Sunday, 16 June 2013

ABBA: The Visitors



(#258: 19 December 1981, 3 weeks)

Track listing: The Visitors/Head Over Heels/When All Is Said And Done/Soldiers/I Let The Music Speak/One Of Us/Two For The Price Of One/Slipping Through My Fingers/Like An Angel Passing Through My Room

(Author’s Note: Some editions of this album give the title track a subtitle: “(Crackin’ Up).”)


“Unlike English, the Scandinavian languages are word poor. With William the Conqueror in 1066 and the infusion of Latinate French into Anglo-Saxon, what we now know as English evolved. And yet, it’s exactly their poverty of vocabulary that gives writers possibilities in the Scandinavian languages that English writers don’t have. A word like lys in Norwegian – which means both light and candle – allows repetitions, ambiguities, and depths that aren’t possible in English. Lys is a word heavy with the knowledge of darkness, of summer and winter, of precious long days of light opposed to long days of murk and clouds…Perhaps the darkness lies behind the omnipresent candles in Scandinavian households, too, lit even during the day and shining in rooms at night. The northern experience of darkness and light is untranslatable. The contrast between them has to be lived in the body.”
(Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking: Sceptre, 2012. From the essay “Some Musings On The Word Scandinavia")

There have been occasions previously in this tale when I have asked you to go and read, or do, something else, before carrying on with the next chapter, in order that you might understand it better. This is another such occasion, but where do I stop? I could ask you to go and watch a wide selection of the films, both for large and small screen, by Ingmar Bergman, or to go and listen to a lot of other records, but either could take a lifetime. With Bergman I would suggest that for now you have another look at 1978’s Autumn Sonata, where cinema’s other Bergman of note, Ingrid, plays a recently widowed concert pianist who pays a visit to her partly estranged daughter Eva (played by Liv Ullmann), and in the course of which we gradually discover what drove a wedge between the two, realising that it was Bergman’s Charlotte who did most of the driving. As she pitilessly points out the mistakes in her daughter’s essays at Chopin, the feelings of the mother in “Slipping Through My Fingers” may well be borne in mind, as may the fact that the film drew heavily on Bergman’s own recent life, and the knowledge that one of her real-life daughters will within a decade be discovering Kyle MacLachlan in a wardrobe.

But I would really be grateful if, before reading the rest of this essay at Abba, you could read James Joyce’s Dubliners collection of linked short stories. Linked because they all take place in or around middle-class turn-of-the-twentieth-century Dublin, and also because the fifteen tales systematically progress from a very childish and superficial view of death (“The Sisters”) to a coldly mature view (“The Dead”), Joyce, until the last three or so paragraphs of “The Dead,” steadily avoids flourish and poetry, preferring matter-of-fact, quasi-dispassionate descriptions of people and events. To be acknowledged is the cumulative realisation that Dublin, as a city or a state of largely familial mind, can never be escaped; the woman who turns round at the end of “Eveline” and doesn’t get on the boat with Frank, the boy who only gets to the Araby bazaar when the market is closing up and there is nothing left, the over-careful bank clerk in “A Painful Case” whose refusal to embrace love leads to someone else’s physical death, as well as his own spiritual one. There is also the over-pushy mother of the perhaps under-talented pianist daughter in “A Mother” who again recalls the protagonist of “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Largely, though, and selfishly, I want you to read Dubliners, perhaps somewhere by the North Sea, or in the middle of Christ Church Meadow at high autumn, because it was on my first year English Literature reading list, and it left the sort of impression you might expect the book to have made on a highly impressionable seventeen-year-old first-year English student. But also because I want to try to recreate what life was like for me back in the last three months of 1981, and hence the milieu from which this and so many other records sprang.

