Saturday, 23 August 2008

Muziek Parade, 1981: ABBA's Agnetha and the year of the truth!

Ever since the Swedish group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, which was held in the English seaside resort Brighton, a lot has changed in the lives of these humble young Swedes. Millions of records were sold in Europe and even beyond, millions of hearts were lit up by ABBA’s cheerful and happy music. Annifrid and Benny got married during those successful years, Agnetha and Björn separated, the shadows of success. This divorce almost meant the end of the super-group. ABBA’s Agnetha explains what happened in the year of the truth.

Agnetha’s career in music already started when she was 15 years old. Ironically, it all started with a song called ‘I Was So In Love’. Two years later, she recorded that song on a tape and sent it to a local record producer, who was immediately impressed by her voice. Agnetha, as serious as she was, started to take singing lessons and it wouldn’t take long before her first single was recorded, followed by several other tunes. Since 1968, Agnetha was under contract with CBS where she recorded six solo albums, after which she sang solo in 1975 at her own record company, Polar Records. Last year she even recorded a Christmas album with her daughter Linda, who is now seven years old.
“When you are young,” Agnetha explains about her career, “you are able to do anything and when you are successful as well, it doesn’t occur to you that there’s more to life than just success. It seems strange, but everything you experience in life is a continuation of what you have done already. As a singer, I met Björn and fell in love with him. He was a musician as well, so things were as normal for us as could be expected. We were on the same wavelength, we both had success, we understood each other. The success of ABBA was an extension of our talents. Years before the Eurovision Song Contest, we already entered the Swedish qualifying round, but every time we failed to get through. You learn a lot from that, because every following year we came back with a better song. Our manager helped us to make it big with ‘Waterloo’, because for him there wasn’t a single doubt, failing didn’t even cross his mind, he had thought everything out, up to the smallest detail.”

ABBA willingly made use of the given opportunity. In the years following 1974, Benny and Björn produced one hit after the other. They could even be admired on the silver screen in ‘ABBA, The Movie’, of which the soundtrack was praised by both friend and foe. Still, things started to stagnate just a little bit, because the machine didn’t run as smoothly as before. Several experts and fans had been guessing about the reason, but in 1979 it was revealed. Despite the arrival of a baby, Agnetha and Björn’s marriage was on the rocks and a divorce was inevitable.
Agnetha: “In a normal family life, the father goes to his job in the morning and the mother stays at home with the children. What would happen when the woman went along to her husband’s job and they were together all day long? Well, that’s exactly what happened to us. We were in each other’s company all day long, twenty-four hours a day. In the beginning it’s all good fun, the success makes up for much of it, but there comes a time when it goes downhill and that’s when you start to snap at each other. That happened to us. That was the time when we started to get tired with each other, a time when we asked ourselves if maybe the birth of a second child could bring salvation, bring us closer together. In hindsight, it was already too late for that but we didn’t want to accept it. Apart from that, we thought that, if we separated, ABBA would dissolve as well. But there was no escaping it, we were really tired with each other, but still there’s that emotional connection. It’s not a decision you make out of the blue. It was an awful time, I can tell you that.”

“The first weeks after our divorce was officially announced were the hardest,” according to Agnetha, “what would the fans think, would ABBA quit, would it be a good thing if they still continued. We had a very difficult time ourselves. You know, in a way ABBA has saved ABBA. Benny and Frida were a tremendous support to us during that time. I talked to Frida for hours, friend to friend, someone who knew exactly how I felt and Frida and Benny were real confidants between Björn and me. We knew how each of us felt: terrible! I had already made a personal decision then. I wanted to quit, because I was afraid that Björn and I wouldn’t be able to stand each other because of these emotions. My mind was made up, I wanted to focus more on animals, maybe become a veterinarian. But I realized I would only makes things worse. Music is my life, I’ve been singing for more than 15 years. On top of that, that’s how Benny and Frida convinced me, why wouldn’t we see each other anymore, why wouldn’t an artistic continuation be able to help appreciate each other again?
Yes, I did fall in love again after that. I kept a low profile, but I watch carefully if I really love somebody. To have your heart broken is not an easy thing, especially if you have to remain working with your ex-husband, that’s very difficult. One of the worst things I experienced after the divorce was the recording of the album ‘Super Trouper’. I shed a lot of tears singing ‘The Winner Takes It All’. That’s why it was decided that Annifrid would record the song, but she refused, she couldn’t sing it. Strange actually, but Björn was the one who convinced me that I should sing the song. I will never forget what he said to me, not for the rest of my life. He said: “I know that what you’re going to sing is very difficult, but understand that I’ve never been able to explain what happened between us. I’m not a man of many words, everything I have to say can be found in a song. Everything that I have written in that song is about us, I know that, but I feel just as miserable as you and there are a lot more people on this planet who have experienced a similar thing. I also would like to say that you can come out of all this as a winner, as long as you think positive. And if you just don’t bother anymore, then you’ll never resolve anything.” I thought that was very sweet of him. There are more songs on the album ‘Super Trouper’ that refer to our divorce, but we both have something to deal with. Yes, the recording of the album took quite some time, but I think everyone will understand that we couldn’t do it any faster. Now we’re in a situation where we can look each other straight into the eyes and appreciate and respect each other, that’s the biggest victory for us. We’ve had to fight to get on top again, just like in the old days.”

“How our children are doing? Where their health is concerned, they’re fine and they see a lot of their father. It’s just a bit problematic with Linda, because she doesn’t understand it at all, but we’ll be able to explain everything better when she’s older. I don’t know how much better, because I have the feeling she has suffered a lot as well. She’s been very sweet to me during that time. Yes, you could say she got me through it. Some things you have to cope with on your own. That’s very difficult and she sensed that. During that period I also recorded another solo album and I did that together with Linda. You should have seen us, two crazy girls in the studio. We recorded it in Swedish, because Linda doesn’t speak English yet.”
In the meantime, ABBA still continues. If everything goes according to plan, there’s a live-album in the works, that will take us back to that wonderful ABBA-atmosphere, and that’s great for the ones who haven’t been able to attend an ABBA-concert themselves.

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