Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Libelle, 1977: Frida, after years of bad luck and sadness: "Not ABBA, but Benny is the best thing that ever happened to me"

The whole world knows them: blonde Anna and dark-haired Frida, the two great girls from ABBA. Smiling, winking and just a little provoking, that's how they are standing on stage and beaming on thousands of television screens. As two inseparable friends. But is this for real?

A couple of times, just for a second, they stepped out of character. All of a sudden their smiles didn't go with the glances they exchanged any longer. Those glances were cold and snappy. Ever more often after that they started turning their backs to each other during their acts. That way it should be less conspicuous that they actually couldn't look each other in the eyes any longer. They were asked about it in interviews. What was going on with Anna and Frida? The blonde girl replied astutely: "Apart from the performances we are obviously not always as thick as thieves. We see a lot of each other and that's when little things can become a little irritating. That's all." She would liked to have said that nothing's the matter. That those spiteful glances were nothing more than stage fright. But too many people would not have believed an answer like that. So the truth was disguised by an explanation that anyone could have made up. Frida tried to be a little more honest: "Actually, it has annoyed me that Anna always put herself in the foreground. She was the eye-catcher of the cameramen. The boys Benny and Björn can hardly be seen on the screen in close-up and I very rarely. And I didn't like that very much, although it actually isn't her fault. She simply comes across as being more sympathetic than me. She is more spontaneous, she smiles a lot and is more open to other people. I have a more inhibited personality. That's why I look arrogant on television, but I can't help it."
This was a very daring statement coming from someone from ABBA. None of the four group members is very open-hearted about their personal lives. This is not Swedish rigidity but a mutual agreement that should protect the group's slick popularity against scratches and dents. The four group members should always be beaming with happiness, and not just on stage. That's the way it should be when everyone likes you. They always have to look like four Sunday's children who - after a smooth childhood - don't want to do anything else than make music that can be enjoyed by the young and the old. Only then millions of people will keep buying their records. And that's the most important thing to Anna, Björn, Benny and Frida who seem to beat all the Beatles' records after only three years of popularity. Soon they will have sold more records and be richer than the British quartet.
Anyone who ever thought that something like Beatlemania would never occur again, knows now that he was wrong. Everywhere where ABBA appears, thousands of fans are waiting for them. The venues wherein they perform, no matter how big, are packed to capacity. The ABBAmania is only a little quieter, just like their music. It's not real pop, raw and with lots of beating drums. The Swedish foursome is bringing something different to the table: melodic songs, that are even liked by children. Father is pleased to look at the girls, who have the right amount of sexiness without crossing the line. And mother is interested in "what will they be wearing this time". It's a show for the entire family. An enjoyable unity, wherein there is no room for difficulties that everyone has to go through at some time. That's why the quartet has all the reason in the world to be not too open-hearted.

The happiness that they radiate should not be overshadowed by the true story about the tensions between the girls. That's why Frida's words were rather daring, too open-hearted for a group about which no bad word may be spoken. In the eyes of the public, the girls are meant to be close friends who confide in each other with their deepest secrets over their morning coffee. While the boys are working in the studio, composing, deliberating, taking care of business, they should be inseperable and tell each other about the spats with their husbands or the most intimate happiness they have experienced. But anyone who takes the trouble to put together the pieces of Frida's life like a jig-saw puzzle, knows this can't be the case. Her life was too different from Anna's. After everything she has been through, it's no surprise that - to Anna - the dark-haired girl will always remain the odd one out in the group's harmony. She - Anna, who's actual name is Agnetha - is the youngest group member and she has always had a life that was running smoothly. Her father was active in the show business and he made good money from it. With his help, his talented and pretty daughter just had to reach out and grab her success. The only scandal in her career was that her pants once fell down while she was on stage, but at the time she was only six years old. The audience just couldn't stop laughing. The most horrible thing she experienced as a teenage singer immediately turned into a commercial success: her engagement came to an end and inspired by so much sadness, she wrote a song that moved the entire country and brought in a lot of money. After that she met the piano player Björn, married him and joined ABBA. Together with the other three group members she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 which made her, together with her husband and child, even richer than she already was.

