On Fiction, Art and ABBA
Finland is not by its nature a dangerous country. It has very little poverty, free health care and education, it is transparent and its income equality is exceptionally level for our age – its head of state shovels his own snow off his own driveway, to give an illustrative example. Finland is stable. It has 0 slums, 0 failed schools or neighbourhoods, 0 truly extreme political parties and 1 annual demonstration where a 1-4 windows are broken. Finland is neither east nor completely west, and tries its utmost to stay neutral in all conflicts. It is full of blonde, pretty people in adorable winter jackets and mittens. In a word, it is very Sweden.
I am in Finland for some book research, looking for grand stories from the Finns’ ancient folklore epic, the Kalevala. It is the hipster epic, far less well-known than the Iliad or the Odyssey of the Greeks or even the Shahnameh of the Persians, it is the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones put together of national epics, complex and vivacious, but also deep and difficult in its poetic form and linguistic trickery. And, through its gatekeeper language and cultural backdrop which takes a very long time to get attuned to, it is tightly safeguarded from the aesthetic breaches and compromises of truly popular appeal. It is as far away from pop culture as one could think, and in coming to delve into it I keep running into the most shallow of basic human problems, the ones where girl meets boy in a sleazy night club and it’s all very dramatic that is the stuff of pop music, and entertainment arts. Ever since ABBA.
I am driving back to the house where I am staying. It is dark, it is -25 celsius outside, the car is handling funny. The break pedal, I have noticed, does not go down properly (or actually, doesn’t go down at all) and the car hardly slows down when I press it. The car also won’t accelerate even when the accelerator is totally floored, and it feels as if the tires aren’t gripping the road very well. This is unsurprising, as the road itself is a horizontally frozen cascade, a natural art work of ice sculpture laid atop the asphalt, with two narrowly-spaced ruts in it that show a bit of wet-looking-but-really-decidedly-permafrost-ground underneath. My tires do not fit these two ruts very comfortably, and the car keeps jumping out of one and into the other. I have 100km to drive. It is a bright full moon, thank God. In this justifiably dire situation, seeking some kind of light relief, I turn on the radio but discover the car’s antenna is broken. I find a CD in a strange-looking case, and put it on.
It turns out it is ABBA GOLD, the legendary greatest hits CD of the legendary Swedish pop band of the 1970s, which if you haven’t heard yet will probably never mean very much to you, but if you have you will know exactly what I am talking about. It is the CD of our mums, the 1990s smash hit compilation that came all from nowhere on the final furlong of ABBA’s fame and topped the selling charts of 1992 in multiple countries; it has sold a total-grand-slam 29 million copies and it is one of the best-selling albums of all time, up there with the White Album and what have you. It has been re-edited, re-released and re-mastered more times than any artist or producer involved would care to admit (at least six different main releases exist, plus two Australian releases, some Spanish releases, a video release and a special edition non-UK version with an additional disk of 11 lesser-known ABBA numbers). It is Capital-P-Pop, and its stylistic influences can still be heard in today’s chart-toppers.
In this life-threatening situation I very much appreciated the distracting pop-appeal of the songs, each of which is its own gay anthem. But I heard more than that. I heard beauty; I heard art, real musicianship and not just machine-automated corporate pop, a conversation between the artist and the observer. I believe the work has not been done as regards ABBA and their juggernaut compilation album, no one has truly done the digging and got into the heart of it, what makes it at once so ravishingly touching and so calculatedly commercially appealing; what is its art, what techne did Björn and Benny weave into the texture of their music, what is their pact with the Gods? Is ABBA capital-A-Art, or even art at all? If not, how can it be so appealing? Why is it beautiful, is it beautiful, what even is beauty? In trying to get to the core of ABBA GOLD one very quickly comes face-to-face with some heavy-duty no-nonsense fire-all-cylinders philosophical questions about aesthetics and art theory, because there is clearly something there, something that speaks and something in us, millions of us, that listens.
Approach by analogy: I submit that what makes great fiction can be reasonably well-illustrated. Take The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s great classic. When I was a young man and spent a lot of time travelling (well, I am still a reasonably young man and spend a lot of time travelling, but anyway), I used to read The Great Gatsby at least four times a year, sometimes six or more. I thought the Great Gatsby was what novel writing was, all there was to it, and I did not think highly of my own abilities as a writer.
