I don’t have a TV anymore. I’ve lived without a TV for two months now, mostly for financial reasons, and am doing just fine without it actually. No more postponing studies because I just had to watch That 90210 Episode in Which Brenda and Dylan Hook Up and then got caught up in a random King of Queens ep afterwards and eventually fell asleep on my couch with the remote control pathetically cradled in my hand. No more of that! Yay! It’s like being born again. (Of course, all that time I used to spend watching TV? I’m totally spending that surfing the internet now. But still.) However, looking back there are those few golden TV-watching moments that make me wish I still had a TV. And the one that shines the brightest in my memory is this TV-program that I watched five years ago, a Danish low-budget thing called (translated) “In the Singer’s Workshop”. The concept was this: In five different episodes, five different singers would work with and interpret an old Danish folk ballad called “Ramund”, and one of these singers happened to be Etta Cameron, an American gospel singer who lives in Denmark.
A word about Etta Cameron: The word is ubiquitous. Etta is everywhere. You literally cannot go to a civic festival in Denmark (not that you would want to do that anyway, because *shudder*. But still.) without seeing Etta there, clapping her hands and praising the Lord. And if you flip through the pages of the Christmas Edition of a magazine about interior decoration? There is Etta, talking about her Christmas preparations and her abusive ex-husband. Or if, for reasons I will never understand, you decide to watch the Danish version of American Idol? Etta is there, as one of the judges, smiling broadly and giving all the contestants top marks, even the ones that sucked majorly. Nobody knows how or why exactly, but you can count on Etta to be there. All. the freaking. time. Which is why I came very close to just switching off my TV and call it a night when Etta came on screen in “In The Singer’s Workshop”, but looking back, I’m so glad that I didn’t!
Etta meets Ramund
The ballad “Ramund” tells the story of Ramund, a tough but fair man, who happens to come across seven old-Norse-mythology-ish giants (the Danish word for these giants being “jætter”). According to the legends, the giants spent pretty much the entire Viking Age harassing the perfectly nice Norse gods, who were only trying to do their jobs, bringing thunder and crops and hot lovin’ to the humans. The giants, in short, were bad news, and Ramund learns as much in the ballad, too. The giants tell Ramund that they plan to kill him, but the shrewd and strong Ramund is all “Um, no….” and then proceeds unto killing all seven of them with just one stroke of his sword. It’s a classical David-Goliath/Ulysses-and-the-Cyclops kind of story, and that’s really all there is to it. A nice little humorous song with a pretty good tune about a man and his sword.
Subjecting gospel singer Etta to the song (and vice versa), however, proved to be an ill-conceived idea. She was lost as early as the second stanza, depicting Ramund’s first meeting with the giants. The lyrics in this stanza go (translated) “Ramund walked along the salt sea shore/there he saw sju jætter [seven giants, pronounced “shoe ‘yetter”] standing”. Etta looked up from the note sheets with a face revealing the utmost bewilderment. “Sju jætter?” she demanded at her pianist with her heavy American accent, “What is that?” The pianist made an attempt at explaining Etta the concept of jætter, but he obviously wasn’t successful, because Etta was merely horrified.
Very surprisingly, Etta, although completely ignorant to the concept of jætter until two seconds earlier, immediately made up her mind that her take on said abnormal creatures was that jætter are people too, dammit! And Ramund, consequently, was a murderer. And the ballad was, as Etta put it “a very, very sad song about a very cruel man”. She decided that her failure to understand Ramund was to be her predominant sentiment in her musical interpretation of the song, and I will never forget the look of sad confusion on her face, as she finally performed the song. She looked like Tosca singing “Vissi d’arte” the whole time, and she even went as far as to add improvised lamenting interlude in English: “Ohhh, Ramund… why did you doooo the things you did?!” Seriously, it was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen on TV. It was like the most sublime example of a cultural clash – Lord-praising gospel meeting jætte-slaughtering, sardonic, skaldic song. Both of them, gospel and Danish folk ballads, great concepts, but so very, very different. And it’s all compiled in that one question, the heavily American-accented “Sju jætter??” Anna and I use the phrase whenever we’re confronted with something that is incomprehensible to us. In some cases the slight variation “Sju f*cking jætter??” comes in handy.
Example 1:Subject A: “Oh, look at that, Jack Nicholson is wearing sun glasses at the Oscar ceremony!”
Subject B: “…Sju jætter??”
Example 2: The Copenhagen Opera: “Yeah, so instead of using that really nice and subtle Striking-the-Match image as the trademark for our staging of Wagner’s Ring, we’ve decided to use a really corny and idiotically explicit woman’s symbol with photoshopped flames on it.”
Anna and Marie: “…Sju f*cking jætter??”
We invite you all to adopt the phrase! It’s a very effective means of expressing confused frustration, and we won’t charge you anything, in terms of royalty and the like. Not much, anyway.