What you have to understand – and it is perhaps a very superficial and certainly a very commonplace thing – is that being away from home, and at university, turned the world a different way for me. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Everything and everybody looked, sounded and felt somewhat different; even the golden brown shades of mid-autumn sun beaming down upon the ancient college stonework. It was rather like being in the middle of a waking dream; nothing seemed quite real, all came across as slightly more fantastical than what I had come to expect from life thus far.

I don’t know that I was homesick, but I did feel unexpectedly disorientated. My father’s death a few months beforehand had me realise, far too early, that a person I had expected to be there for ever no longer existed. I was abruptly on my own, and if I’d been substantially older I’d probably have lived with it a lot better.

Hence that autumn and early winter of 1981 proved to be all about darkness and notions – and maybe idealisations – of death, impermanence. The music of the period mostly seemed to be pointing in this direction, too; Ian Curtis had been gone nearly eighteen months, but nearly all of what I heard and absorbed appeared to form part of an extended funeral rite, or memorial. New Order’s own Movement, for a start; disjointed, dissolute, oblique, patient, evidently painful, and a commemoration of a past which the group themselves knew they had left behind them. The astounding second side of Wilder by the Teardrop Explodes, with its triptych of slow, mourning epics (“Tiny Children,” “…And The Fighting Takes Over,” “The Great Dominions”) and its nightmare cover of erupting flowers. Anything with a solemn synthesiser on it (Jon and Vangelis’ “I’ll Find My Way Home”). Even things like Cope’s Scott Walker retrospective, Fire Escape In The Sky, which essentially reopened that neglected man’s book (and at Christmas I discovered, via a still in-print copy of Nite Flights, that this was indeed only the tip of a huge and potentially ruinous iceberg), or the Pretenders’ reading of “I Go To Sleep,” with its “Decades”-echoing harpsichord arpeggios (see also “Spirits In The Material World”). “Under Pressure,” which sounded like the final cry of the world prior to irreversible apocalypse. Or “When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” an unexpected Top 20 hit that season for the Fureys and Davey Arthur (remembering the Michael Furey who is the ghost at the centre of “The Dead”’s labyrinth). Or Japan’s Tin Drum, with the irreducible, pop music-altering “Ghosts” and “Sons Of Pioneers” which repeatedly, if gently, comes at us like Weather Report opening an early morning Christmas present of changed human behaviour. Or Robert Wyatt’s contributions to Epic Soundtracks’ “Jelly Babies” or Scritti Politti’s “The ‘Sweetest Girl’”or…I could go on.

Or the way in which even the records themselves looked different under the low-lit red lights of the typical late 1981 record shop (in and out of which I seemed to wander into eternal darkness; even something like Julio Iglesias’ re-imagining of “Begin The Beguine” sounded dreamlike, as in, was this genuinely, in 1981, happening?), the magnified importance of red and black on covers like The Flowers Of Romance or Ghost In The Machine or Queen’s Greatest Hits - they all looked other. As did the album currently under consideration.

There was, for me, the main record event of immediate pre-Christmas 1981 – a particularly snowy one, as I recall – which was ECM’s long overdue original format reissue of – you guessed it - Escalator Over The Hill, complete with gold leaf box and full booklet with pictures of musicians and so forth. A snip at the £13.49 which I paid for it (in 1981, fittingly, that was otherwise enough to buy you three single albums).

But, above all, for me, there were the Associates, Dundee’s finest (since, and perhaps including, the Average White Band), who throughout 1981 had been quietly issuing a rapid-fire series of singles which altered the way pop looked and sounded. These were in part collected on the Fourth Drawer Down compilation which appeared at the end of 1981 (as did Buzzcocks’ peerless Singles Going Steady collection) – although are fully collected on the CD reissue (with stray things like “Blue Soap” etc.) – and for me represented a startling standard to which the rest of pop really had to live up to, or try to surpass.

