Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You know I take Abba EXTREMELY seriously and all that….
Abba’s The Day Before You Came, the penultimate song they released and upon the success of which the prolongation of their existence as a group depended, manages, without any hysteria or grandiosity, to be a fundamentally messianic work.
Lyrically, and it’s primarily lyrically that I’m going to deal with it, the song maintains a brilliant and mysterious tension between the mundanity of a daily life at best now only half remembered, and the visitation of some kind that has subverted and overturned it utterly .

The assumption holds, given that the details of the day are partly conjectural (I must have ... I suppose….) that the life lived after that day carries none of the hallmarks of the life as now lived. Certainly the life sketched out in The day before you came is one of which the bearer has grown weary. What is also implied of course is that the violence of the intercession into the normal way of things was so dazzling and traumatic as to partially eclipse that which immediately preceded it.

The song is a message from the other side of a divide, to a YOU who must be unaware of the details of the life that has been interrupted. This is partly what prevents the song from being just another song about a new relationship, that along with the title (the day before we met would imply something other than the day before you came, in which there is no reciprocity) suggestive of something in the nature of a visitation.

It may of course be simply that death has taken her, but the song’s failure to hint at any such tragic dimension undercuts that, as does the muted rapture in, the clipped serenity of the voice. Rather the song leaves open a space that can not be adequately talked about (or imagined by the listener) language still being tied to the day before you came, to the objects, rituals and routines that have melted into air. The day before can be talked about, but not the day after. There isn’t a void at the centre of the song, but rather in front of it and the void is to be welcomed. It’s a song which sets a threshold and speaks in a now redundant language of that threshold.

The singer exists in the songs future, temporally beyond ( it always feels to me, at some great distance beyond) the features of the day she enumerates. That future has a dual character in the song, as anticipated by the central character as she goes about her life it will be composed of days identical to today, the singer, now on the other side of the threshold knows that the future is radically unlike the anticipated future. The arrival is impossibly sudden, could never have been anticipated.

If it is love that YOU brings it is love in a form that is also beyond representation by any standard trope. By this point ABBA had all been through long marriages and divorces had risen to the height of their fame and seen it begin to fall away, they weren't young. Having already been wrung through all the illusions still they have not arrived at despair, the bare, undelineated possibility of change exists, only a “ You”, an addressee without any formal content exists, the you of a pure future rinsed clean of any projection or expectation, an unknowable certainty. This is the messianic apprehension in the song, and an undoubted source of its appropriately quiet yet tremendous power, the unthinkable, unnameable, unbidden and irrevocable sundering of one world and the introduction of another.

“Oh yes I’m sure my life was quite well within its usual frame/ the day before you came.”


valter said...

Beautiful post!

parodian sturm und drang said...