So I watched ABBA: The Movie last night.
Anyone who follows my Facebook page knows my fondness for the 70s Swedish mega-sensation. I was at just the right age when ABBA started coming on the radio, and as a kid I combed Target's music section for anything by them. I came home with Gold, a greatest hits collection, and a little later Super Trouper, which really solidified their presence at the top of the American radio play heap. Spending a Friday night watching this movie sounded like a good time to me.
If you've seen similar rock-themed movies from the 70s (Kiss Meets the Phantom, Rock 'n' Roll High School), you'll have some idea how stilted the plot of this movie is. A radio DJ follows ABBA around on their Australian tour, trying to get that "exclusive up-close interview" with the band his boss is demanding from him. In many unfortunate twists of fate, he can't get the interview, leading to various attempts at subterfuge and run-ins with the tour manager. It's a completely lame storyline, even by rock movie standards, and the narrative portions of the movie are tolerated only to get to the nuggets of ABBA's live shows, which were recorded in places like Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide in 1976.
These live segments evoked so much for me. They reminded me how great some of ABBA's music is. I'd all but forgotten about "Fernando," which, like all great but forgotten music, hit me more powerfully for having forgotten it. The live segments also reminded me of a time when watching band members perform could produce mystique. I wanted to know more about the individual members. What were their relationships like? Is Agetha a prima donna? Is Frida the jealous type? Having been in a few bands myself, I'd become jaded about this kind of gossip, expecting I knew the ins and outs. This inter-married, intermingling foursome re-opened mysteries I'd long ago thought solved.
The live segments also made me miss the days when everyone and their brother couldn't participate in the music industry. I've said on countless occasions that our current music climate is much better than the one from ABBA's day, when megalomaniacs or, worse, corporations controlled which artists got heard. Thank goodness these interests no longer dominate music. You can record whatever you want, sell it on iTunes, and if people buy it, you've succeeded in the music business.
Still, that doesn't mean we haven't given up something, and that something is the sense that when listening to music we're participating in something larger than ourselves. In the movie, I watched the kids in the audience at the concerts, and I recognized myself as a seven year old, and a little bit of myself of today. We all love ABBA in the same way, and that makes us feel less alone.
And loving ABBA doesn't make me greedy to keep the band to myself, the way I would later feel about bands like the Replacements. It's pure, and better in its way. If people halfway around the world loved ABBA--or U2, or Metallica--people halfway around the world couldn't be that bad. As much as I love the Shins, I don't get the impression the world is singing along to "New Slang" with me.
That's what we've lost with the downfall of the music business, that sense that we're enjoying music en masse. Maybe someday music will be vital again at that level. Until then, we have our favorite hip-pocket bands, and our memories.
Yours in laying down the law,
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