A Skinny Take: The Gypsy Girl
As Madonna takes on those who discriminate the Romany population, R.J Gallagher explores the 'gypsy girl' of ABBA.
“I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay / Ain't it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me / That's too bad
In my dreams I have a plan / If I got me a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work at all / I'd fool around and have a ball”
– Abba, ‘Money, Money, Money’ (1976)
Who would’ve thought a seemingly banal and relatively trivial pop-group could belt out such strikingly depressing, realist lyricism. You certainly wouldn’t catch Take That or The Spice Girls attempting to expose the cold heart of capitalism in song – in fact it’s near impossible to imagine Barlow singing anything other than clichéd love ballads; never mind trying to picture Posh Spice engaging in something extending beyond the realms of the pout.
The obvious irony is that that Abba went on to make millions, but 'Money, Money, Money' remains poignant regardless. Written apparently from the perspective of a ‘gypsy girl’ the song lays bare a sentiment of desperation, but also aspiration – describing the barrenness of poverty contrasted with the gypsy girl’s idealistic longing for ‘salvation’ through wealth.
Such themes are not uncommon among artists slightly less ‘pop’ (in the genre sense); and indeed many well-known musicians have presented similar narratives in verse – from Richard Ashcroft to Bob Dylan, from Scroobius Pip to John Lennon – each having been keen to articulate observations concerning this wild era in which we live, where the attainment of wealth and its endless pursuit is presented as the be-all-and-end-all of human existence.
It’s not hard to contextualise Abba’s 30 year old message in today’s terms, for not much has changed. If anything the message communicated by the gypsy girl has been amplified in recent years, the lyrics written in an era preceding the madness of ‘Reaganomics’ or ‘neo-liberalism’, Big Brother or Anna Nicole-Smith.
Certainly, whilst some women may still dream about seducing a rich man in pursuit of a life of luxury others simply exchange their dignity for notoriety by baring their breasts or starring in low-budget porn films; inspired by the likes of Katie Price or Paris Hilton – who enjoy a relatively revered status across most mainstream media channels – they too want the money, the fame, the narcissistic, meaningless lifestyle.
But these women are not alone, because we’re all guilty. Raised in a society that worships the pound-sign as if it is some kind of abstract Deity, it is almost entirely prerequisite that our nature is moulded into that of human magpies: seekers of cash, hoarders of wealth.
Even if, like gypsy girl, we find it hard to make ends-meet we can still enjoy – with a perverted, suppressed envy – observing others festering in baths of gold at the flick of a switch or the turn of a page. Cash starved Edinburgh festivalgoers even have the opportunity to visit the ‘Museum on the Mound’, where they can experience the great privilege of being allowed to gawk at one million pounds in cash (concealed behind reinforced glass and guarded by security, of course). What better a way to spend a summer afternoon?
Alternatively, the more pragmatic among us can either pull a modern day Ronnie Biggs, or take the legal, less desirable route of entering the ‘Dragons Den’ to face a small gang of celebrated greed-demons who will debase us, humiliate us and laugh at us as we ‘pitch’ our ideas to them, desperately hoping that they ‘give us a chance’ to become just like them – greedy, rich and condescending.
Maybe gypsy girl had to find out the hard way. If she ever did find that wealthy man, he might have shown her what the billionaire David Geffen meant when he said that “anybody who thinks money will make you happy, hasn't got money.” Happiness, said Roosevelt, “is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
See more of Ryan's work at http://www.rjgallagher.co.uk/