Monday, 11 July 2011

Elegance, July 2011: Princess Frida

She still looks amazing, the dark-haired of the two ABBA singers. The love of her life, a German nobleman that gave her the title of Princess, passed away not long after their wedding day. But as Agnetha once said about her: “Anni-Frid is a strong woman. Nothing will bring her to her knees.”

Swedish monument. Although Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1945) is regarded by the Swedes as a national monument, in reality she was born in the Ballangen area Björkåsen in Norway out of a relationship between Synni, at the time only nineteen years old, and a married German soldier, Alfred Haase. The timing wasn’t very fortunate: the end of World War II also means the end of the Norwegian occupation. Alfred returns to Germany and Synni and her mother Arntine – afraid of retaliations – elude the country.

No stage fright. Grandmother Arntine goes to Sweden with the baby, where she takes every job that she can get to earn their living. It doesn’t take long for Synni to join her mother and child. When she is twenty one however, she dies of a renal disease, so that Arntine is forced to raise Anni-Frid – barely two years old – on her own in Torshälla, where she finds a job as a seamstress. She sings a lot of old Norwegian folk songs together with her granddaughter, who likes to sing along: soon she is known as the girl with the beautiful voice at school and in the neighbourhood. When she is thirteen years old, she performs for the first time officially, as a schlager singer with the Evald Eks Kvintett. “I could hardly believe that such a young girld could already sing so well,” Ek said later. “She rehearsed with ease and she was never shy on stage. The only thing I taught her was to sing to capacity: she had the tendency to hold back too much.”

Talent competition. Frida performs every weekend with the dance band with whom she sings golden oldies: “I was far too young to work, but I looked older and I lied about my age.” With the same gusto, she takes singing lessons (“school was of secondary importance to me but I took music very seriously”), she changes to a jazz band and in 1963 she forms her own group: the Anni-Frid Four. With this group she wins a talent competition and the prize is a recording contract and a performance on national television.

A star at one blow. By pure coincidence, the broadcast is on the same day that Sweden changes from left to right hand traffic: September 3, 1967. People are advised not to head out on the streets and almost the entire population is sitting in front of the television that evening. That’s how all of Sweden sees her perform ‘En Ledig Dag’ (A Day Off). Frida is an overnight star. Not some little pop star, but a real woman with a strong personality and voice. “When I think about Anni-Frid, then I think about fierceness,” is what her ABBA colleague Agnetha Fältskog says about that later on. “I got to know her long before ABBA and my first impression of her was: a strong, independent woman. And she proved that later on, nothing will bring her to her knees. She alway goes on. I admire that deeply.”

Teen marriage. Anni-Frid has to be strong, because since she was seventeen years old, she was married to her bass player Ragnar Fredriksson. Together they have two children: Hans (1963) and Ann Lise-Lotte (1967). Performing, fronting a band and taking care of two children turns out to be too much. Just like her mother left her in the care of her grandmother to be able to work, Frida leaves her own family to start working in Stockholm. The marriage doesn’t survive, the couple separates in 1969 “because we got married when we were ridiculously young,” according to Lyngstad who always remained good friends with Ragnar. “I was just as naïve as my mother when she had me. At that age, you think you can do everything.”

Agnetha. At least she can sing and she becomes a huge star in Sweden. During that time she regularly bumps into Agnetha Fältskog in the music circuit. “I liked listening to her, as a singer you are always jealous of the voice of someone else,” according to Frida. “Already then, she could sing very high and crystal clear, I had a darker sound. And in return, she loved my sound.” But they don’t get to collaborate. “We mentioned it every now and then, but we were always too busy. And we had no idea how strong the combination would be.”

Pure magic. Benny Andersson does have an idea. Since 1969, Frida has a relationship with this composer, whom she will marry in 1978, at the peak of ABBA’s success. In 1971, he produces her first – very successful – solo album. The other ABBA members are singing backing vocals on it. This begs for more, and the relationship with Benny combined with the growing friendship with Agnetha and her boyfriend Björn Ulvaeus leads to ABBA, although she keeps recording and performing on her own too. “It wasn’t easy to choose,” Lyngstad says about that. “I had been working as a solo singer for years, but at the same time I heard what happened when we played together as well. The group won. I was curious what else we could achieve with that sound.”

