How I stopped worrying and learned to appreciate ABBA

ABBA - Arrival

There was a time in my life when it was absolutely not OK to admit to liking ABBA, and that time just happen to coincide with junior high school.

Well, it extended throughout high school as well, but a very specific incident in junior high school schooled me in what was then conventional wisdom. I had drawn the ABBA logo with the backward “B” on my copy of the Webster dictionary, and it opened me up for ridicule.

This being junior high, such ridicule had a lasting effect.

It became acceptable to like ABBA again in my sophomore year of college (ca. 1993) when a column in the Village Voice signaled the all-clear. The column tied ABBA’s resurgence with the gay community, and I was another two years away from being in the psychological mindset to come out.

So I clung to my internalized homophobia and maintained my ABBAmnesia.

Muriel’s Wedding hit theaters in 1994. Mamma Mia opened in London in 1999.  In 2000, the members of ABBA turned down 1 billion dollars to reunite.

It’s been OK to like ABBA for a very long time now, but up until last summer, I couldn’t do it.

And I had long run out of excuses.

The biggest obstacle was my rockism. Straight guys with guitars — that is the bulk of my listening, and a lot of those straight guys instilled in me the idea that “disco sucks”. ABBA, even today, has not shaken off the perception of being a disco band, even when close examination of their output demonstrates otherwise.

Tied to rockism is internalized homophobia. Yes, even after nearly 20 years out of the closet, there are acceptable conventions of gay male culture to which I just say no. I don’t get drag. And I didn’t get ABBA.

It wasn’t always the case.

I drew that ABBA logo on my dictionary because I really did like them when I was 8 years old. I was in mall record store when the clerks put a LaserDisc of ABBA’s music videos on the TV. After that, I was hooked.

Pac-Man later derailed my attention from ABBA, but by then the group had broken up. And then came Duran Duran.

A recent holiday conversation with my sister in Chicago revealed that her own 7-year-old daughter was absolutely addicted to Mamma Mia.

Maybe that was it.

ABBA’s melodic sense is so basic and tuneful, it’s children’s music. I was a child when at the height of my ABBA fandom. I didn’t understand the words — and there were no lyric sheets on my albums — so all I had to go one was melody.  Have I really been looking down on that instinctive appreciation all this time?

Today, I recognize that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus wrote some sophisticated pop music. And while “Dancing Queen” put a lot  of cash in their coffers, “Intermezzo No. 1” showed the band could do a lot more.

I’ve culled my music collection numerous times over the years, but the four vinyl albums by ABBA survived each purge. I put those albums on my turntable after purchasing some decent stereo speakers in May 2013, and I realized I was just way too freaking old to hold onto a slight from more than 30 years ago.

I’ve since added Super Trouper, The Visitors, Arrival and The Album to my collection. I’m passing on Voulez-Vous, and the jury is still out on Waterloo and Ring Ring.

I was right to draw that logo on my dictionary. Too bad I was too young to recognize it.