One day I noticed something about the book. Every time I’d read it there’d be pauses where the scenery and imagery, the one that floats before one’s eyes as one reads and makes the actual text and book and the physical world fade out in favour of a strong fictitious one, disappeared abruptly as if someone had pulled the plug from your television and I was reminded of the fact that I was holding just a book, and its words were just words. Some lazy end of a sentence, or over-written piece of poetic detail meant to sound pretty as a bunch of words but which didn’t actually mean anything and didn’t convey any message other than maybe ‘look at me, I’m a writer’. It was an interruption, and it alienated me from the writing much more than the fact that the people in the stories were nothing like me, they were rich and beautiful and they had had full and complete lives and childhoods with steady places to live and much money to go to famous schools with frivolously. Some of them had been in the Great War.
This is when the literary critic in me awoke for the first time, and I started coming up with some criteria for what it is for fiction to be good, and what does it mean for something to be called art. The reason, I have since gathered, I enjoy the novel as an art form so much is that it involves, for a reader, surrendering your imagination and letting the writer guide you, to show you something that lies behind the obvious story of a book – the story behind the story. This may be done through symbolism, or allegory, or fucking-animal-characters, stream of consciousness to be followed, or more recently, challenge & enlistment (of which more in a second). The author grabs the reader’s attention and points it in some order at certain things, asks you to connect the dots and share in the little inside story or message of the book. The author gets into your head, and puts you in a position where he can whisper through the words what it is that he wants to say, the thing he considers the complex and delicate capital-T-Truth he is trying to show through weaving the lies necessary for its lived experience.
In order to do this the author must be completely honest and true and accurate in his descriptions, he must write nothing that isn’t absolutely essential, nothing for him, everything for the reader. When I noticed Fitzgerald did not always follow this rule, I did the next logical thing – started reading Hemingway. Once I had this rule in mind, that great fiction is a conversation albeit an oddly one-sided conversation until you start writing your own stuff, the actual story of fiction became less important. You start to hunt for the stuff where the writer enters your head that keeps the book honest, keeps the message intact – the author’s whispered voice from between the lines. I could suddenly appreciate works that had left me cold before – like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, where the author talks through challenging the reader to put together the story for himself, and all that fracturing is part of the message itself of the book. It was masterly, once appreciated through my working definition of what art was.
So I posit this: it has to do with the immediacy with which the artist speaks to the observer. Good classical fiction is good because the text is so technically brilliant that you don’t even know you’re reading something as you’re guided towards the author’s message. Avant garde –type fiction like David Foster Wallace gets even closer to the observer’s innermost workings, as it enlists the reader in figuring out the story, doing the work, having to expend mental energy in service of the author’s ends of enlightening his reader. It is very intimate, but it is also very problematic. And this is the stuff that eventually gets us to ABBA.
The problem with getting closer to the reader by making him work for his entertainment or enlightenment or whatever you believe the end message of good fiction ought to be, is that it alienates some readers. There is no more vivid an illustration of this than the on-the-record-statements of a very close acquaintance of mine (whose side I am probably about to misrepresent horribly as I do not understand his/her side, and whom I shall therefore keep nameless as a prophylactic self-defence) about the Thomas Pynchon modern classic, Gravity’s Rainbow.
I am currently reading Pynchon, and I think Gravity’s Rainbow is a tremendously good book. Aforementioned very close acquaintance, let’s call him/her C for convenience, saw my copy resting on a table and proceeded to joke about its heft. I engaged in the jokey banter, until C claimed that C could tell the book sucked because of the way the physical book – including its cover, a non-original vintage reprint – looked. I verified whether C’s argument really was that C could, in C’s own opinion, literally judge a book by its cover without reading a single line, to which C replied that that was absolutely the argument: “Only pretentious tossers read books that are that long and look like that with a name like that. The marketing machine fires books like that directly at the most pretentious readers, and it shows in the look of the physical book.”
