Auburn beat out several other schools for the band, including Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina, based on its reputation from the previous year as well as the network’s awareness of the compelling juxtaposition of Icelanders rocking the Deep South.
The Sugarcubes played last and they did rock. Unlike Long, Auburn’s almost-famous rock’n’roll luminary Chet Weise was there.
“I was a freshman that night,” Weise said. “Young. Fresh. Exciting. Eager.
Their song “Motorcrash” had been on MTV so we were familiar with them. VJs compared them to the Jefferson Airplane because of the male-female vocals.”
Einar, the other singer, introduced the band as “the Icecubes from Sugarland,” saying
“We’re down deep south in Alabama. We’re going to play you some tunes.”
“God does not exist, but if He does He lives in the sky above me, in the fattest, largest cloud up there, He’s whiter than white and cleaner than clean, He wants to reach me,” is just one of the epic poems that for an hour soared from the beautiful voice in Bjork’s mouth like an eagle, a great bird of ice-ripened majesty that Einar’s screeches seemed hell bent on downing.
“Bjork stood still while she sang and spoke with a strong accent,” Weise recalled. “The other singer was a drag.”
The following week’s Plainsman rang with similar reviews; Bjork – hypnotic, Einar – dork.
“Some concert goers called Einar a ‘distraction’ with his hardcore-like attitudes and vocals,” wrote The Plainsman. “Comments like, ‘I’m a peace chicken not a war eagle’ were not uncommon from Einar.”
“I mean, let your hair down, hippies,” Einar said, encouraging crowd participation during a song called “Cat.”
Like her voice and career, Bjork’s stage banter was much more memorable.
“Between songs, Bjork said, ‘I hear you say War Eagle. But I say Peace Eagle,’ with her two finger peace sign held high,” Weise said.
(Imagine that for a second – imagine excruciatingly timid, nubile, uber-svelte-yet-hippyish Bjork, with her gravely fairy accent and notorious, precocious palsy, crushed under the weight of a 5,000 stares and feeling the Spirit move her to find the English that will in her mind reverse our consecrated, misunderstood battle cry, while her paw extends into a peace sign. Get that in your mind and inhale. Also, there exists the possibility that the “Peace Eagle” bumper stickers first distributed in the late 80’s by the Conscientious Alliance for Peace and revived in 2004 by the then Auburn Peace Project originated with the diffusion of this particular anecdote.)
Though claiming ignorance of Iceland’s anarchist past that freshman night, Weise would go on to summon the Bjork’s punk spirit and quaff the anarchy in her blood for the next decade, liberating local living rooms, bars and even feudal Europe with the unbridled rock ’n’ roll of the The Quadrajets and the revolutionary southern karate of The Immortal Lee County Killers.
Academically, he eventually authored a thesis for a graduate level Economics class on the subject entitled “The Institutions of Government, Law, Property, and Defense in Primitive Stateless Societies”; a similarly-themed paper by Roderick Long, fan of the Sugarcubes at the time he wrote it, is referenced as one of its many sources.
Do you feel it? The connections? The world shrinking?
Weise has a masters degree in economics from Auburn and was at one time enrolled in the doctoral program.
“Ancient Iceland gave me hope,” said Weise. “It solidified my libertarian-anarchist views, not Bjork, and certainly not the other singer.”
“Nevertheless,” he said, “they are Icelandic, and given their punk rock past, they must be some [impressive] characters.”
Weise currently wields a custom six-string ax chiseled into an arguably Viking style.
The Toomer’s Connection
Jamie “Spazz” Uertz plays guitar in local Auburn metal legends Hematavore. He was still in middle school when the Sugarcubes came to town.
“I was in eighth grade and had a blast at the show,” Uertz said. “Some frat guys put some of us on their shoulders and took us down front.”
Auburn alum Ken Sanderson, then at the reigns of WEGL’s classic punk show “Mystery Playhouse,” got even closer.
“Yeah I took Bjork and the male singer from The Sugarcubes to WEGL for
an interview on the air,” said Sanderson, who now runs punk label Prank Records in San Francisco. Bjork promo drops are rumored to still be on file at the university radio station.
The concert special, entitled “Live from Auburn, Alabama: The Sugarcubes,” debuted on MTV’s “120 Minutes” and, according to Sanderson, continued to air for several years afterward. Rare bootleg copies of the show float through cyberspace via specialized peer-to-peer download networks.
“I remember seeing a clip on MTV and going, ‘Holy crap, that’s the Auburn show,” Uertz said.
Clips of The Sugarcubes in and around Auburn and Opelika intersperse the live footage of the production, including shots of the band posing inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The show begins with a black and white, slow-motion pan up the west side of College Street in front of what, within a years time, would be Brand X Pizza. While on stage the band sips from plastic Auburn cups.
“They were later spotted buying stuff at Toomer’s Drugs,” Sanderson said. “You can’t get more Auburn than that.”
The next day, Auburn beat Mississippi State, 33-0, the second of three Tiger shutouts in a row. The last was a 16-0 shutout of Emmitt Smith and the Florida Gators in Gainesville.
Auburn would go on to share the SEC crown with LSU.
Bjork shares her crown with no one.
War Eagle, baby…