The ABBA sound. The secret of that sound is a mixture of a rock rhythm, a sparkling guitar, a synthesizer and two to four voices (thanks to their experiments with overdubbing that doubled the voice tracks), that could sing close harmony with audible ease. Frida’s mezzo soprano has to struggle to complement Agnetha’s high sound, which makes for the trademark, somewhat metallic ABBA sound, according to Ulvaeus. “Frida has a clear, clean, unique voice with a little edge,” he says. “She has a wide range, in the lower regions as well. She had the most experience too. We just composed in our own range, because Frida could sing everything anyway.”

Cowboy boots and hotpants. Frida is the sophisticated brunette (“sometimes red, sometimes orange, sometimes reddish – I was obsessed with my hair and dyed it far too often. You shouldn’t experiment in a hotel room with products of which you can’t read the instructions for use”), Agnetha the sexy blonde. She is the driving force behind the white cowboy boots and the pink hotpants. She enjoys the success more than the others. “I was used to large-scaled performances and I loved to tour,” she said about that later on. “Sometimes I couldn’t believe that the others were having such a hard time with all the attention. I thought: this is why you are an artist.”

Hit machine. Still, she sometimes has her doubts about their massive success. “If I’m completely honest, I have had moments that I regretted being a part of ABBA,” she says. “But never on stage, I was always happy behind the microphone. But having to be a ‘hit machine’ was difficult for all of us. We had families, but we barely had private lives and we depended on each other. I think less critical about that now. It’s better to remain positive because you can’t escape ABBA. It’s no use to have regrets about the fact that we liked to dance and dress like that during that time.”

Genealogy. The international mega success causes a remarkable reunion. Lyngstad had always thought that her father had died on his way back to Germany because the ship that he was on went down. However, in 1977 the German teen magazine Bravo publishes a poster with the genealogy of the ABBA members, which mentions the names of Frida’s parents as well. This is perceived by her halfbrother Peter Haase, who asks his father if he was in Ballangen during the war. A couple of months later, Anni-Frid meets her father for the first time, but a strong connection doesn’t develop and five years later the contact between them comes to a halt. “We remained strangers to each other,” she said about that in an interview. “I refuse to believe that he didn’t know anything about my mother’s pregnancy. I prefer to spend my time with people that stand by you in difficult times as well.”

New paths. That doesn’t happen either when ABBA falls apart in the beginning of the eighties. Just like Björn and Agnetha, Frida and Benny get divorced as well in 1981. The group quits after that. “It wasn’t a matter of arguments, it was more that we had lived out of each other’s suitcases as couples for ten years,” Frida once said about that. “We had the feeling that all had been said and done, we didn’t live our own lives anymore. It was time for something else. It says a lot about the mutual harmony that this point was reached by all of us almost at the same time. And it says something about our friendship that we have always kept in contact privately.”

Second beginning in London. Almost immediately, Frida takes up her solo career again, she moves to London and is successful again, especially in Europe thanks to the ‘Something’s Going On’ collaboration with Phil Collins. “On the one hand, it offered a tremendous creative freedom,” she said about her second beginning. “On the other hand, everything I did was compared to ABBA. I only realized later on how huge and important the group was. It was a blessing that I had been working for such a long time before my time with ABBA, so that I could rely on the routine of a working artist. If ABBA had been the first thing in my professional career, I don’t think I would have dared to sing at all after that. Even with all that experience, it has taken me quite some time to accept that I could never match that.”

Doing her own grocery shopping. Because the press in London barely leaves her alone, she moves to Switzerland permanently in 1986, to a spot that looks out on the Matterhorn. “I already knew Zermatt because of my skiing holidays with Benny,” she says. “Swiss people are not impressed with famous people and there was nothing I wanted more than a normal life. Simply doing some gardening, doing my own grocery shopping. On television I see one talent competition after the other with people who want nothing more than become famous. I can’t speak for others, but according to me it’s better to have a normal life.”

Prince. This normal life comes to an end when Lyngstad gets married for the third time in 1992, to a five year younger nobleman and architect: Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss van Plauen, which turns her into Her Serene Highness Princess Anni-Frid Synni Reuss, countess van Plauen. It’s love at first sight for the couple: he leaves his wife for Anni-Frid. They get married in Denmark so they don’t violate the German nobility. “The title is a non-issue for me,” she said at the time. “The press thinks it’s very interesting, but for me it is not. We recognize something in each other, that’s the only thing that matters.”

Friends with the Queen. Still, the marriage resembles a fairytale in a way. The society welcomes Frida with open arms almost immediately. She already knows Queen Sylvia: in 1976, she sang ‘Dancing Queen’ with ABBA for the royal couple’s wedding and as well-known Swedish ladies they regularly bump into each other. Thanks to Heinrich, who went to boarding school with King Gustav and remained friends with him, Frida gets to know the Bernadottes privately as well. She becomes one of Queen Sylvia’s closest friends and she regularly accompanies her in a discrete manner on working visits. The couples spend a lot of time together and even go on a holiday together, to Bhutan.