My response was that the discussion would not be fruitful and fun, as we came from such different premises that we’d only end up insulting one another if we engaged in this debate fully, C and I. But it did get me thinking: there is definitely something very alienating about demanding the reader to do so much work to figure out what is happening and what the message is and what the writer is directing you towards, that even if it actually brings the author closer to the reader because it enlists the reader in one of the central functions of the author, that of storytelling and weaving together the causal connections between events that we collectively refer to as ‘plot’, what if you don’t feel like working too hard just now? What if your attention is divided between the book, your three kids who all want to show you what they’ve drawn and your wife who is emotionally blackmailing you for organic soy milk from the organic farmers’ market 20 miles away? What about the reader who cannot spend so much time and attention piecing together Infinite Jest, or for whom it is rationally inefficient to do so? What about rational apathy, the idea that the payoff of the book is likely to be so small that it is not worth the reader’s undivided attention, as judged by the reader himself? In that sense, a reader might well just look at the physical size of the book plus its name and decide that it’s probably not worth his time, in a risk/reward kind of way. Isn’t this a very dangerous way for a novel to fail, by alienating its reader in attempting to nestle closer to him, and tragically failing to establish the link between artist and observer that is the essence of art itself?
Enter: ABBA GOLD, which can be considered the opposite of this tragedy of alienation. ABBA’s art is in getting closer to the listener (receiver of art, observer) by getting closer to the listener. ABBA’s songs are, essentially, about the lives of the band’s fans. It is reaching out and directing the listener through identification – it is as if The Great Gatsby could somehow be about you, about your generation and your pastimes, about your problems in a direct and immediate way.
ABBA tells stories. So much so that one wonders if an entire fiction piece could be written using nothing but ABBA songs, but then oh yeah – Mamma Mia!, the musical/movie on stage/screen everywhere, a sloppy creampie of recapitalised capitalisation where the characters appeal to stereotypical viewers/listeners of ABBA and wear white linen clothes in a milieu of sunshine, sandy beaches and turquoise sea water. The plot probably has some element of romance in it, maybe with a dramatic and song-accompanied break-up as its twist, and probably has little else. Maybe an intergenerational thing, with maybe a romance thing but one which doesn’t get all pervy and disgusting. But the ABBA stories are oddly compelling.
The point is, in ABBA it is the story itself that speaks to us. It is not the story behind the story, except in the way that follows: the only story behind the story is that we are supposed to identify with the main story, and because we’re supposed to identify, the whole ABBA project suggests – behind the obvious story – that our normal, every day lives centered around procreation and its epiphenomena are really some kinds of heroic tales worthy of retelling in song form. ABBA elevates what we do, and that is why we love it. That is why it is art – it speaks to us, like some of the novels mentioned above speak to us, and but what is more, it speaks to us. Think about it.
This heavy storyline identification, the root I submit of ABBA’s incredible success, shows up in many of the elements of ABBA songs found on the GOLD record. First, the protagonists are absolutely the worst of us, apart from maybe the protagonist of Fernando. Chiquitita is clearly about an aging prostitute failing at what is possibly her last chance of duping a man into a buy-out, and who has to go back to her pimp, from the narrative viewpoint of the pimp. Take a Chance on Me is the desperate mating call of someone with very little self-appreciation and no sense of dignity. Gimme Gimme Gimme is the voice of a sex addict who wants to drown out her sense of a drab and trivial life of crushing loneliness in naturally-occurring, action-induced opioids. These stories, when really really listened to, are that unique composition of absolutely heartrending and gut-wrenching that lies perhaps at the very root of what makes stories like Les Miserables and Oliver Twist such classics that they can successfully (commercially successfully) be made into musicals. ABBA’s stories are about the lowest of the low. Next to these protagonists, our stupid mistakes of whoring ourselves out, of offering ourselves to someone without regard to how that someone behaves towards us, of just wanting a sexual partner to chase the shadows away, seem not only comparatively less severe barneys, pickles, jimmy-jacks and hairy spots; they seem shimmeringly alive, hauntingly beautiful, full of little sacrifices and devotions to one-another and thus, in a way, to the common human project. They are the glue that keeps the human race stuck together seeking mutually beneficial cooperation, though admittedly with a few kinks along the way every so often. And nobody will ever hear about these sacrifices because they are so ordinary, except in that their generalised versions provide the filling of a juicy daytime TV-shows’ proto-Machiavellian plots of failed self-interested power-trip deceptions. ABBA is the uniquely perfect elaboration of this; ABBA went where no artist had gone before, and reaped enormous rewards of fame and fortune.
And bear in mind, this was a little Swedish group of two musical couples singing showtunes in funny outfits, a group that didn’t even have a name when they first started performing together (hence my spelling of ABBA in all capitals – the name is simply an acronym of the first names of the group’s members: Agneta, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid). Now they are part of our collective consciousness. Some rise.
