The aptly titled “Happy New Year” is one of my favorite ABBA songs. Agnetha waxes philosophical with a melancholy lament over the broken dreams of the past and the uncertainty of the future as (in the video at least) her estranged husband Bjorn stares off into the unknown.
Seems to me now
That the dreams we had before
Are all dead, nothing more
Than confetti on the floor
It’s an inspired metaphor, juxtaposing the failed search for meaning and purpose in life with so much discarded new year’s confetti. And yet as I’ve listened to the song over the last fifteen years or so, it is the next lines that have really grabbed me:
It’s the end of a decade
In another ten years time
Who can say what we’ll find
What lies waiting down the line
In the end of eighty-nine…
Here’s what gets me. The song was recorded and released in 1980 and it provides a poignant closure to the decade that made ABBA one of the two or three most successful music acts in history. While the song looks forward to that distant future of 1989, we now look back on that same year as ancient history. In 1989 I was a sophomore in high school. Now I’m forty. In 1989 cell phones were the size of bricks, cost a fortune, and were a means to call people. Now cell phones are the size of the mortar between the bricks, they are free on a two year plan, and they are a means to surf the net, watch TV, take a selfie, and maybe even call people.
In the year 2000 ABBA turned down the opportunity to go on a reunion tour of approximately one hundred concert dates. Apparently the princely sum of one billion dollars wasn’t enough to lure them out of retirement. As Bjorn Ulvaeus later reflected: ‘We will never appear on stage again. Money is not a factor and we would like people to remember us as we were – young, exuberant and full of energy and ambition.”
I don’t know which is sadder: turning down a billion dollar tour because you’re no longer the icon of the audience’s rose-tinted memory, or touring casinos into your seventies. Okay, it’s definitely the latter. But the former is sad too. Because getting old is just sad.
We were all young once. And if we were lucky then we were, like ABBA, also exuberant and full of energy and ambition. And if you’re young now, enjoy it. Because even now your youth is slipping through your fingers.
Each year brings us one year closer to the grim reaper.
As Qoheleth declares in Ecclesiastes:
Smoke, nothing but smoke.
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. (The Message)
The Bible’s great in that way. It’s got something for every occasion, including existential New Year’s Eve melancholy.
Oh, and lest you think this is too morbid for a Christian, let me assure you that the rage against mortality is in the very marrow of Christianity. Because it’s not supposed to be this way. As Dylan Thomas advised, do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Every new year’s eve the light dies a bit more. And when the dawn of new year’s day comes but a few hours later, that light doesn’t return.
So this new year’s eve, do not go gently into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of your light.