I still don’t know how Billy and Alan did it. I have been to the house in which they conceived these songs, up on Carlton Hill, five minutes’ walk from the Abbey Road Studios, with an unexpected downhill view of the Trellick Tower at the bottom of the street, and looking at its unprepossessing air it is a wonder that so much extraordinary art was conceived within it. “Kitchen Person” combined Barry Ryan hysteria with Michael Mantler doom in ways that have not yet been exceeded. “Q Quarters” stands as alone and scared as it did thirty-two years ago. But “White Car In Germany” was the one; there is a YouTube clip of the group, including Martha Ladly (did I mention Martha and the Muffins’ This Is The Ice Age, on which the younger Daniel Lanois cut his production chops?), miming to the song on German television, and they look as though they already have it made – this was the last song before 1982’s historic mainstream breakthrough, and what a song; so slow, so patient, so pained, and eventually Billy’s voice vanishes into the higher heavens as vibraphone and synthesised choir lead us out of the soaring dream of ideals, and perhaps out of Ian Curtis mourning – and immediately trip us up with a dream-interrupted false ending.

I don’t know whether I would feel the same way about approaching this piece if I hadn’t recently heard the Glenn Gregory/B.E.F. version of “Party Fears Two” which appears on Dark, a.k.a. Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume 3 - and note how the title Dark is only one letter away from Dare. The instrumentation is nearly minimal – just Gregory’s voice, Keith Lowndes’ piano and discreet electronics from Martyn Ware – but it stands as a deeply moving tribute to a man who, had he lived, would beyond question have appeared on all three volumes. The song is a tricky one to tackle at the best of times, but Gregory doesn’t try to copy Billy; he simply brings something of himself, and I suspect his own grief, to the song. The arrangement recasts the melody as a 6/8 Bacharach ballad, but listening to it, the listener gradually becomes aware that Gregory – in my opinion now singing better than he has ever done – is turning into, or is being slowly taken over by, Billy, and that had Billy done the song this way, this is the way he would have done it.

This version was first performed in 2007, at a memorial concert to mark the tenth anniversary of Billy’s passing, and it is possibly naïve of me to expect others to be moved by it as I have been; this is the song which brought New Pop to the boil, this is the song which, a generation later, brought Lena and me together, this is a song containing many ghosts but also multiple futures. So it endures, I believe, as a very belated postscript to the end of 1981, a calmly devastated performance of a song whose construction had largely been influenced by the work of Abba.

(and I note how the climactic mention of “Abba” there marked the 1,981st word in this piece)

With all of this in mind, it is time to bring ourselves to what is, as far as this tale is concerned, the actual end of 1981.

“Where have they been?”

“Pushed to the limit, we drag ourselves in.”

I don’t know what, or if, Björn or Benny would have thought about the death of Ian Curtis, and therefore of Joy Division. It is extremely possible that, out there in Stockholm, they heard nothing. But so much of The Visitors is drenched with a dread of death that comparisons cannot be avoided, whether it’s the title track as “Atrocity Exhibition” or “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room” as “Decades.”

And this is to say nothing of the intentionally overbearing cover of the album, its brown-red hues so fitting and unreal under late 1981 record shop lights. They are in a room lit by only two light sources, a red table lamp to the left, and a bright, golden, unidentifiable light to the right, and it is to the latter that they mostly appear to be looking (except for Benny, who, slightly amused, stares back at the red light). The relative absence of light turns them into their own, huge shadows; the room is bisected by a huge painting which looks ready almost to swallow everyone and everything else in it. The painting itself, flanked by rows of other, smaller paintings, is Julius Kronberg’s Eros. The top of the painting is not quite visible, and its positioning and structure are such that it threatens to engulf or drown what it looks down upon. They therefore cannot, or will not, acknowledge love. The redness itself could be a volcano, or the blood of a vampire. The floor is photographed such that they might be drowning.

The light at which they are staring is as imprecise and unascribable as that in the attaché case of Kiss Me Deadly or Pulp Fiction.

If Super Trouper represented their passing out of this world, does The Visitors find Abba in hell?

