by Agnes Krup | bio

After three and a half hours of kids’ songs, I inform my 8-year-old daughter grooving in the backseat that it is my turn to listen to my music. We bargain and agree on one album. After that, it will be her CDs again for the rest of what is probably going to be a six-hour drive from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Dennis, Mass., calculating for some heavy traffic around the Sagamore Bridge spanning the Cape Cod Canal.

I rummage through the CDs I tossed into the rental car’s glove compartment. This is my one chance, and I don’t want to blow it. I am torn between Mozart violin sonatas, the Kronos quartett’s recordings of music based on African motives or some fusion Latino jazz by the Panamese pianist Danilo Perez. I settle on ABBA.

When I was 11, I watched my first Grand Prix d’Eurovision song contest. This annual event, presented live on television throughout Europe, features one band or artist from each European country performing for the honor of best pop song of the year. Think of it as American Idol in a Miss Universe format, but as tedious as a bad Oscar night.

The Grand Prix has had its ups and downs in popularity over the last
decades, but it has refused to die, and since the Finnish heavy metal
band Lordi shook up the event last year it has enjoyed quite a comeback.

That first year I remember watching, 1974, was probably the Grand
Prix’s best year ever. I watched from the sofa in my grandparents’
living room and was on my the edge of my seat with tens of millions of
viewers when four young Swedes nobody had ever heard of walked out on
stage, belted out "Waterloo" and started to write one of pop music’s best chapters ever.

Every single Abba released in the decade after this first huge hit was perfect. There was no audible intellectual effort. You would never worry about the band’s artistic development or which song Björn wrote and which one was by Benny. Instead, you could turn on the radio, catch a new song and you’d instantly know that it was ABBA’s unique, luxurious sound: It would go straight to all the sensitive parts of your body and stay with you. It was the best feeling in the world, so good that it was embarrassing.

I lost ABBA when that sense of embarrassment became too strong. For decades, my life was rarely about things that made me feel good without thinking. Life was supposed to be all about the intellectual effort: career and the sophisticated tastes of the people I met, especially men. ABBA was among the first and most obvious casualties of a life of self-controlled pretense.

From a rest area close to the Cape Cod Canal, I call my friend Antje in Berlin.

"What are you doing?" she asks.

"Listening to ABBA in the car," I say.

"Ah! I have a dream …," she sings back at me.

I never particularly liked "I Have a Dream"; I always found the part with the children’s chorus particularly cheesy, until my friend Antje told me that the song was one of her very favorites and that the use of the children’s chorus was simply ingenious. Antje freely confesses to the fact that she never cleans the house without listening to ABBA, pretending that the broomstick is her microphone and singing along with every song as she sweeps.

Mind you, my friend Antje does not sing along the way most of us would. She is a professional musician, a prize-winning singer/songwriter with a degree from Berklee College in Boston. Annifrid and Agneta may have unmistakable timbre, but Antje has been said to have "the voice of an angel" by a renowned American music critic. She has released a few albums and written a number of songs for a popular soap, one of which has become so popular young brides-to-be keep requesting her permission to walk down the aisle to it. (Click here to listen to some of Antje’s music online.) 

I met Antje when my daughter was hardly a year old. She had taken over our local Brooklyn Music Together franchise, a nation-wide music program for young children. The toddlers were mesmerized by her voice and the soft strumming of her guitar; I noticed the accent of a fellow German.

During the difficult years of my separation and divorce from my daughter’s father, Antje became one of the most supportive members of my family of choice. She came to our house for dinner at least once a week, embraced my daughter, whined about the state of the world with me and was simply there.

She also was no fool. She knew that she would always be 10 years older and 10 pounds heavier than Norah Jones. She fought for the seven-o’clock slot at the legendary Living Room instead of accepting the 10 o’clock. Just after her 40th birthday, she decided that it was too hard, packed up and moved back to Berlin. There, she has built what is at this point the largest and fastest-growing Music Together franchise in Europe, which is now employing three teachers and has expanded to 30 classes.

Besides being a phenomenally successful business woman, Antje is also completing a CD of her own children’s lullabies — she is currently in the studio every day, recording the songs.

"This is what I really, really want to do," she said to me. "All of a sudden, it’s all coming to me so easily."

Before Antje left, she brought ABBA back into my life. A few years younger than I am, she was barely in elementary school at the time "Waterloo" was released. On her website, she cites the band as a major musical influence, like some historical icon. She has explained to me over the years why this music is so great: the rich harmonies characteristic of the ABBA-sound, the quality of the lyrics and the difficulty of the melodies (try to sing "Fernando" or the incredibly sexy "Gimme Gimme Gimme" as you vacuum and you’ll know what I mean).

Perhaps it took Antje’s professional permission to make me appreciate ABBA again. But it wasn’t only ABBA. During the years Antje and I were so close, I learned to give myself permission to appreciate again many things that I had relegated to the realm of guilty pleasures. Through her, I became a lot less stuck up and I laughed a lot more.

What on earth makes a pleasure guilty? I am not talking about the obvious ones, such as the slice of cheese pizza, since a little guilt is in order there. (I will confess that one of my favorite vacation sins is to take a cold beer into the outdoor shower, a slice of lime wedged into the bottleneck.)

But there is a different category: the things that make women cry and that men just don’t get: a song, a movie. I am not saying that everybody has to like "Bring in the Clowns," just that it’s perfectly OK if you do.

"I miss you," I tell Antje in that parking lot.

"Knowing me, knowing you," she sings over the phone.

"There is nothing we can do," I wail back and get into the car.

I am going to crank the volume on "The Winner Takes It All" and bawl my eyes out until we have crossed the Canal bridge. I only hope to stir in my daughter, sitting in the backseat, an appreciation for the pleasures in life, guilt-free.

Agnes Krup is a literary agent and lives in Brooklyn Heights with her 8-year-old daughter. She grew up in Hamburg, Germany and has called New York City her home since 1994. For the record, in 2005, "Waterloo" was voted "All-Time Best Song of the Eurovision Song Contest."

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