But there is more to the ABBA recipe than grim subject matter, properly considered. The melodies are beautiful, catchy and a great many are very very sad: pay close attention to the wailing, work-a-lousy-job-and-give-your-all-on-Friday-night intro of Dancing Queen, which your present author had to spend a moment or two even figuring out what the dominant melodic instrument was (my best guess is actually a combination: a soprano saxophone or oboe, together with a shameless-grade-reverb volume-down choir backing – the voice is oddly human but also oddly tinny and thin). This, coupled with the narrative lyrics with a diamond-drill focus on the tests and trials of the insignificant little, gives an ABBA classic their true essence – the intolerability that is perhaps an essential feature of beauty itself.
Thoughts: true beauty is always painful to observe because finding something beautiful entails its desire. We desire beauty’s innermost essence, to have or possess or come close to, but can never truly have it because beauty is something external to the self. In other words, to find something beautiful is to recognise that that something is not me, the observer (though it can be an image of the self – but all images are external, possibly), and to truly have it would be to become merged with it. It is like a kitten we want to squeeze to death because of its cuteness – really having it, forever and ever, would destroy its externality and thus its very essence. Beauty is the great tragedy of art – it is the ultimate problem of coming closer but never reaching. Beauty is so desirable as to be uncomfortable. And so is ABBA GOLD.
Because it is painful to hear about the every-day heroism of a character who appears at first glance to be so post-modernly amoral as to be almost a caricature of our self-focusing culture, a character whom if we saw on the street or in a nightclub we would find despicable for taking what we do too far – making a life of Porn when the rest of us are aiming for Music Video. But to see such heroism, all the more heroic because no songs are made about it and no related fame or even approval accompanies, is also reassuring, and human, and delicate on the finer senses: compassion, understanding, benevolence, childlike connection with another human being. What gives these stories their delicate beauty that so bolsters their identifiability-feature is the melody. Prime examples of this tool in use are Dancing Queen and Winner Takes It All, where the melodies are sadistically touching, Money Money Money where it is devious and Gimme Gimme Gimme whose 1979 desperate and dangerous intro so captivated a generation that it, or a half-arsed version of it, resurfaced 26 years later as the leading creative feature of a Madonna single. These are a few examples of the melodic virtuosity of the album, but of course it is a pretty dominant aspect in the entire record.
But despite all of the above, ABBA is not complex. In fact, it is simple, and that is one of its strengths. Namely ABBA has that ability of making snappy, poppy uncomplicated basics work to their advantage, the ability we look for in a great pop song even today (well, apart from that the singer is pretty and desire-arousing). Consider Mamma Mia, perhaps their most poppy song after the 1974 Eurovision smash hit Waterloo (of which more below). All Mamma Mia has, besides its melodic tricks all of which are simple almost to the point of the well-known Eurovision Modulation, where the song steps up a key towards the end for an uplifting effect, is a one-two rhythm which is drummed into the ears of the listener from the first beat onwards. One-two is not exactly imaginative, but in Mamma Mia it is absolutely, well, drum-tight and very disciplined. Listen particularly for the break in the drum track when the chorus begins (“mamma mia… here I go again…”), and its playful variations and little licks that are not quite drum fills but not far off when it comes back on, including even a neat little accent change and catch-up at the end of the chorus (“why why did I ever let you go?”). It is extremely neat, and the drummer, who is not mentioned in the inside cover, deserves an anonymous award or honourable mention for his part in the meteoric rise of ABBA. Maybe it’s Ringo.
The underlying argument above has so far been essentially that ABBA appeals to us because we identify with the songs – they are about us, our way of life and our choices in an abstract way – and that it also validates parts of our lives as the characters and stories are actually worse than what we do to ourselves. We like ABBA because it understands us, and it is kind to us. What, then, of the more ambitious material, such as Waterloo, ostensibly about the famous battle of the Napoleonic wars, or Fernando, in which the narrator discusses the bittersweet to the point of crushing nostalgia-of-the-defeated? Mind you, these are not insignificant productions in the ABBA canon – it was Waterloo which detonated ABBA’s explosion of musical success in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1974, and Fernando was their first non-album single in 1976. It is also their best-selling single of all time, selling over 6 million copies worldwide in 1976 alone, and it has rightly earned its place on the fabled compilation record. What are these, then, if not a break from the individualistic endeavour that forms the core of ABBA’s art, the close discussion between the artists and their fans?
