Fifteen Years of Idle Time: The Swedish Obsession

Looking back over the fifteen-year history of our silly little collective has involved much more than spinning old CD-R mixes, reading photocopied zines, and digging up photos of RF in a skirt. But of course I’ve done all of those things too.

The infamous “Young Folks” mock cover, November 2006. RF on the left.
The infamous “Young Folks” mock cover, November ’06. RF on the left.

It has also involved opening backup folders in subfolders in mis-labeled directories on flashdrives and SD cards hiding in dusty cardboard boxes all over Northern California. I’m not the most organized of archivists, but I do maintain that everything is somewhere, provided I have the patience to look for it. In this case, I didn’t find what I was initially looking for (a spreadsheet with the first iteration of our Ultimate Mixtape), but I did uncover some random word documents with transcribed content from our old Google group.

One particular narrative (that I composed as a radio play for some reason) is especially interesting. It recounts the car ride in which WH, RF, and I realized that we had slowly come under the spell of Swedish pop music. And it snowballed from there. The accuracy of the transcript is debatable, but it certainly sounds like one of our car ride conversations.

A little Internet research provides the exact date for the proceeding tale. We were on one of our “Tower Tuesday” runs, a carefully planned surgical strike to Tower Records during our lunch hour to snatch up whichever new releases had our attention. Mention of a new Cat Power record and Will Oldham’s “karaoke” thing, combined with the recent release of the Suburban Kids LP that initiates the conversation, made it pretty easy. January 24, 2006. Best if read while listening to SKWBN’s “Noodles,” embedded below…

…now, here, is a (mostly) verbatim account of yesterday’s drive and the conversation that spawned a movement.

Noise of traffic whizzing by. “Noodles” comes on over car radio, quiet at first, but volume increases following initial line of questioning.

RF (passenger seat): What is this?

MMDG (driving): This? This, my friends, is something we missed. Suburban Kids With Biblical Names. The Swedish Magnetic Fields. It’s brilliant is what it is.

WH (backseat): He does sound like Stephen Merritt.

MMDG: Are you getting the Cat Power? I’m not. You get it.

WH: Yeah. And the Prince Billy Tortoise thing.

MMDG: The karaoke album?

WH: Psh. What’re you getting, Rex?

RF: Nothing man. I’m along for the ride. No money.

WH: You know there’s going to be something…

MMDG: All shiny and new… “sale” sticker calling you…

WH: Like maybe a new Incubus or…

RF: Fuck OFF! That was one time! Jesus! I swear I will never hear –

MMDG: Maybe the Test Icicles.

RF: Shut up. You know, though, I’m really digging this.

WH: That is by far the stupidest goddamm band name…

RF: Suburban Kids – ?

WH: No! Test Icicles. I don’t even like saying it.

MMDG: What’s really cool, although I’m not positive, is I think they’re actually singing “Noodles are the smell of denial.”

RF: Maybe the language barrier screwed them up. Like they think they’re singing “Noodles smell delicious.”

MMDG: No, it’s just… you know, Sweden, man. They’re awesome. Everything Swedish…

RF: Swedish fish?

MMDG: Yes! Exactly! I love Swedish fish! The predecessor to the gummy bear, right?

WH: (singing) Noodles are the smell of denial, you will never…

RF: No, I once bought a big, we’re talking really, like, you know, big bag of red Swedish Fish. I like the gummy worm quite a bit, so I figured… but no, I got really sick.

MMDG: Did you eat the whole bag?

WH: (singing) You will never grow up…

RF: I don’t think so.

MMDG: Well, regardless, where would the gummy worm be if not for the Swedish Fish?

RF: Good point. And Swedish meatballs, yeah?

WH: Swedish meatballs, YES!

MMDG: And bands. I mean, nowadays especially, every time I hear a new band and I’ll be all “Oooh, I kinda like that. Where’re these guys from?” the answer invariably comes back…

WH: Sweden.

RF: Sweden. The Shout Out Louds are from Sweden.

MMDG: See what I mean? And the Moonbabies…

WH: Yeah, that’s right. And that Jose Gonzalez guy.

RF: A guy named Gonzalez is from Sweden?

MMDG: Jens Lekman. The Hives. Mando Diao. Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Hellacopters, Hotnights…

RF: Mando What-o?

WH: Love Is All.

MMDG: Love. Is. All. Ace. Of. Base. Jesus, what is this, a conspiracy? How does this happen? What’re they doing over there in Sweden?

RF: You know what this means, dude. Swedish party.

MMDG: That’s a really good idea.

RF: Swedish Fish, Abba, Swedish beer…

WH: (singing) Noodles are the smell of denial… Swedish ladies!

MMDG: That is a really good idea. I’m serious. Swedish beer, though? Help me out.

RF: Probably the best beer in the world…

MMDG: Carlsberg? Danish.

WH: Close enough. The Concretes are from Sweden. And the Caesars, I think.

RF: The International Noise Conspiracy. But they suck.

MMDG: No, really, this is happening. They don’t suck! They’re not my favorite, but… and then we’ll all go to IKEA.

RF: Oh, come on.

MMDG: I like buying furniture at IKEA. I like putting it together myself.

WH: And you like the fact that it falls apart if you try to move it to another room.

MMDG: Then I get to buy more furniture. Swedish movies! Ingmar Bergman, Swedish? Will?

WH: Yes. What about the original Insomnia? Isn’t that Swedish?

MMDG: I thought it was like… Norwegian… but, shit yeah! That movie is great!

RF: (singing) Noodles are the smell of denial, you will never grow up…

WH: I think they speak both languages… but I think it’s a Swedish film. So is, like, Roger Federer your favorite tennis player?

MMDG: He’s Swedish?!?

WH: Or Swiss maybe?

ALL: (singing) Noodles are the smell of denial, you will never grow uuuuuuuuuuuuup!

Fade out.

A couple of takeaways: the other founding Idler, MI, wasn’t along for the car ride. This must’ve coincided with that dark two-year span when he avoided our bullshit by working elsewhere. It also might explain why he was (and still is) so anti-Scandinavian. Maybe there was some sort of enchantment in the car speakers, like cat poop bacteria, that clawed its way into our brains, convincing us that everything Swedish is awesome and must be curated reverentially. It wasn’t but eleven months later that Peter Bjorn and John’s Writer’s Block was crowned with our Favorite Album of the Year honors. It’s also possible that MI is just a stodgy, ornery fuck who hates comic books and xylophones. Which, of course, is why we all love him.

the first incarnation of "Team Sweden" - Idle Time Games, December '06
the first incarnation of “Team Sweden” – Idle Time Games, December ’06

Also, we were pretty mean to RF. And not just because we made him wear a skirt and blond wig for that photo. I’m less skeptical when he tells us now, in 2016, that he felt like he had to earn his membership into our bitchy little clique. But we’re not mean to him anymore. I like to think that we’re all less bitcy in general.

Finally, that “Swedish party” really did materialize, more or less. That might be the most astounding connection. It took some time, but the first Idle Time games developed from that conversation, taking place in the tempestuous storm of December, 2006. MDDG, RF, WH, and myself formed the first assemblage of Team Sweden, and we wielded our wiffleball bats like Nordic gods.