Sunday 26 March 2023

ABBA: The Official Photo Book - Jan Gradvall et al. (2014)


Rating: Excellent

"Anybody could be that guy...", and indeed, I became that guy who wasn't a fan of ABBA and then suddenly became one. About five years ago a friend's partner posted a video of the band on Japanese television from the late seventies performing If it wasn't for the Nights (1979), and for some reason, even though I did like some of their well known singles, it was this track that caused me to start listening to them more seriously, and then I was hooked. It's often the case with me that I fully explore an act's discography, purchasing all of their albums and obsessing over rare songs and all the different phases. I picked up this book very cheaply at a Dymocks pop-up store for something like $20. It's an extremely good quality coffee-table book, with thick glossy paper and a stylish layout coupled with quality photographs. ABBA wrote the forward, talking about how they loved the time they had in the band and that many of the photo's they hadn't seen before. As with everything ABBA, it's very heartfelt.

Fun in Sweden!

The band's history is laid out chronologically, from before they became ABBA, all their albums and tours and then the aftermath of the beginning of their hiatus in 1982. Due to the date of publication it does not include the totally unexpected comeback album and virtual live show of recent years. The text is relatively minimal, but is well written and contains many anecdotes and obscure facts about the band and their work. Where the book really shines is with the hundreds of fantastic photos, many of which show them in their homes and behind the scenes. If you are an ABBA fan then this book is essential just for the photographs alone (600 of them!). Looking at the photos I'm reminded of something that occurred to me as I explored their particular brand of pop music, that they didn't care at all about being cool. They were totally themselves and sometimes they looked right on, and other times they looked completely daggy. A similar thing can be said about their music, but the daggy songs are just as good as the exulted ones, simply because they were being ABBA. That's what this book is, totally ABBA.

Early on

Saturday 18 March 2023

Ubik - Philip K. Dick (1969)


Rating: Admirable

Warning: this rather lazy review contains something close to a spoiler, but if you are already familiar with Dick's work, then read on with impunity...

I've been a Dickhead for a long time, a Dickhead among many, and as we Dickheads know Ubik is one of his more revered novels. Having read most of his significant novels, such as A Scanner Darkly (1977) and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), strangely I have long overlooked Ubik. For a newbie reader of Dick, Ubik would stand as a fine introduction to his work, but as an experienced Dick lover the novel is diminished by familiarity, for me, at least. Set in the early 1990's, the novel concerns a society in which telepaths and pre-cogs have emerged and they are both a menace and a solution. Glen Runciter oversees a company that provides protection for companies or individuals who are being targeted invasively by those with psychic abilities, using his own array of telepaths and pre-cogs in his employ to counteract the abilities of their own type. Also the dead, if attended to promptly, are able to be held in cryogenic suspension (half-life) and can be communicated with for advice and comfort. Oh, and humanity has colonised the Moon. So far, so typical of Philip K. Dick. Also typical are the characters, such as the 'everyman', Joe Chip, down on his luck financially (people have to pay doors in order for them to open for them), yet he is integral to the narrative. The other characters are a mostly crew of eccentric and suspicious characters trying to make their way inside a Philip K. Dick novel, which, ultimately, is unfortunate for them.

P. K. Dick, thinking about getting there first

I did enjoy Ubik, however, as mentioned above, over-familiarity did curtail my appreciation of its prime Dickheadian moments. Dick developed his narrative shtick early on and a great deal of his career as a novelist explored the same theme, that characters believe that they inhabit one very solid reality, only to find that another reality can be found beneath that seemingly solid surface. They work it out, especially Dick's everyman characters (Chip, in this case...), who are at the heart of most of his novels, but then, right at the end, there's another twist and they are trapped in multiple layers of reality, not knowing what the real one actually is. This pretty much sums up Ubik. As an experienced reader of Dick I grokked the clues early on, then it was just a matter of seeing if I was right, and I was pretty close. The cliche about Dick is that his narratives seem a lot like the reality we live in today, which is fair enough. Humans in this era seem to really want reality to be Dick-like, never trusting information or intention, always looking for conspiracy or duplicity, the layers below so-called reality. I wish that he had lived to at least see the beginnings of the World Wide Web era. I wonder whether he would have been disappointed or inspired? Either way, as the Terry Gilliam quote says on the cover of my edition, "Remember: Philip K. Dick got there first."