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I love ABBA.
I don’t remember when or where this began, because my parents are, at best, ambivalent about ABBA. They may have been the only people who made it through the 1970s without owning a single ABBA album.
So at some point in my young life, with or without the assistance of Mums and Daddy, I discovered ABBA. And I loved the beat; the enthusiasm; the vaguely Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice-ness about the foursome; the fashion; and mostly, that biting Scandinavian earnestness that was at once an invitation and a fuck you.
And I think there are two types of people in this world: People who love ABBA, and People who don’t get ABBA. There is no hating ABBA. That’s like saying you hate IKEA or Volvo, and similarly, ABBA is just too mild and ubiquitous for one to have a strongly negative opinion about them.
No one hates IKEA or Volvo, because even if you THINK you hate IKEA, you probably have a BILLY bookcase somewhere in your house. And even if you THINK you hate Volvo, you probably have a fond memory of making out in someone’s mom’s flesh-tone 240 GL Volvo wagon.
I rest my case.
On Saturday, I flew from NY to London, and London to Mumbai, and I watched an endless amount of in-flight entertainment because that’s a lot of air to cover. During the course of scouring British Airways’ TV system for something — anything — new to watch, I stumbled on to an ancient documentary about ABBA and iconic photos taken of the band.
Early in the documentary, they played the Lasse Hallstrom-directed music videos the band released with their first few albums in countries in which they weren’t immediately touring: U.S.; Australia; etc….
I began to laugh.
There was one night during my last year at UCLA when my roommate Legs and I went down to the Blockbuster? Hollywood Video? (I’ve reached the age where I can no longer remember the things I thought I’d always know!) at the corner of Gayley and Wilshire – you know, the one where you had to park on the roof.
Legs and I were famous for many things – among them, renting absolutely terrible films and returning them months late. By the time we graduated, there was not a single video store on the Westside that would rent movies to us.
So we walked in one unremarkable night – undoubtedly in our matching uniform of running shorts, UCLA sweatshirts, and Rainbows – and instead of the ordinary action films playing on the TVs, ABBA’s classic music videos were on all the screens. Some bored clerk had unearthed those precious laser discs and Benny, Bjorn, Frida and Agnetha were writhing and grooving across the CRT TVs rigged up all around the video store for our viewing pleasure.
We were mesmerised.
We were too young to have seen the videos the first time they were played, so we were hooked. I think we probably stood there in the middle of Hollywood Video for an eternity that night – slack-jawed and entranced by the sparkly, soft-focus jamming happening on the screens as ABBA awkwardly shuffled and danced to their greatest hits. We were witnessing history. We were witnessing love, Scandinavian style.
I’m not even sure we left with a video that night.
In the intervening years between that night on Wilshire and last Saturday, I’ve listened to a lot of ABBA. But I hadn’t thought about those music videos until I was leaving New York on a London-bound plane.
It had been a long time since I was a student. It had been a long time since I was the kind of girl who wore low pig-tails, and smoked cigarettes, and tied up the landline with gossip; and sat outside in that heavy, salty Westside night air; and since Legs and I made pasta in our shared kitchen and drank too much cheap beer and ate too many cheese fries and cried over silly sappy TV shows.
Now Legs sings ABBA songs to her infant son, and I’m on a flight from New York to London, and London to Mumbai, and we’re a long way from Westwood, but we’re still those same girls, I think.