They never completed another studio album, even though The Visitors had not been particularly designed to be their last. Listening to it even then, it was difficult to see how or where they could have gone from here, except to nothing. But it was also one of the very first albums to be recorded digitally, as well as one of the first albums to make the transition to compact disc, in 1982, that year of restless change.

Like Abbey Road, one gets the feeling that the group are getting out of the way of the future. Alternatively, they may have realised that they have made the mistake of going backwards; for if any meaningful comparisons are going to be made between Abba and Ingmar Bergman, it is that Abba’s progression, as such, appears to have been the exact reverse of Bergman’s. If the later Bergman pictures – by which I mean everything from Persona onwards – have anything in common with the younger Abba it is the knowledge that he could now loosen up on his methodical and slightly mechanical solemnity, find a greater gravity with a lighter, or more knowing, approach, realise that by becoming his own subject – in conjecture with his “family” of performers – he could give us a clearer and more profound picture about how and why acting interfaces with life, suggesting at times that acting could almost be the life. Affectation is absent, and life and reality are more soundly handled in films such as Shame, Cries And Whispers and Fanny And Alexander.

Substitute music for acting, and the same could be said of Abba, but the older and further away from each other they became, they reverted to the old, gruelling Bergman of Wild Strawberries and The Virgin Spring (that having been said, the song “The Visitors” is to Hour Of The Wolf what Scott Walker’s “The Seventh Seal” is to the film which inspired it); over-exacting and determinedly miserable portraits of decay and loss, seemingly carved with a scalpel. The misguided “Two For The Price Of One” – even at this late stage, there was still a track available for Björn
and Benny to sing – can be reasonably compared with Bergman’s early attempts at comedy (especially Waiting Women); the cringe-inducing payoff does not conceal the subject matter of this song, which appears to be about call girls, troilism and incest.

It is perhaps this sense of walking death, the suspicion of cod liver oil bludgeoning, which meant that The Visitors only lasted three weeks at the top, over Christmas, following which the number one slot was reclaimed by the partially Abba-inspired Human League, displaying the sure handling and balancing of light and darkness of which Abba had once been capable. Moreover, the songs are clumsier, did not, by the composers’ own admission, come so easily. Relations in the studio were frosty; there was the high probability that the four musicians were getting bored of each other’s company. Whether an intention to bow out ever reared its head is not entirely clear, but most of the record plays as though any way back has been ruthlessly fenced off.

The smokescreen on the title track was that it was about Soviet dissidents – and the song was duly banned in that country, with its mentions of secret meetings and quiet voices – but in truth Frida is singing about paranoia and steady mental degeneration, the kind perhaps only known to the fear-filled rich, worried about what had recently happened with Lennon. The chilly glockenspiel-like keyboard figure that descends from “I hear the doorbell ring” represents arteries frozen to the heart, and it is clear that any noises and movement “ominously tearing through the silence” are happening only in the singer’s head. She stands amidst what she thought constituted her life – “The books, the paintings and the furniture/Help me” – but which has only proven to be a substitute for living; nobody she knows comes to see her any more, and it may therefore be a relief (“I have been waiting for these visitors/Help me”) when she thinks deliverance is coming. If there are any Beatles comparisons to be made, the song’s verses are far closer to “Within You, Without You” than “Tomorrow Never Knows” although Frida’s ululations over the drone are occasionally predicative of Elizabeth Frazer, while the chorus jerks along like an unwilling “Mamma Mia,” never resting or convincing even itself that it lives within reason.

And who are these “visitors” anyway?

The lead single “One Of Us” might be the strangest song on the record. Their last major hit, it briefly recalls the “Fernando”s of old with its wordless lost shepherdess chorus before dropping into a reggae-pop beat which Culture Club had not yet popularised. Why is Agnetha singing “one of us is lonely” rather than “I am lonely”? She blames herself (“You were, I felt/Robbing me/Of my rightful chances”) and is now regretting her loneness, but it is hardly a credible sequel to “The Winner Takes It All.” Is the “you” even a spurned lover, or does the plurality of “us” suggest a larger listenership?