Of these two, Waterloo offers very little resistance to the main thesis of this review. Although the lyrics are about the battle, it is constantly related to the personal experience of the self as a metaphor, from the first couplet onwards (“My my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender / Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way.”) The song is still about break-ups and love-following-biological-urges, and the references made to the actual battle or its participants are only there to reinforce the artistic idea behind the entire record, that such humbly trivial and personally applicable problems are actually somehow profound, worthy of the history books and akin to the great decisions of old European warlords whose actions decided the fates of entire nations. Waterloo is in fact not an exception to the ABBA-line at all, but its prime example, the key piece which first translated the ABBA-project to the great masses – that ordinary lives are worth something, something big, and that they are what makes up humanity. The prevailing discourse of calling something as pivotally important as being concerned with the entire fate of humanity is, laconically, to call such things ‘historical’. Thus there is nothing strange in the fact that the first great ABBA hit says ‘look at this great battle of history – my own woes of attempting to resist my biological urge to copulate with this subject are akin to that great battle, and have the same outcome as Waterloo did for Napoleon’. In a way it is strangely eloquent.
Fernando is more difficult; it even has some thematic instruments, a wailsome pipe and military drum for crying out loud, and the song is openly about fear of death in the roar of cannons. And actual physical death as well, not a break-up or the loss of a friend, the actual physical death of the self, in service of liberty or some other abstract and distant ideal that is separated from personal experience by at least one logical space. Fernando is a total outlier. It is the Anti-ABBA.
A clue may lie in what Fernando was – it seems that the group itself saw Fernando as somehow different in a fundamental way to all their other songs, as they finally made the decision to release it but only as a non-album single, not a part of any coherent whole in the ABBA corpus. As mentioned, it caught fire, which I admit is bizarre in light of the uniformity of the artistic message of all the other songs on the ABBA GOLD album, and how diametrically opposed to that message Fernando is.
But I submit that the appeal of Fernando is precisely its difference. It is the rare gem, the collector’s edition, the banned book or upside down stamp, the departure from the norm. It is what shows us that ABBA are not only artists with a coherent message, but people who sometimes follow their instincts that fragment the uniform image of their perceived intentions. As such, it is actually Fernando that brings ABBA closest to its listener. Bear in mind that by the time Fernando was published it was to a clamouring populus, an audience which had totally taken ABBA for its own and now demanded more and more, and which elevated ABBA’s members to superhuman status. Part of Fernando’s success as a single is probably due to this alone, but part of it, the story behind the story, is that Fernando’s whisper is simply this: We are people. We are like you. We romanticise heroes and events just as you do us. You are not alone. Releasing Fernando was a fucking great move, and it would not have delivered had it not been a lone single that was not a part of any album (until later, of course).
In Finland, like in any other ultra-stable country, danger mostly comes by surprise. It comes in rapidly dropped temperature, in aging brake discs, in making a small wrong choice a week upstream and having it build up slowly into a catastrophe that strikes when you least expect it. Had there been another element combined into the car situation your present author found himself in, say an elk or heavy holiday traffic, it is likely I would not be here to write this. But danger having struck and I being aware of it, my senses to ABBA’s art could not have been more heightened at the moment of the record’s rediscovery in my car. Imagine this: I am in genuine fear for my life, it is dark and I am alone, I even contemplate calling someone to tell them these might be my last moments if the car in front of me abruptly stops, but chose not to as that would have tied up one of my hands and thus probably caused the accident I was fearing. The house I was going to was in the perfect place to bring the car to a controlled halt, the entire drive was essentially along a straight line through impermeable woodlands and had I stopped in the middle of it I might have suffered severe frostbite before anyone could get to me. The situation was nerve-wracking.
But at the moment I put on the CD and Dancing Queen came on, I could not think about my predicament any further. And this is probably the real no-bullshit reason I am able to write this piece now, that I was able to quiet all doubt and second-guessing, and simply perform, drive, to the best of my ability and without thinking about it or visualising the accident I was going to have. When the CD was sucked in by the automated CD player and the first piano pianoed, my mind was filled with the bright-eyed Finn, who actually had dark hair but who was certainly tall and thin and pretty and who habitually wears mittens, whom I had driven 100km to see and who had a few hours earlier told me she wasn’t particularly interested in seeing me anymore. This trivial problem, and the little sacrifices and divisive exercises of true adult-grade autonomy plus the appreciation of the social rules dictating that such autonomy be absolutely respected – the what-would-people-think -aspect of any truly difficult personal-relations problem, the aspect that children and immature adults have such kick-to-the-balls trouble with – were alive and real to me, and I thought of nothing else. I was totally distracted from the actual higher-grade problem whose bad handling could have cost me life or frostbitten limb. And this, I say, is ABBA’s core-of-core appeal; that it gives our littlest the significance that we always felt it had and thought that nobody else could see. It is art, not for grand ideals, but for the little, and common, and beautiful.
