Dispatch from Lake Worth

In which the author contemplates lingering summer, Swedish pop music, and flights over the Atlantic, whilst announcing a Big New Sale.

Hello My Friends:

John Cutrone here from Convivio Bookworks in Lake Worth, Florida. It's late September, the Feast of San Gennaro today, just a few days 'til the equinox, and while that means full autumn in most places, here in this humid land, in this ninth month of the year, summer just digs its heels in deeper. We're never sure if it actually is the hottest month of the year or if it just feels that way. Our minds get muddled as we breathe in air that is just as thick and humid as that which we exhale, and this is the root behind all you hear about Florida. Every day has felt the same since June. Come late September, the monotony has brought even the most reasonable of us to the brink. The repercussions sometimes last for months, and manifest themselves in the people you read about who go and paint anti-Hillary messages on innocent crabs or who steal telephone poles or use live alligators as weapons to hold up gas stations. We are drunk on summer and won't have an ounce of good sense until the first cold front comes through to shake us out of our collective stupor. If you live in a place where pumpkins are fattening on the vine and where the scent of apples is in the air, you are lucky, indeed. Sound thinking, most likely, accompanies your days.

Speaking of apples, they are the cover stars of our Convivio Book of Days calendar for September, and though I know the month is more than half done and I'm only now letting you know about it, well.... see above, then click here for the calendar, my gift to you. It features a beautifully reasonable painting called "Harvest" by Levi Wells Prentice, and still you have a week or so to enjoy it before the October edition takes its place.

What's also had me in a bit of a stupor since the month began is big news out of Stockholm: two weeks ago, ABBA, the Swedish band best known for "Dancing Queen" and the musical Mamma Mia! held a global virtual press conference event, which I watched that day with a measure of mild curiosity as it unfolded. I loved ABBA in my earlier days, but a long time had passed between then and now. Still, I'd known this event was coming for well over a week, and the hype about a major announcement had been slowly building over several days. The marketing, in fact, was brilliant. I dug up my old ABBA T-shirt the night before, the one I bought in 1982 (ABBA: The First Ten Years), so I could wear it for the event, and I tuned in on YouTube at the announced time and waited and answered emails on a laptop as I did. The event began, and it felt a little goofy at first, the host rambling and looking a bit out of her comfort zone, but I watched nonetheless with one eye as I typed simple replies to emails with the other –– Yes, No, Perhaps, Great Idea! –– as the scene on my desktop computer cut from Stockholm to Berlin to Rio de Janeiro and New York and Sydney and to London. And then the scene shifted away from the awkward host and a video began: There was the sound of a crowd, and some familiar sounding synth chords, and I stopped replying to emails. I soon shut the laptop. My focus was entirely on the video: I was hearing brand new music unfold from ABBA, their first new recording in nearly 40 years.

Cut now to 1981. I was a senior at Deerfield Beach High School. Friend count: pretty much zero, save perhaps for the foreign exchange student from Korea who would occasionally chat with me. I was co-editor of the yearbook, I found every excuse possible to skip P.E., and it was ABBA that provided the soundtrack to my life, the music I heard in my head as I went about my daily business. I'd begun dabbling in other music, too, like Blondie and the Police and the Dead Kennedys, but ABBA? Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Ani-Frid were my constant companions, my love, my life. Which might have been fine for a kid in Australia or the UK or West Germany, but here in Florida, where the most popular band in the world just wasn't very well known, my fate was sealed for all four years of high school, and beyond: it was rare to find me palling around with anyone, and musically, I was an outcast. Very little of the music I loved ever made it to Y-100 or WKPX or any of the other local radio stations. You get used to this, and you grow into your high school role: John Cutrone: Loner.

Just over a week ago, my niece turned 15. She appears to me not a loner. She has friends, at least a few, so that's good; though I never hear anything about the music she likes, I'm guessing her tastes run more mainstream than her uncle's. And when her folks asked what she wanted for her birthday, she surprised us all: she wanted a ukulele, and she wanted flying lessons.

I don't remember my co-editor on the yearbook doing a whole lot. It was my idea, for instance, that the 1982 yearbook theme would be Taking Flight. The idea, well, flew, if you will, and I think it was Mrs. Colyer, the science teacher, who offered the services of her son, who flew a small plane. "He can take you up for some aerial shots," she said (and we'll place this under the category of Things Public Schools Would Never Allow in 2021). We all thought this was a swell idea, and very necessary. And so it was set: Mrs. Colyer's son would load two or three of us into his small plane and take off from the Pompano Beach Air Park on an autumn afternoon so we could shoot photos for the yearbook.

