Converging Paths: On Asgeir, San Francisco, and Friendship

The music of Asgeir is difficult to describe, like a dream you had just awoke from. Indeed, much of his sound is ethereal, and the range of emotions he evokes is quite broad. His music has a stoic quality about it, a reflection no doubt of the Icelandic singer’s temperament. It builds, it rises and falls, it entrances, it is quietly loud, it is subtle and subdued, it is challenging. It was worth seeing live.

I first heard of this musician when, in a fit of wanderlust-like desire for all things Iceland, I stumbled upon his music and enjoyed the mood it put me in. (Sidenote: One of the most beautiful hikes in the world is said to be in Iceland, with a name I can’t even attempt to pronounce, but much like moths to a flame, the hike is being overcrowded and is a reminder that our human desire for beauty can lead to us inadvertently destroying it, much like what is happening on Mount Everest), and eventually I learned that he was going to be touring in California, and that he was playing in a small club in Oakland for a modest price (somewhere around $20, I believe). Of course, the downside was that it was in Oakland.

I am lucky enough to have a few (okay, one major) connection in San Francisco, the redheaded daughter of a former teacher of mine, named Christina. We met in Korea, and after I realized she wasn’t her mother, we bonded over our love of drinks, Korean culture, immature jokes, and our simple and innocent pursuit of life. She agreed to accompany me to the concert, but more than that let me crash on her floor, which was actually quite comfortable. The drive down to the Bay Area was uneventful, navigating by pictures of maps and occasionally filming scenes for a mini-movie I was making for class (insert shameful plug here: check out my minute long video!). Driving in the bay area is both exhilarating and exhausting. You know you are getting close when the roads widen and become congested. The only notable aspect of my trip down was my reluctance/stubbornness on making it down on one tank of gas. That being said, the idling in traffic did not help as my gas gauge inched closer to empty. I got off at the nearest exit I could find, illegally parked outside a Starbucks, and stole some wifi to find the nearest gas station. I put in enough gas to ease my worried mind, and made it to Christina’s apartment with little problems. Surprisingly, I found plenty of parking, and met up with my old friend.

Christina lives with her grandmother, a hard-of-hearing small Greek lady with a quiet dignity and a fondness for muted still paintings of carnations and a sprawling bookcase with topics that varied from modern history to paperback thrillers. The apartment complex had a small roof top garden, with small succulents and a decent view of the world around them. San Francisco spread out around this apartment, itself a growing plant, with roots in maritime trade and the great trunk of the bay and the twisted and convoluted branches of  the surrounding suburbs.

We set off in search of the venue in Oakland, called The New Parish, which looked not very new and even less like a parish. It was a bizarre building, not the usual concert space, but more like a bar that also accommodated musicians. The space was small and mildly cramped, and a can of beer cost four dollars. We found a seat on the second floor, which looked down onto the stage like a balcony would look down on the garden below.

The opener, Bhi Bhiman, was someone I had never heard of before. Coming from Sri Lankan parents, Bhiman was a good musician, and the more I listened to him, the more I liked him. He has an innocent, folksy, do-it-yourself approach to his music, and his lyrics are comical, satirical, and even poignant all at the same time. Although right now it is just him and his guitar, I would like to see him backed by a full orchestra and a quality light show and he would be a powerful and dramatic presence. For now, he is humble, and it is my guess that it is going to stay this way. Although I have lofty dreams for him, he strikes me as being perfectly content playing at coffeeshops, bars, and on the street because when it comes down to it, he wants to connect more with the listeners than to make money off of his music.

Asgeir has a similar presence, although Asgeir was backed by two other musicians, one who played bass and sang backup vocals, and one somehow played a contraption that made beats, almost an electronic drum kit but not really at all. He was always synced with the beat, his head would bounce up and down solemnly, and it was clear he was passionate about his role in this band. Asgeir played the synthesizer and of course sang the main lyrics. Half of his songs were in Icelandic, which did not lose any of their beauty and only added to the dreamlike dimension, and the other half were in English. He is surprisingly soft-spoken, and incredibly humble. After every song, the crowd would cheer, and he would let out a simple “thank you,” and I feel as if he could win every music award, and his tone would not change. This is not to say that his thanks are not genuine, but rather he speaks with a quiet dignity in all his affairs. It is in the opinion of this writer that it is almost a reflection of the culture that he comes from, that does not have wild expressions of emotion, and does not smile unnecessarily. Having never experienced the culture firsthand, I cannot verify this, and of course it is an overarching generality. In several songs, I found my mind had wandered away, but to no place in particular. It was as if  it existed not in my head nor some distant land, but rather some universe where thought, emotion, and physical being were all one. The lyrics would simply ebb and flow over the shores of my consciousness, a simple and elegant backdrop to the escape I was feeling. His music is not the music that people dance wildly to, although some did try, but occupies a different genre.

