If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
Friday, April 20, 2012
SOS! THE TRAGIC STORY OF ABBA'S UNTOLD PAIN
Okay, so maybe the title of this post is something of a stretch. I mean, how sad can four millionaires be, especially four millionaires with as many hit records under their rhinestone-studded belts as the members of Abba have? True, money doesn't buy happiness, but for those of us who aren't packing 10 years-plus worth of gold records under our belts, rhinestone-studded or not, it certainly does seem that having a lot of money would go quite a long way in blunting whatever pain it is that we might be suffering from. But, then, we're not ABBA, are we?
ABBA, an acronym which stands for the first names of band members Anni-Frida (Frida) Lyngstad, Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Agnetha Faltskog, is, of course, one of the most successful pop bands in history. That's quite a feat for four musicians from Sweden, a country about the size of California, and, prior to ABBA, not exactly what you would call a major exporter of catchy pop tunes. Prior to founding ABBA, keyboardist Benny Anderson performed with a cover band called the Hep Stars, who were known to their Scandinavian fans as "the Swedish Beatles." Guitarist Bjorn Ulvaeus was the front man for the Hootenanny Singers, a folk-skiffle outfit for which he began writing his first English-language songs, including a song called "Isn't It easy To Say", which was recorded by the Hep Stars in 1968. Around the same time that the future male members of ABBA were becoming acquainted professionally, Agnetha Faltskog was having success as a solo artist, racking up a number one hit on the Swedish pop charts when she was only 17, for which she received high marks from music ritics, who dubbed her the "Swedish Connie Francis." In yet another kismet-like crossing of paths, Agnetha was performing on a Swedish TV show in May of 1969 when she met future bandmate Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who, though Norwegian-born, had been living and performing cabaret-style music in Sweden since she was a teenager.
It was shortly after that first meeting between the two future front women of ABBA that Anni-Frid met Benny while both were on tour in southern Sweden. Smitten by Anni-Frid's sultry looks and powerful voice, Benny offered to produce her next single, "Peter Pan" in September of that same year, with his friend Bjorn helping out on guitar. By that time, Bjorn and Agnetha were already a couple, as were Benny and Anni-Frid. Following a joint holiday on the island of Cyprus, during which the foursome tried out their harmonies with an impromptu performance for a group of United Nations soldiers stationed on the island, the two couples decided to record an album together. However, it wasn't quite ABBA yet. Benny and Bjorn sang lead on all of the songs, with the women providing back-up vocals on several of the tracks. A subsequent stage act garnered mostly negative reviews...except for the band's performance of a song called "Hey, Old Man", which featured the voices of all four members. Sensing that they were on to something, the boys in the band wrote more songs featuring the tight harmonies of their women, eventually penning a snazzy little glam rock-inspired tune called "Waterloo", which they recorded as an entry in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. "Waterloo" not only came away the winner, it raced up international charts, peaking at Number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The four bandmates had found their sound. Now they needed a name. Something a little more radio-friendly than the one they had been using, which was the unimaginative and immensely unwieldy "Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha, and Anni-Frid." ABBA seemed like a no-brainer. The only problem was that there was already a well-known fish canning company in Sweden called ABBA. Fortunately, the band's manager, Stig Anderson (no relation to Benny) was able to convince the band members to go with the name anyway, pointing out that it was very unlikely that anyone one outside of Sweden had ever heard of the other ABBA. Even if they had, by the time the new ABBA had followed up their initial success with a string of hits, including "Honey, Honey", "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do", and "SOS", images of fish and fish canneries had been forever superseded by the titillating image of Agnetha and Anni-Frid standing side by side in the spotlight now trained intractably on the Swedish powerhouse pop group.
So, how did a band that came together so organically go south so tragically? Well, it seems it started with Agnetha. Turns out that, despite the public accolades and critical acclaim which greeted the foursome in the early days of their international success, Agnetha was never really comfortable with the idea of being a superstar. For one thing, she hated crowds. Definitely not a plus when your entire life revolves around singing in front of thousands of fans on a regular basis. Following the band's break-up in 1983, Agnetha gave an interview in which she said that she had long been haunted by dreams in which she was being chased by hordes of fans who, on catching her, tried to eat her alive. On top of that, she suffered from an intense fear of flying, which, along with a deep-rooted sense of insecurity which no amount of artistic and commercial success could shake, and the guilt she felt over not being home to raise her two children by husband Benny, made life as a member of ABBA an ongoing personal hell for the sexy, blonde singer.
When Agnetha and Bjorn divorced at the height of the band's fame, Agnetha spiraled into a deep depression. After a few unsuccessful stabs at recording solo albums, she withdrew from the public eye, becoming, for all practical purposes, a recluse, much like that other famous Swedish star, Greta Garbo...but without the big, floppy hat and sunglasses. It probably didn't help that her auburn-haired counterpart, Anni-Frid had a much easier time finding chart success post-ABBA with a pair of New Wave-ish hits titled "Something's Going On" and "Deeper Breaths." Even her divorce from Benny, which took place around the same time that Agnetha and Bjorn hit the skids, seemed to have less of an emotional downside for Anni-Frid, who quickly found solace in the arms of Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss of Plauen, and went to live with him in his family's ancestral castle in Fribourg, Sweden where they raised two children.
But it wasn't all princely living for Anni-Frid, either. In 1998, Anni-Frid's daughter died of injuries sustained in a car accident which took place near Detriot, Michigan. A year later, her husband died of lymphoma. Fortunately for Anni-Frid, her late husband had been a good friend of members of the Swedish Royal Family, and through her association with them as well as with their support, she was able to turn her pain into gain, eschewing her former interest in music in favor of a newfound, zealous commitment to environmental issues.
And what of Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the shaggy-haired duo behind all those pop songs that made Agnetha and Anni-Frid so famous? Well, it didn't go so well for poor Bjorn, it turns out. Apparently, the former guitarist for the pop super group has been struggling with long term memory loss for some time now. Several years ago, just as the ABBA song-inspired movie Mamma Mia! was debuting in theaters, Bjorn went public with his malady, telling a reporter that he had no memory whatsoever of ABBA's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. "In interviews I said that my trousers were so tight I could not even sit in the bus on the way to the arena," he said. "But I honestly do not know if that is true or it is someone who told me about it." He added that he has tried to combat the problem by extensive viewing of old videos, and has even tried hypnosis, but the gaps in his memory remain as large as the one between Agnetha's front teeth. (He didn't actually say the part about Agnetha's teeth, but it seems like a good analogy.)
As for Benny, it seems that, of the four former members of pop music's most commercially successful international singing group, he is the only one who has not yet been visited by major tragedy. On March 15th, 2010, Benny reunited with ex-wife Anni-Frid on the occasion of ABBA's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, the man behind hits like "Take A Chance On Me" and "Dancing Queen" told the audience, "If you live in a country like Sweden, with five, six months of snow, and the sun disappears totally for like two months, that would be reflected in the work of artists. It's definitely in the Swedish folk music, you can hear it in the Russian folk songs, you can hear in in the music from Jean Sibelius or Edvard Grieg from Norway, you can see it in the eyes of Greta Garbo and you can hear it in the voice of Jussi Björling. And you can hear in in the sound of Frida and Agnetha on some of our songs too."
What more can one say, really? Except...thank you, Benny, Bjorn, Anni-Frid, and Agnetha, for having the courage to name your band after a Swedish fish cannery and, in the process, providing the world with some of the catchiest pop songs EVER.