The Friday before, it was me who was sent to photograph the Homecoming Game. All the other kids on the yearbook staff were either on the football team or in the band or were busy being Homecoming Queen, while I, being unpopular, had nothing much to do. So there I was, on the field, camera around my neck for the first time, photographing a game I did not understand. I won't lie: it felt a bit empowering, being out there at night in a social setting, rather than in class, and on the field no less! The feeling didn't last, though. When the First Half was done and while the band got up from the bleachers to march on the field and play, I finished shooting the last of 36 exposures with my Canon AE-1, and there, at Deerfield Beach High School's Bucks Stadium, with the bright field lights shining in my eyes, I opened up the back of the camera and began rewinding the film. To make matters even worse, I did the same exact thing with another roll of film at the end of the Second Half. Two rolls of film, the only photographs of the Homecoming Game, ruined, by the same guy who had been trying to explain to the other kids at school why "The Name of the Game" was such a great song.

As a result of this catastrophe, I was banned by our faculty advisor from the flight over Deerfield High. The real estate in the plane was too valuable. In retrospect, it was the right decision. Phil Cave and some other photographers who knew what they were doing took off after school with Mrs. Colyer's son, while I drove home in my hundred-dollar 1966 Pontiac Catalina with bench seats, "Waterloo" on the cassette player.

Forty years later, and here is my niece, in a 2-seater plane with an instructor, entering her 16th year on this planet and now taking the controls of the plane and flying out past the peninsula and over the Atlantic, and through the windows, nothing in her view but blue: blue sky, blue ocean. It was, she said later, the most amazing thing she's ever done. I believe her.

In 1981, ABBA decided to take a break and they recorded what, for forty years, was their final song together. It is said that when Agnetha finished singing the solo for "The Day Before You Came," she took her headphones off and slipped out the back door of the studio and that was that. The song, I think, is a masterpiece, delivering what people don't initially notice from ABBA: a simplicity that conceals an underlying complexity based in melancholy. Which is what informs my tastes to this day, in music, in story, in getting through each day. Here's the song (better, in my view, if you just listen and create your own images, rather than watch the video). Decades have passed but still I listen to this song and make new discoveries, and that, I think, is part of its brilliance.

And here we are, forty years later. Back at the press conference, halfway through the new ABBA video, the one for the first of their new songs, "I Still Have Faith in You," I feel a knot rise in my throat and my nose begins to run. By the time it's done, I am sobbing, uncontrollably. I have yet to unpack this, to understand what it means, but there you have it. I don't know if it's the song itself, (which is a bit saccharine, but hey, they're all in their 70s; they get to do what they want at this point), or if it is the abbatars––the magical avatar younger versions of themselves that are performing it through cutting edge motion capture technology, or if it is me thinking of how forty years feels like yesterday and not, and of all the ones I love who have come and gone in that flash of time. It's all left me a bit shaken, a bit unsure of where I am in the stream of time. A stream that logically appears linear, and yet has never felt more like an expanding spiral to me than it does now. According to ABBA, they performed so many of their songs so many times using that motion capture technology that the concert that will be performed live by their avatars next spring is one that can be expanded upon and could go on for decades into the future, long after they themselves are gone. And that, I guess, is some powerful music. It makes me wish we could all have some time in a motion capture studio.

(By the way, the other new ABBA song released on September 2 is much more purely ABBA. It's called "Don't Shut Me Down." Their new album, Voyage, is being released November 5. See more about this avatar experience here.)

It's looking good for us to return this autumn to the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in Lake Worth and maybe even Fort Lauderdale. But we're still bringing back the big autumn Street Fair Sale this year!

Now through Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos), use discount code STREETFAIR at checkout for $10 off your purchase of $75 on everything in the shop, and get free domestic shipping, too! What's new? A big bevy of brand new advent calendars from Germany. Lots of great new hand embroidered tea towels by my mom (Millie's Tea Towels––Mom's been embroidering every day!) plus more tea towels hand printed by the folks at Kei & Molly Textiles in New Mexico (as well as eco-friendly reusable cloth bags and compostable sponges, all with fun Kei & Molly prints). And of course lots of great new artesanías méxicanas for Dia de Los Muertos: Day of the Dead. New Christmas goods from Sweden and Germany arriving soon, too. Shop here!

I realize this email is a confession ("My name is John, and I (still) think ABBA are amazing"). In light of this, I hope you will, like the exchange student from Korea, still be my pal.


"Thank you, and write when you can."
 Convivio Bookworks
 Inspired goods from around the globe and close to home...
 Books and broadsides, made by hand in Lake Worth, Florida.

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