One answer is that it could be a sequel to “Head Over Heels,” released as a single in Britain without fanfare and their first single to fall short of the Top 20 since 1975. It does its best to reach back to the purposeful, single-minded Abba of even four years previously, but can’t reach those waters any more; there is a theatrical tango, but its propulsion is tangled up in a mesh of qualifying minor chords. It attempts to be happy but fundamentally is unhappy. Perhaps the protagonist of “One Of Us” is the ambitious, overachieving subject of “Head Over Heels” with her (as she sees it) slow and dimwit husband whom she is clearly impatient to leave behind (“She’s extreme/If you know/What I mean”). She pushes through unknown jungles, runs the gauntlet in a whirl of lace, and wants everything but doesn’t seem too happy when she gets it. Is the song about Mrs Thatcher, or Princess Diana? The not really resolving series of solemn minor chords which ends the song does nothing to dispel the sense of artificial disturbance.

On “When All Is Said And Done,” lead singer Frida gets commendably to the point. Gone is even the residue of sixties idealism on “Our Last Summer”; here she simply states, we’re finished, it’s nobody’s fault, we changed or the world changed and we didn’t notice, or couldn’t keep up. Despite the self-mocking but partly defiant couplet which includes the only mention of the word “sex” in any Abba song, the surface ennui conceals a profounder tragedy – they are in a café (“One more toast/And then we’ll/Pay the bill”) and they are parting. No more dancing to the old music; they have seen too much, too much has happened to them, for that to work now. And yet we leave the pair at the crossroads (“No desire to run/There’s no hurry/Any more”); they cannot quite make the final cut, cannot tell themselves that they do not still love each other.

“Soldiers” was the subject of much criticism in 1981, being interpreted as a straightforward salute to allegedly brave freedom-fighters, but I think it is a lot more complex and unsettling than that; both bass and keyboards point the way to the autumnal second side of New Gold Dream, while the song and lyric themselves are strongly reminiscent of 1980’s “This Fear Of Gods” (“Someone singing in the shower”). The song’s gait is subtly ungainly, and we are told that soldiers sing the songs that “you and I” don’t; the line “You’d think that nothing in the world was wrong” recalls Joy Division’s “Transmission” (“We could go on as though nothing was wrong”) and there seems little in the way of joy or celebration at work here; more a resigned sense of dread – “If the bugler/Starts to play/We too must dance.” References to the “beast” “stirring” remind us that Abba, like true Swedes, had to maintain political neutrality, but clearly this was harder to achieve with every year and every new hint of oppression that bled through. A thunderstorm drawing near in a cold December (“in the grip of this cold December,” no less, and that “grip” is crucial)? “Let’s not look the other way” – for fear of the “blinding light”? Remember that this was still 1981, and the nuclear threat had certainly not gone away; thus “Soldiers” is by no means a reassuring song.

“I Let The Music Speak” is an obvious advance from its predecessor’s “Andante, Andante,” an elaborate song about the mechanics of writing music and the effect that it can have on a composer or a performer. Although Frida sings (and somehow possesses) the song, it was Björn’s concept and perhaps shows him beginning to move away from the notion of “Abba”; an earnest orchestration and successive trapdoors of unexpected chord changes suggest that the group was no longer enough for its writers – the song is clearly a halfway house between The Girl With The Golden Hair and Chess, but note the continued cries, the constant need to surrender to the music, as one might surrender to an army.