How different was Frida's life! Her road to a little happiness was long and bumpy, and every now and then rather dark. She didn't have a rich dad who took care of things for her. She was born on 15 November 1945 in Bjorkaasen, a small village near Narvik in Norway. In the civil register she was named Anni-Frid Lyngstad. It was made up of her grandmother's first name and her mother's last name. Perhaps it was all for the better that little Anni-Frid didn't carry her father's last name. He was a man named Alfred Haase, an officer in the German army, that occupied Norway during the war. Her mother was nineteen when she met him and fell in love with him. Shortly after it became clear that she was pregnant, he was called back to Germany. The war was coming to an end. And Synni - that was her name - was scorned in the village because she was expecting a German baby. This hurt her very much but she found comfort in the thought that he would return. That's what he had promised. In silence and without being too happy about it all she gave birth to her baby and she raised her together with grandmother. And while little Anni-Frid was making her first noises, got her first teeth and learned how to say 'mama', Synni waited, the entire cold and lonely winter long. The war was over, but Alfred did not return. She started having doubts. Did he just say this to get rid of her and to make their goodbye less painful? Another winter came. Anni-Frid was taking her first steps and Synni bought shoes for her, but her father didn't come. And she was too sad to fight for her life when she became seriously ill. She was twenty-one and Anni-Frid two when she died. And grandmother, who was left with the child, understood that the little girl wouldn't get a fair chance in the village. To everyone who knew her, she would remain a child of the despised occupant. That's why she decided to move to Sweden, a country that remained impartial during the war. That's where people would be less dismissive about her origins than in Norway.

Even before ABBA existed, Anni-Frid once told about how she tried to find her father: "All traces turned out to be a dead end. The only thing they could tell me in Germany was that he probably died at sea. The cargo-boat that carried the troops was scuttled by an allied torpedo near the coast of Denmark. I'm positive that he would have returned otherwise. Thankfully I still had my grandmother. She was really a sweet human being. She encouraged me in everything I did and during the long winter nights she taught me old folk songs. That's how I got my first singing lessons from her."

Still, Frida doesn't have a lot of wonderful memories of her childhood. It was a difficult time. In the Swedish city Eskilstuna, grandmother tried to make a living by working hard as a seamstress. Frida spent a lot of time on her own. Then she would sit at home, singing to herself, all the songs she had learned. These were good exercises, because at school she wasn't particularly good at anything, except singing. When she was eleven, she performed for the first time as a singer and when she was thirteen she joined a local band. But to be able to join that band, she had to lie about her age and tell them she was sixteen. This wasn't very difficult for her, because she made a very independent impression. And with that band, she performed at a restaurant.

Life started to look up for her. And in this excited state of mind, within a day she fell in love with the leader of the band, the bass player Ragnar Fredriksson. He had a second job on the side as a furniture salesman and that's how he managed to make enough money to start living together with Frida. It was all very romantic and she didn't know any better than to think that this was it. But in reality she didn't have any clue what she was doing with her young life. When she was sixteen, they got their first child, son Hans. Three years later, daughter Lise-Lotte was born. But this second child didn't seal a happy marriage. Soon afterwards, she and Ragnar separated. With pain. They had been happy in their childlike way, but when Frida started discovering herself, she realised she already had a whole life behind her before her actual life had begun. She wanted to move forward, achieve something, become famous. She talked about this for days with Ragnar. When he offered to raise the children, she felt that anything was still possible. That there was still a way out of the dead end road she had found herself in. And she made the hardest decision that a mother could make: "At the time I was known as a happy little singer, but that was just a charade. The reality behind it was utterly sad. It's a pity I have to say this, but when I decided to leave Ragnar and the children, there were people that were very cruel to me. And they really should have known better. They said I simply didn't care about the children. And that wasn't true at all. I only knew that Ragnar could take better care of them than I could. That's why I let them go. Don't let anybody think that's an easy thing to do. You hurt yourself and you keep feeling that, all those years that follow."
That's how they went their separate ways. Without holding a grudge, alone, but very sad about their failure. The doubts whether it would have been better to give it a second chance remained. Frida's only comfort was that she became very successful soon after her divorce. She was lucky with her very first television performance. That night, Swedish traffic would change from left to right. The authorities had advised everybody to stay at home so that they would have enough time to move all the traffic signs to the other side of the road. The entire country saw her talent that evening. That's how she became famous, long before ABBA was even in the picture. And one day, there was Benny, another celebrity from the Swedish show business.

