Sunday, January 29, 2017

Minimalism and Abba the Album

Last night I watched a film called Minimalism: A documentary About the Important Things. The film left me with a feeling that some de-cluttering might be in order, but more importantly it highlighted how we (humans) have come to associate getting stuff with the potential to be happy. I am not a materialist by any means: I don't buy new clothes every season; I don't crave mobile phone upgrades and the latest gadgets; I am not into cars, boats, motorbikes, ponies or any other form of transport; I don't have the money to go to many gigs or go on fancy holidays. However, I am into books, music, and film and so is my son, consequently we have stacks of books all over the house and several shelves full of CDs, and two shelves overflowing with arty films. I often blame the fact that I am a creative writing teacher for the fact that my book collection is so big, and it's true, I have sometimes had to re-buy a book I had previously got rid of because I need it for a class or book-group. I have also tried to curb the numbers a bit. We are always taking books and other items to the charity shop, but more keep coming. The truth is that I love literature and I am addicted to reading and buying books. I can't just pass up a book I haven't read by one of favourite authors because I already have a massive to-read pile. And the trouble with poetry books is that they have short print runs, they often aren't available in the local library (or if they are they get remaindered fairly quickly through lack of borrowing) - so unless the poet is with one of the big five poetry publishers it may be that a book you got rid of two years ago and suddenly need is not available or has become ridiculously expensive. But I suppose the bottom line is that I have come to believe that buying books, CDs and films will somehow contribute to my overall happiness - true on some levels perhaps - but the clutter definitely has a detrimental effect on it.

A couple of years ago I started attempting (on this very blog) to review all the albums that I owned. I got about four or five in and lost momentum. Now I am proposing a different approach. This year I intend to listen to every CD I own - and if I don't love it I will get rid of it. If I have time I will try and talk about it here. I have been considering how to do this carefully - I could start at A and work my way through to Z - but that seems a little boring. I would be on As forever, and would sometimes be listening to one album after another by the same artist. The same would be the case if I worked my way backwards from Z to A. I finally plumped on working along the rows listening to the bottom CD from each stack and then the second etc and keeping going until I have listened to them all.

The first album on my first stack of CDs is Abba the Album (UK release1978). This is an album I used to have on vinyl. I remember I liked the cover because it was unusually stark (coloured drawings on a plain white background) for the time - although now it reminds me a little of the drawing that Joni Mitchell did for the cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's So Far (see below)- and I am pretty sure that the Abba cover was inspired by that. The album is the soundtrack to the film Abba the Movie, a film I remember going to see with my mum at Thetford Palace. I liked the film so much I went back to see it again on my own. I was a massive Abba fan after seeing them win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 - I was 8 (I was up because I was ill). They were the beginning of my love affair with music (unless you count a minor flirtation with Slade and Booby Vee when I was 5). The first album of theirs I really loved was Arrival, but I won't talk about that here as it was not the first CD on the pile.

Abba the Album is an odd mixture. Some of the tracks are verging on the kind of thing you would expect to hear in musical theatre - tracks like I Wonder would not be out of place in Evita, and indeed this track and the ones either side of it are subtitled "three scenes from a mini musical." Listening to them now I am not surprised that a musical film and a Broadway show have been made out of them. I think these were the tracks I liked least when I was 12. The tracks I liked best at that time were the ones they played on the radio - the hits - Take a Chance on Me and The Name of the Game, but I also loved some of the more melancholy tracks like Move On and One Man, One Woman. 

I actually really enjoyed revisiting this album, and not just because of the feeling of nostalgia it inevitably brings for the child I was - on the verge of my teens and just really waking up to my own musical taste (my parents were NOT Abba fans). Within a year or two I had graduated to listening to bands like The Clash. The thing about Abba is that however you feel about them, their music has stood the test of time - whereas some of the other late seventies, early eighties music definitely hasn't. I was able to listen to the whole album without wanting to fast forward or turn it off. It has a feel good quality and I don't even mind the lyrics, in fact I found myself thinking that if we all imagined were eagles flying above the earth, more often, then perhaps the world would be a better, kinder place. Maybe this is nursery level stuff in terms of technicality and innovation - but an enjoyable listen none the less. One for the keep pile.

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