“Slipping Through My Fingers” was sung by Agnetha, and was about her and Björn’s daughter Linda – then aged seven – starting school. As an adult song it is heartbreaking, not the less for being a million miles away from “Waterloo” and that song’s own jejeune notions of surrender; the child is leaving, departing, changing, and not too bothered about it (“Waving goodbye/With an absent-minded smile”). The mother looks on and knows that something in herself has begun to die. The child is growing up, always slightly beyond her mother’s grasp or understanding, such that the mother has begun to pine and maybe even to mourn; she views sleepy breakfasts as a squandering of precious time, and she knows that, little by little, the girl she sends out to school every morning is not quite the same girl who will return in the afternoon; she will have learned a little more, grown a little more, changed a little more. And, rather than enjoy the here and now, her mother wants to freeze these moments, and perhaps freeze life. She begins to mourn: “What happened to the wonderful adventures?/The places I had planned for us to go?/Well, some of that we did…but most, we didn’t.”

Perhaps – so many “perhaps”es when it comes to Abba – the child is the same girl who will leave home forever in “I Wonder (Departure)” with her own optimistic sadness. But there is no mention of children in “When All Is Said And Done,” just as there is no mention of any father or husband in “Slipping Through My Fingers.” It is the awful, sober realisation that the shallow promises of even six or seven years earlier couldn’t be followed through – that there is nothing to look forward to, except nothingness.

And so we arrive at Frida, uniquely alone – the only Abba song to be as such – on “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room” – does she even have a house any more? – old, maybe prematurely so, and everybody and everything has gone, outlived, or lost, by her. “Long awaited darkness falls” – as long awaited as those visitors, if they themselves do not represent Death – and she is sitting by the embers of her fireplace, which die out as the song progresses. Comparisons with Richard Strauss’ “Im Abendrot” may not be fanciful (“O vast, tranquil peace,/So deep in the evening’s glow!/How weary we are of wandering - /Is this perhaps a hint of death?”) since there is a definite kinship in terms of finality of purpose and thought. “Love was one prolonged good-bye,” Frida muses, to the accompaniment of nothing much save celeste, minimalist synthesiser and drum machine. She sees images float by her closed eyes and wonders: was that all there was? As she stops singing, as if to go to sleep, and the song ends, the clock which has been ticking all the way throughout continues ticking for a short while, then stops.

I am not sure that we have experienced such a phenomenon before in this tale – an album which ends with its protagonist dying (and that includes things like Carousel and West Side Story, where the last voice is not that of the deceased person, although an argument could be made for My Fair Lady - does Eliza return to Higgins only in his afterlife?). It is a terrible dwindling down even from the half-dissatisfied Abba of the Greatest Hits days, though some might argue that the germination of their decline was already there, clear for anyone with eyes to see. And we know that, at the time of writing, none of these people has actually died; they are all still active in their own individual ways. We know that shortly after completing her work on The Visitors Frida will record a solo album with Phil Collins producing – Collins, whose Face Value ended with a cover of…”Tomorrow Never Knows.” You may also be aware that this will not be the last Abba entry on Then Play Long, not even within the group’s own lifetime. There is still a summary and an important postscript to come in a year which will owe much of its goodness to Abba. But The Visitors feels like an ending, even to an afterlife; look at the back cover of the record, where all we see is a wall of paintings, including many angels and cherubs – and isn’t that Eros again, and isn’t it much smaller on the front? But what’s that at bottom centre, next to a source of light we haven’t seen before? It’s the front cover, and they are just subjects of another painting, another closing book in a procession of reproductions. And we try looking closer and wondering if it shows nothing except shadows.