This Benny Andersson also had a peculiar life behind him already when they met each other in a club in Malmö, where they coincidentally both had to perform that same evening. Of course she knew about his history. Who didn't in Sweden? The papers had been full of stories about him. Before he became famous, he had been a somewhat dreamy boy, who had to be forced to go to school by his dad every morning. The lessons in school didn't interest him at all. Two years after he graduated he still didn't know exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to become someone in music. At some point, he had had two piano lessons and that was sufficient to be able to get music out of every instrument he laid his hands on from then on. By coincidence, he was asked to fill in with the Hep Stars, a rather well-known group in Sweden at the time. It was the time of the Beatles and Beatle hairdos, but he came in dressed neatly in a suit-jacket with tie. One month later, he had completely turned around, with long hair and jeans. The Hep Stars didn't let him go and he made a lot of money during that time. Still, he and his colleagues went bankrupt after a while. They had not taken care properly of their easily earned money. Benny hardly got the chance to work himself out of his financial problems. His fiancée took care of that. For years he had been living with her in secrecy: a girl named Christine Grönvall, his former girlfriend from school. Together they had two children. But all this time this had been kept secret from the fans. And just when the Hep Stars went their separate ways, Benny and Christine's adolescent love was over too. Shortly after the break-up, she was so full of resentment that she blurted out to the press: "You can write that this handsome, popular Benny has been living together with me for years. You just write that on behalf of me and his children, for whom he didn't have any room in his little glitter world. If he talked to them at all, it was always about the Hep Stars' records. Once, I was allowed to go on tour with them, but I couldn't travel along with them. I was kept hidden and during the shows I was sitting backstage on a stool."
That's how Benny was exposed in public. As a father and as a pop idol. He learned his lesson: "My experiences with Christine are the reason that I never tell anybody anything about my personal life. After that, I have had a very hard time getting any work. And my children? I can only think about them with nostalgia."

Only after four years of slaving away to get rid of his debts, Benny was able to think about the future again. He met Björn and realised that they got along really well. The good times of getting to work and making music seemed to return. And then he met Frida in this club in Malmö. He already knew her as that little singer, who sang those delicate, serious songs. Their conversation started out about their job, about the differences between her songs and his and Björn's repertoire. But then they discovered how wonderful their talk was. And before they realised they were listening to each other's life story full of interest. After that first meeting they kept thinking about each other. Their experiences with their adolescent loves and with the children, who they didn't see any longer, seemed similar. Then they knew that they had both met someone who understood them. Not long after that they ran into each other in a radio studio and they made an appointment. Since then they have been inseparable.

Meanwhile, Benny and Björn kept working on their musical plans and the idea of ABBA was born. The boys would compose and perform the music and the girls would be the faces of the group and sing. Everything seemed to be in the right place, but Frida remained an outsider. She was having difficulties in adjusting to the ABBA formula of 'oh, how happy we all are'. Despite the success, she couldn't simply forget about Alfred Haase, Ragnar, Synni and the children. But Anna and Björn didn't really feel like dragging along all those difficulties from the past. They thought they should be forgotten. Only Benny understood. That's why Frida once said: "Not ABBA, but Benny is the best thing that ever happened to me." And she showed it, even on stage. Now everything has been cleared up between the four of them. The acts and the dance moves have been adjusted. Frida is getting her share in the foreground as well. The girls are singing less in unison and more and more they are taking turns. The millions that the quartet have earned together with their manager Stig Anderson, are safe again. The quarrels have been talked out.

"It's all peaceful now," says Frida. They keep their private lives as separate as possible, but they still spend their summers together on the island they have bought together. And Frida's son Hans is welcome there as well. Perhaps she and Benny will finally get some peace to start thinking about marriage. Until now, Frida is still not in favour of such a thing: "We don't know if that would be a wise decision. So much has happened. Although we would love to have a baby, but since we are ABBA, that will be very difficult. That's why we say to each other: "We are happy with the children that we've got."

3 comments:

Monica said...

So Agnetha married the piano player-huh?!! Oh it is so sad that after all they have done successfully that people/journalist's still made up all these stories. Only half their facts are correct and the fighting part is ridiculous.

Angela said...

Who would want to be famous and have things that aren't true being said about you.

jual hajar jahanam said...

times their togetherness is really beautiful, however it