After the show, Christina and I drove back from Oakland to her place in San Francisco, and the night was long from being over. We found out that one of our friends, Vianney, (who I met in Korea and grew up in the same town as I) was visiting San Francisco, acting as a sort of tour guide for a group of Koreans, through Chico State. We were able to find their hotel, after picking up some fried chicken, for what else do you bring to late night rendezvous? and found them in their room in the top floor of the hotel. That night was glorious. We went from the subdued and ultra-chill concert to a group of people that were excited and eager. We met many new friends and faces, ate chicken that is only delicious late at night, drank a bit (quite a lot) of smirnoff, made drinks with two giant cans of pineapple juice, played Korean and American drinking games, lurked through the halls pretending to be spies, and surprisingly, were not admonished once by the hotel staff. I love the interactions between Koreans and Americans, as Koreans tend to be a formal people, until the friendship is forged, and then the rigidity dissolves, and they become good-natured, upbeat, and incredible. I won’t soon forget that night, with so much laughter and alcohol and friendly faces. After everyone had gone back to their rooms and the night was drawing to a close, Christina and I went back to her place, and simply passed out.

Seen in front of the de Young museum

The next day was filled with light drizzle in the morning, a visit to the de Young museum, and finished with eating delicious Korean food at what looked to be a tiny, hole in the wall restaurant that I never would have found if not for Christina. I had to return home, as I had class the next day, but first met up with Dani and Maria, two friends who also lived in the bay area. We went to a small, bohemian coffeeshop in Berkely, drank delicious milkshakes, and shared stories of our lives since we had seen each other last. Dani, with inquisitive eyes and an innocent sense of humour, was the one that actually convinced me to study abroad in south Korea. There, she met a man named Matt (aka Cookie), and the two of them are going to be married this June. Ordinarily, when two friends my age are to be wed, I take the pessimistic and negative stance with the usual “we are too young” kind of stance, but with them I condone and am excited for their future together. Maria, who I had met roughly a month before, but who had also gone to Korea, is the kind of person that seems to have a convoluted past that you always try to paint a picture of. Incredibly kind and fun to be around, I am glad I got to run into these two people.

I was going to drive home that night, a roughly five hour drive that would have seen me arriving in Ashland around 4am, but a quick phone call from Dani to some mutual friends in Chico saw me making a detour and crashing at their house for the night. The road from I-5 to Chico, at least the route I took, saw me taking backroads in the middle of the moonlit night, past fields and orchards and only one other car (which, through some cruel yet humorous twist of fate, passed me as I had stopped to relieve myself on the side of the road, thinking that no one besides me would travel these lonely roads that late at night). Around one, I made it into Chico, and after buying cheap wine for my gracious hosts, Vianney, who had returned earlier that day, Noah, one of the kindest souls I have met with his most distinguishable physical feature being his ocean of curly hair, and Becca, one of the first people I met in this period of my life, who stayed up to make sure I got there safe. I slept soundly, and left in the morning at the same time they were leaving for classes.

I got home in the afternoon, and looking back on it, the trip was a sort of a best of Korea trip, meeting some Koreans that have since returned home and whom I hope to visit, and reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in over a year that all attended the same university I did in Korea, and whose hospitality I will forever be grateful for, and I hope to repay one day. I also got to see an amazing musician who was playing about 6,800 miles away from his home, and learn of a new musician whose music nowb occupies my virtual shelves.

These are the connections and people and moments that … to say I love them is an understatement. It is what sustains me, and when I grow old I can look back through my history and remember being absorbed into music, drinking in a hotel room laughing and smiling surrounded by beautiful people, sipping drinks in coffeeshops with old friends, and the kindness of people who I don’t know well enough, but open up their homes and their hearts and let me in. I will meet many people in life, and as is natural, everyone I know will go through a diaspora and travel and live the way they are meant to, and we will hold snapshots of moments in time, and our lives will have been enriched just for knowing them. It is why I travel, why my heart is constantly tugged a thousand directions, to meet new souls but at the same time appreciate and enjoy the company of familiar ones. Our lives are on different paths, but when they intersect something beautiful happens, like fireworks in the night sky, like flowers that bloom in the spring, like Polaroids printed out from cheap cameras. Those moments where the picture is simply white, and the subject has yet to show up, are the moments we exist in. The future in uncertain, and the present is what we make of it, but soon we can look back and hold onto the photo, a tangible yet ethereal reminder that we have had a life well-lived.

Thanks for reading, and remember to take your own snapshots. Kindness surrounds us, we just have to appreciate it.

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