The metaphysical poets were fond of the notion of the futility of life before love. It’s just going through the motions. In Aire and Angels, John Donne said:
Twice or thrice had I lov’d thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapelesse flame,
Angells affect is oft, and worship’d bee.
And again, in Good Morrow, that sense of the ridiculousness of Mr Eliot’s “waste sad time”:
I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov’d? were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers den?
‘Twas so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir’d, and got, ‘twas but a dreame of thee.
But my favourite exploration of this idea of life before and after, comes from Abba, and The Day before You Came. It’s terribly Nordic. It has diminished sevenths. It sounds like Sibelius. It is a narrative, the lyrics all important. It describes the humdrum day of a woman who gets up, reads the morning paper on the train on her way to work, sits at a desk in her office, goes for lunch at half twelve, works on, leaves at five, reads the evening paper on the train on the way home, picks up a Chinese meal and eats it watching telly, goes to bed at 10.15, reads a little, and then sleeps. It’s all perfectly normal. It happens the day before “you” came. We never find out who “you” are. But clearly “you” are somebody, or something, that completely turns her life upside down. We might assume it’s a guy, the love of her life; but it could as easily be a woman, an epiphany, an illness, or a catastrophe. A Nemesis. I’d guess it was a guy. But the experience is not at all without complication. In fact, it is full of anguish. What a difference a day makes. Yes, but what sort of difference?
I like Abba. I’m a fan. I think they were, are, a phenomenon, with a talent for melody, and an ability to get everybody up on to the dance floor. Check it out. You are at a “do”, a “function”, (I’m stuck in another century), and the band struggles to get people on their feet. Then they cover Abba, and suddenly the floor is heaving. You can’t belittle that.
Talking of the dance floor, I have a notion that, sometime during the lockdown and without my realising it, my relationship with Terpsichore finally came to an end. I quite like the idea of dancing a tango with an enchantress who drapes herself about me while I merely stand motionless and expressionless, or with the disdainful pout, the cruel curling lip of an Argentinian drug baron. But I wouldn’t convince. I would be like a middle-aged man who takes it upon himself to ask the band to accompany him in an Elvis tribute. I would sing Are you lonesome tonight? My teenage daughter would wish quietly to exit the scene. Then, when I abandoned song in favour of spoken prose… “I wonder if you are lonesome tonight…”, she would wish quietly to die and that her substance be sublimated through a crack in the floorboards.
People say Abba didn’t take themselves seriously, but I think their ability to produce the goods was totally serious. Of course, a lyric like “Voulez-vous… ah HAH!” is utterly ridiculous, but isn’t that the essence of all pop music? There is an argument that all pop music is essentially a spoof, a take-off. If it strives for anything deeper, it becomes inflated and pretentious, like Bohemian Rhapsody. Abba called somebody, last night, from Glasgow. And now Greta Thunberg is in town. I was in Glasgow yesterday, the day before the great and the good came. Usually I proceed west along the M80, the M8, and the Clydeside Expressway, but all of that is shut off, so I went by an entirely different route, through Strathblane. My luncheon date took place within two miles of COP26, but I was unaware of any disruption to anything. Greta was on telly that morning. Andrew Marr interviewed her in London’s Natural History Museum. Having endured forty five minutes of politicos unable to give a straight answer to a straight question, I was relieved that she came up with the goods. Her English is perfect. Mr Marr asked her if it was right for protestors to cause people inconvenience. I guess he was thinking of people gluing themselves to the M25 so that women had to give birth in the back of stationary ambulances. Ms Thunberg agreed it was not right to cause harm. On the other hand, to be effective, occasionally you might have to piss people off.