 The method of its discovery in my car is probably also telling; that it just was in the centre console of some car somewhere without any comprehensible clue or trace as to how it might have got there.
 I shit you not.
 In an interestingly personalised or in-the-trenches way this little proto-debate between two private people in a private living room weirdly resembles the great structural literary debate of postmodernism, with points put forth by deconstructionalists like John Barth, whose 1967 Atlantic Monthly essay argues essentially that the techniques of what we regular Joes might call ‘normal books’, like linear narratives and such, can take us no further in developing the novel as an art form, and anti-deconstructionalist (re-constructionalist? pre-postmodernist? Arrière-garde?) critics like B. R. Myers, who still appears to churn out savage book reviews for The Atlantic, essentially arguing that if you like stuff like Pynchon you’re basically a mindless acolyte of critics and academics with no personal integrity or taste but plenty of pretension and snobbery – you get the picture. That both these sides of the same debate can be found in the same publication, albeit decades apart, and thus through the laws of commercial art critique/book reviewing appeal to the same readership is a noteworthy addition to the story. This debate is full of all kinds of complex ironies, some of which may in fact infect this essay.
 For my part I may say this sounds if anything like an overly generous interpretation of what was actually said, afforded in my efforts to make sense of what C actually said
 I keep thinking of ABBA narrators as female. This, as far as I can tell, is just because the singing voice is the amalgamation of two female voices, apart from a few rare exceptions like Does Your Mother Know, a song that people tend to skip and regard as mostly filling on the GOLD record.
 And whoring oneself out, which quite neatly can be considered to be a constant thematic or maybe even analytic or conceptual presence in commercial pop music, one certainly finds in ABBA. See, for example, the smash hit Money Money Money, a song which is essentially about how dreary it is to have to work for one’s upkeep (which most of us find a reasonably agreeable tradeoff) and how much nicer things would be if only the narrator had a rich man who could take care of her “in a rich man’s world” in exchange for her female delights. Further, the song does not appear to be in any way critical of this kind of thinking, which this quick storyline summary might suggest – any such rashly verbalised summary of such intuitive-but-taboo thinking will inevitably end up looking like a parody of something, probably the thinking itself. This, incidentally, is why sometimes a 1000-page book is needed to make a simple point. Stated as an English sentence, the so-called point of a book becomes banal, uninteresting or just not credible or meaningful.
 No pun intended. Or, maybe, yeah.
 In a peculiar twist, one of the original members of the quartet – Björn Ulvaeus, exactly half of ABBA’s load-bearing songwriting duo and thus one of the few people directly responsible for Money Money Money – is nowadays advocating money-less society. It is perhaps lazy thinking to imagine he does this because of a luxury-skewed viewpoint, or that he is paid so to advocate by a credit card company. Mr Ulvaeus could not be reached for comments, obviously.
 Whose background in musical theory is decently solid, I humbly add.
 Interestingly, just as an observational side note if nothing else: ABBA is one of the early or at least semi-early pioneers of the music video.
 Eurovision, of course, is the spiritual root of ABBA’s fame, so this simple trickery is nothing surprising. Nor is it anything to sneer at – many of the greatest bands rely on very simple tools, and the whole thing as a certain musical Occam’s razor appeal to it: if simple works and works well, why complicate it?
 Your present author would place the lost battle in the Texas war of independence of 1835-36, as the narrator recalls retreating over the Rio Grande, but I might be wrong.
 Which of course is the express subject of songs like Knowing Me, Knowing You, and absolute dynamite for individual identification/validation purposes – most of us have done it, and most of us have thought it was The Most Important Thing in the World at the time.
 Compare ‘freedom’ with ‘liberty’, freedom being the personal feeling of being free to do and go as one pleases and liberty being some summation or aggregate of the phenomenon of freedom, infinitely multiplied. Or possibly two: Free – Freedom – Liberty.