It’s not the happiest of endings, is it?
You again.
I read Dubliners. Good Lord, “The Dead”!
That’s one way of putting it.
And Huston tried to film that?
It wasn’t very good. We were sympathetic because we knew it would be his last film. But, right at the end, with those paragraphs, he gives up, lets Gabriel Byrne’s voiceover just read the unfilmable.
And those words resonated with you in 1981?
I’m not sure they stopped resonating. It’s hard. To look at a whole culture and see that it possesses a dead centre. Existing only because Michael Furey wouldn’t stay in bed and Ian Curtis…well…
What did you make of 1981?
In terms of number one albums? It’s hard to draw a straight line. Adam and the Ants to the Human League? Cliff Richard and Charles and Diana? Star Sound to Shakin’ Stevens? It does strike me that a lot of these records don’t know what love is, or even what newness was. To put it plain, the ones which stayed in their safe past were doomed, while the ones unafraid to look forward were the ones which are going to be remembered. That’s all I can glean from it. What can I say? It was a year of singles. So was 1982.
That doesn’t sound promising.
The album chart likes to maintain business as usual; so much so that a future entry will be named after that tendency. Anybody expecting an avalanche of New Pop is going to be severely disappointed…
With one violent exception.
I know. It’s getting closer and closer.
Nervous about it?
Not as nervous as I would have been if I’d known nothing about the record.
No call for darkness or slow, agonising daylight, then?
Don’t be impertinent. Everyone who comes to a record with the purpose of writing about it should have their own story. That’s a key thing about music writing; if the record is telling a story, then any writer of worth should also be able to tell a story, even if the two stories are not the same.
What story are you telling, exactly?
Mine, to some extent. But only up to a point. Some of the 1982 entries may clarify what some people persist in referring to as “the bigger picture.”
There is a bigger picture, then?
Oh, yes. I was never in doubt about that. The whole tale is working towards that picture.
That ending, though. So sad. So terminal. And yet they didn’t die.
They are stronger than their characters. How else could Alasdair Gray have otherwise killed off Duncan Thaw?
Oh yes, THAT other book that came out in 1981.
There is no better book. Or books.
You and your big claims.
If you’re dealing with number one albums, you have to acknowledge a world of bigness.
The biggest one is yet to come.
Let’s just think about Billy, and “Party Fears Two,” and the way in which New Pop has developed its own tradition, complete with remembrance. And the promise of “White Car In Germany” and everything that was to flow from it. And I’m happy that Abba can still, in 2013, be happy.
One not-too-slight matter. Who were “the visitors”?
It was obvious, really. Look at that cover. Notice anything apart from the fact that they’re studiously not looking at each other?
They’re not looking at us either. You would think they were trying not to catch our eye, or pretend that we didn’t exist.
Exactly. The “visitors” are Abba’s audience.
Like Billy Connolly used to say at the end of his concerts: “I’m the one who’s going to hell, you were only watching.”
Quite. Look and listen, but never pry.
Time for a quotation?
And a picture, I think. Something that Billy Mac would have appreciated, and probably saw many times. A reminder that people’s lives are wider, deeper and more important than any record.

“It seems to me that the life of man on earth is like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your captains and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall. Outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one window of the hall and out through another. While he is inside, the bird is safe from the winter storms, but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while – but of what went before this life, or what follows, we know nothing.”
(Venerable Bede, History of the English People)

3 comments:

Billy Smart said...

I always think that there's a deliberately knowing quality to the ghastliness of 'Two for the Price of One'. Its the way that the dubious unfunny punchline is followed by a tumbleweed passing pause for breath and a gruesome lurch into a jaunty brass-band. It seems to show that Bjorn and Benny are fully aware of the embarrassment and discomfort that they have inflicted upon the listener and are sharing the sensation of mortification with us.

Cleofis said...

A fantastic cap to '81. And now I have a pile of new albums and two new books to read, so that's not too bad either.

Bob Stanley said...

I don't personally think The Visitors is too heavy-handed with the solemnity. I'm guessing it was so hard for B&B to write in any vein either than melancholy that the results were even worse than the fart gag Two For The Price Of One.

Billy, I'd really lke to believe that of Two For The Price Of One, but either way it wrecks the flow of the album.

One Of Us I find incredibly moving. Just as sad as The Winner Takes It All in its more subdued, far less angry way. And I remember the clunking avoidance of the word "dead" on the chorus being quite a thing at the time.

Happy new year. Here's to 1982.