Tragedies. Daughter Ann Lise-Lotte dies in a car crash in 1998 near Detroit and one year later, Frida loses Heinrich to lung cancer. The grief breaks down her usual optimism. “I was happier with Ruzzo than I had ever been in my whole life,” she says in an interview. “I was in my fourties and every insecurity had faded away, it was a good period in my life, everything fell into place. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s completely unnatural for a mother to survive her daughter. Just like you can’t imagine that you have to watch your life partner die.”

Wonderful moments. After a long retreat wherein she barely leaves her house for months on end, she comes back to life. “Life has pushed me in a different direction,” she says in 2001. “Crises shape you, they point you to the fact that you have to cherish the wonderful moments. To try every day to be happy about something and to make something out of life. To dig a little deeper to find out what really matters in life and not pay too much attention to superficialities, that sadly seem to become more important these days. Be who you are, be happy with what you’ve got. There is a reason for your existence, for that reason you have to live on.”

Family takes priority. She devotes most of her time to environmental and child protection and her loved ones. “Family is very important to me,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was grown up that I realized how difficult it must have been for my mother and my grandmother. I didn’t face the sadness in my life on my own. I have a son, a son-in-law, a grandson and two stepdaughters who support each other. It’s very comforting to have each other and to live with each other, no matter in what way. I use the word ‘family’ in the widest sense of the word possible, my friends are a part of it too. All those people together give your life a meaning.”

Reunion? Although Frida says that she lacks the motivation to start performing again, the wildest rumours are circulating that ABBA would get together for a one-off charity concert. Frida: “Agnetha and I have discussed this several times, but we both feel that other things become more important when you get older. I never say never, but I’m afraid it won’t happen. Even we realize that something magical happens when we are together somewhere. But it’s also a lot of fun to celebrate ABBA in a different way, like we do at premieres of the musical or the movie. I have the impression that our presence brings about an enormous joy and it gives me the opportunity to enjoy the things that I have done earlier on in my life. I didn’t have the time to actually enjoy it then. That’s the beautiful thing about this period in my life: every now and then standing still and enjoying things, without being in a hurry.”


karin said...

Thank you so much Michel for this marvellous article!

Monica said...

Very nice article thanks Michel.

Fridalicious said...

Fantastic article and thank you for the translation, Michael!

I did not understand the part with hotpants.. lol, and we find out some interesting things.

So this was a recent interview?

Anonymous said...

Hi Michel ,how are you my friend ? well i hope........Thankyou for shareing i noticed your blog mentioned on abba4ever i also wonder if this is a recent interview from Frida or old comments have been qouted for this article ?


Michel said...

Thanks for commenting everybody! I can't imagine this magazine actually talked to Frida recently so they probably used quotes from the past. But I think it's fairly well-researched and accurate and it's a nice surpise to see such an extensive six-page article in this glossy magazine.

George said...

"But I think it's fairly well-researched and accurate"

I disagree, many quotes are misstated and taken out of original context.
I imagine Frida asking (again) after this article: "Do you always beleive everything you read about us?"

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting article, but I must agree with George. There are many quotes which aren't genuine, I think. Not only those ones about Frida and Agnetha(which are obviously false), but also other, like those ones about Frida and Ragnar's marriage.

I do think most of ABBA fans aren't careful or attentive in reading ABBA articles. This is a great pity, since this is the reason for so many misunderstandings regarding ABBA members - mainly about Frida, I dare to say.

Jane A.

Anonymous said...

I agree with George and Jane A. - there are factual inaccuracies and dubious quotes all over this thing. She wasn't with the Anni-Frid Four when she won the contest and was on Hylands Hörna, for example. And I thought Ruzzo died of lymphoma, not lung cancer.

There's countless other dodgy "facts" and quotes throughout. Ruzzo left his wife for her? I've never heard that before. I also tend to doubt Frida was dying her own hair in hotel rooms. Are there sources for any of this?

I do appreciate you posting this, Michel. Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

And she waqsn't a big star in Sweden from the start. Het first singels didn't chart at all.

Anonymous said...

You can't base everything on chart positions. She was very well known but was singing schalger, jazz and evergreen stuff, not so commercial for the pop charts. And the Anni-Frid Four was still in existence at the time of the Hylands Horna appearance although EMI obviously saw her as a solo recording artist from then on.

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