ABBA Museum

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(HOST) Stockholm is slated to open an ABBA-themed museum in 2008. But Commentator Philip Baruth is making a desperate, last-ditch effort to get the city to scrap the project.

(BARUTH) It isn’t often that I say something to offend at least nine million people, and maybe hundreds of millions more. And so before I say this almost inconceivably offensive thing, I want to preface it with a brief discussion of George Lucas and the unwatchable mess he’s made of his once brilliant Star Wars series.

The original Star Wars winked at its own campiness, and you couldn’t help but wink back. When the Millennium Falcon refused to power up, Han Solo banged the console with his fist, and it worked. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford sparred like Hepburn and Tracy.

But as the sequels continued to do big box office, Lucas began to listen to the Dark Side: he began to believe the expansive things critics were saying about his work. Suddenly he wanted nine rather than three episodes; the intergalactic politics became operatic and eye-glazing. Instead of romantic comedy he demanded Greek tragedy. Gone was the wink, and the series became a Death Star in its own right.

This I call the Lucas Syndrome.

Okay, now for the part that will outrage nine million Swedes: Stockholm is planning to open an ABBA museum in 2008, and I think it’s a terrible, heart-breaking mistake.

Don’t get me wrong: no one loves ABBA more than I do. Okay, that’s not true, given that directors like Stephan Elliot have made their names with ABBA-themed cult films. And there are tribute bands like Bjorn Again, bands that have their hair cut in 70’s styles right now, even as we speak.

But I’ve always loved ABBA’s music. It’s like Coca Cola for your ear: sweet, sharp, effervescent. In fact, I even took in the ABBA exhibit at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm a few years ago because I thought it would be a kick. But it wasn’t. What it was, really, was a handful of tacky costumes on headless manikins, some photographs, and platform shoes stuck up on pedestals, which is just redundant, when you think about it.

That original ABBA exhibit was the Lucas Syndrome all over again: highly successful popular culture weighed down and then crushed under the trappings of fine art. And this new ABBA museum will only complete the process, wringing from the band’s harmonies the very last fragments of joy.

Ulf Westman, the museum’s creator, admits that it will include pretty much the same items as the much smaller, earlier exhibit. How the remaining space will be filled remains unclear, except that it will include all the other things we can think of and find.

Right. So if I could just say this to the lovely city of Stockholm: Please don’t do this. Let ABBA be ABBA, and leave their music in the places where the magic holds true: in cars and dance clubs and iPods and Broadway theaters. The places where we can be enchanted rather than under-whelmed by it.

The places where we can all of us be Bjorn Again.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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