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Our Last Summer - a reappraisal, by Perrg Tursit

By the editor, Mar 9 2020 11:21AM

Perrg Tursit

Reader in Memes, Cultural Norms, and Folk Studies

University of Ingenstans


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This exploration of a devastating and mysterious event is one of the most disturbing works to emerge from the Ulvaeus-Andersson stable.


It starts on a note of melancholy as a grim foretaste of the horrors to come. Although the summer air was both soft and warm, and the feeling apparently “right” (right in what sense? we begin to wonder), Paris only “did its best” to please the couple. The couple concerned had a drink in every café on the 2 km stretch of the Champs Elysees. There seems little point in having a soft drink in every single café, so we assume these were alcoholic drinks, and also downed in one session. During this binge, one of the couple (“you”) was engaged in what must have been a marathon monologue ranging over politics and philosophy, while the singer simply smiled, “like Mona Lisa”. Whether the singer’s expression was due to her own inebriation, or the boredom induced by her partner’s drunken ramblings, or some more sinister factor, isn’t immediately obvious.


She then tells us that she can “still” recall their last summer. The immediate thought is that this is a defensive response to the suggestion that the drunken stupor might have dulled the singer’s memory. This interpretation gains some support from the later reference to the “crazy years”, the time of “the flower power” (note the definite article – this was not just any old flower power). But is drink the only explanation? It is here that the song darkens dramatically.


During the superficially carefree “age of no regret”, those crazy years of the flower power, there lurked, we are told, a “fear of flying”. We immediately think of aeroplanes, of course, and the trip back home from Charles de Gaulle. But we are brought up short: there is also a fear of “growing old”, of “slowly dying”. All these, separately, are widely-held fears; but their juxtaposition forces us to a different conclusion. No one is simultaneously afraid of a) flying and b) growing old and “slowly” dying. Quite the reverse. Unless, perhaps, the fear is not of flying itself, but of what the journey entails.


We’ve assumed, until this point, that the couple were on holiday in Paris. But the song doesn’t state this. In fact, it gives a clue later on that this isn’t so. There’s a reference to the “tourist jam” around the Notre Dame. Perhaps, then, the couple aren’t tourists themselves? Perhaps we can assume that somehow, in their fear of flight from the city, they’ve sought refuge at its very centre, and allowed themselves to be metaphorically pulverised in the crush of sightseers. The image is one of ghastly contrast: the escapist holiday crowd; the fateful couple subsumed in its midst who are terrified, themselves, of escape.


The “chance” they then took was like “dancing our last dance” when they were “living for the day”.

Precisely what decision has been taken? And by and concerning whom? The listener can’t help here remembering that reference to the fear of slow death, and thinking of the sort of choice that such a prospect might prompt. We feel the shadow of some incurable disease falling.


But once again our assumptions are confounded. The singer’s lover is suddenly revealed to have an afterlife as a “family man”. The person who had earlier declaimed so extensively and alcoholically on the humanities has found employment “in a bank”. Furthermore, he’s become a “football fan”. Both are matters we are invited to find surprising, especially in combination. But these are only tasters for the next bombshell. The person has also now, we learn, changed names to “Harry”.


“Now” the person’s “name is Harry” we are told, unequivocally. Why on earth change names? There are various possibilities. His full name could be “Harold”, and perhaps he liked to be addressed by his full name previously (although not a preference we readily associate with the “years of the flower power”). Or he could have been “Henry”, for which “Harry” is an alternative. Or Harry could have been one of his other Christian names. Whichever of these may be the case, perhaps “Harry” was how he preferred to be known by banking colleagues and fellow football fanatics.


All these explanations seem implausible, however. It seems much more likely that the new name was chosen, like the new career and sporting interests, as part of an entirely new identity. The key here is “family man”. His new life is one of conventionality – with a family, as a man.


The shocking thought strikes us: might this new identity – so clearly male, with its high performance career choice, its macho hobby, its pugnacious royalist name, its patriarchal boast of progeny – signify an escape from its complete opposite? Why choose this new identify at all? And anyway, why go to the extreme lengths of choosing to live under a different name if all you are escaping from is a love affair?


Bit by bit, the rest of the work slots into place. Throughout the song, sung by a woman of course, the lover is simply referred to as “you”, and only revealed as a man when he has changed identity. Theirs – the lesbian relationship – was the fine “and true” romance, as opposed to the heterosexual sham relationship the lover entered into subsequently. Then was the “age of no regret” – before “Harry” (Harriet? we can only guess) took the momentous decision. No wonder the singer could only smile like Mona Lisa as they went out to get plastered before the fateful act. No wonder the “chance” felt like “taking the last dance” – it was pretty final. The “fear of flying” referred of course to the flight the lover took in order to get the operation. But the fear of the operation was ultimately outweighed by the dread of ageing as a lesbian in less enlightened times.


No wonder the singer finds it a struggle to recall, in shock and despair, their last summer – the last summer not only for them, but also of her partner as a woman.


For your lover to leave you and have a sex operation is bad enough. For her then to move in with another woman must be beyond endurance.


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"Our Last Summer"


The summer air was soft and warm

The feeling right, the Paris night

Did its best to please us

And strolling down the Elysee

We had a drink in each cafe

And you

You talked of politics, philosophy and I

Smiled like Mona Lisa

We had our chance

It was a fine and true romance


I can still recall our last summer

I still see it all

Walks along the Seine, laughing in the rain

Our last summer

Memories that remain


We made our way along the river

And we sat down in the grass

By the Eiffel tower

I was so happy we had met

It was the age of no regret

Oh yes

Those crazy years, that was the time

Of the flower-power

But underneath we had a fear of flying

Of getting old, a fear of slowly dying

We took the chance

Like we were dancing our last dance


I can still recall our last summer

I still see it all

In the tourist jam, round the Notre Dame

Our last summer

Walking hand in hand


Paris restaurants

Our last summer

Morning croissants

Living for the day, worries far away

Our last summer

We could laugh and play


And now you're working in a bank

The family man, the football fan

And your name is Harry

How dull it seems

Yet you're the hero of my dreams


I can still recall our last summer

I still see it all

Walks along the Seine, laughing in the rain

Our last summer

Memories that remain

I can still recall our last summer

I still see it all

In the tourist jam, round the Notre Dame

Our last summer

Walking hand in hand

Paris restaurants

Our last summer

Morning croissants

We were living for the day, worries far away...


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