Monday 30 July 2012

Story, January 1981: ABBA's music is keeping a mortally ill little boy alive

Making millions and millions every year with your music is very nice. But keeping a five-year-old boy alive with your music, now that's a different story. ABBA knows something about that.

One letter out of the tens of thousands that are being delivered at the offices of the ABBA management. A letter from grateful parents. At first, Agnetha doesn't even want to talk about it. It's an emotional matter between these parents and ABBA. Finally, she hands over the letter for us to read if we promise that we don't mention any names. It's a moving letter.
"Our litte son has become a victim of a traffic accident," the father writes. "He has been hit by a truck and brought over to the hospital more dead than alive. We were desperate. We didn't know what to do. He had always been so cheerful and full of life. And he loved your music. He sang along to all the songs."
The little boy remained in a coma for weeks. He didn't respond to all the sweet words that were whispered to him. Then his father got an idea. He brought along a cassette player to the small hospital bed and softly played tapes of ABBA. The little boy responded. At first almost imperceptible. Later on he moved his lips and eyelids.
"Afterwards he has been in critical condition a couple of times. When the situation was critical, no one was allowed near him," the father writes. "But I managed to persuade the doctors that they still had to play ABBA's music. After all, that had been his major joy in life."
It is unknown whether the upbeat sounds of the Swedish group played any part in it, but the boy is recovering. It will take a long time, but someday he will be healthy again. Agnetha feels a lump in her throat when she talks about it.
"It can't be described what you feel when you realize that you can mean something like this to people. It moves me deeply. And then we can't even be really credited for it. Anni-Frid and I are only singing it. It's Björn and Benny who write the music. I know it's an enormous gratification for them that they can make people this happy."
Benny confirms this. He nods and smiles modestly. "Money doesn't play any part anymore at such a moment," he says. "It would also be a big misunderstanding to think that our most important aim is making money. Then we would have quit a couple of years ago, because then we already had more than enough resources to lead the rest of our life in leisure. Music is communication. You achieve something with other people. That's important. This father's letter is proof of that. At moments like this I can only be thankful that I have the gift to be able to write such music."
Indeed, this isn't the only letter that shows what kind of impact ABBA's music has on people. Somewhat smilingly, Benny says that they have saved a couple of marriages already, that they kept desperate people from committing suicide and brought lovers together. "In their gratitude, these people write letters. We don't get to see everything that's written to us. Then we wouldn't have any time left to do other things. But we always see letters like this. It's inspiring."
It's remarkable that the four ABBA members are making millions of people a little happier with their music, but they don't get any happier themselves. Sometimes even on the contrary.
"There's an enormous amount of pressure on us," Benny Andersson says. "It has become necessary to shut ourselves off from the outer world, otherwise we wouldn't have a moment of peace anymore. That's not much fun, because in a way you are locked up. Personally, I don't mind it that much. Nor does Björn. Most of the time we are busy with our music and then we don't even notice what's happening around us. But the girls are having a difficult time with it. Especially Agnetha can't handle it sometimes."
"That's true," she says. She doesn't want to talk about her marriage to Björn anymore. That subject is closed. Everything that was true and untrue about that subject has been written already. Still she admits that the pressure of fame has had something to do with it. "The irritating thing is that this emotional turmoil had a physical effect on me as well. Time and time again I had to see a doctor. I had headaches, pain in my chest, in my arms, you name it. It was clear to that man that there was nothing wrong with me physically. He explained to me that when you are having emotional problems, it shows through your body. So I went to see a psychiatrist to explore this."
Agnetha rubs her temples for a while. Obviously, this hasn't been easy on her. All of a sudden she seems tired. "Going to a psychiatrist is a big step. Like many other people, I thought you had to be really crazy to reach that stage. But later on I came to realize that that's nonsense of course. A human being consists of a body and a mind. When there's something wrong with your body, you go to the doctor. When your mind isn't working properly, then you deserve a treatment too. But from a different kind of doctor."
It's the price she has to pay for the mind-boggling successes that ABBA has experienced, after winning the Eurovision Song Contest more than six years ago.

How is Agnetha doing now? She looks healthy and radiant, so she seems to be doing fine. "I feel good too. Psychotherapy has helped me a great deal. I try to look after my body to the best of my ability. If I can manage it, I eat as healthy as possible and I exercise a lot."
It's obvious that performing and working with her ex-husband Björn has been the cause of tensions too. It's not easy staying in each other's company when you have decided to separate.
"Oh well," Agnetha plays down that explanation. She rummages in the pile of mail and takes out the letter of the grateful father. "I could tell you long stories about my so-called inconveniences. But then I should actually be deeply ashamed. Mail like this is very instructive for me. When I lose myself in things like this, then I think that there can't be anything wrong with me. Nothing at all. Only when I would write letters like this myself, I would have a reason to complain."

Saturday 28 July 2012

Story, October 1979: Agnetha is always welcome to have a good cry with Anni-Frid

The envy that Anni-Frid once felt towards the blonde, pretty Agnetha has turned into compassion. All of a sudden, the ABBA singers have become good friends because of Agnetha's problems.

"It's always Agnetha, Agnetha, Agnetha! I've had it!" Anni-Frid once cried out, green with envy, when she read a review of their concert, the morning after ABBA had performed in England. In the newspaper it was written for the umpteenth time how attractive the blonde singer of ABBA, Agnetha, is. Meanwhile they devoted only one sentence to the dark-haired Anni-Frid: that she had an outstanding voice as well.
Until recently, falling-outs like these - fuelled by envy - occured regularly, and they obviously put their mark on the atmosphere in the group. But it was understandable too. It was extremely frustrating for Anni-Frid that the sexy looks of her blonde colleague always get a lot of praise. Because she is an illegitimate child and she was raised by her grandmother, Anni-Frid has had to deal with feelings of inferiority and these feelings only increased because of ABBA's success.
But last year, Anni-Frid's feelings of envy towards Agnetha suddenly turned into feelings of deep compassion. Frida (like she is called in short) got these feelings of deep compassion when her blonde colleague divorced from Björn. Due to the fact that the ABBA members are often in each other's company day and night, Frida and her husband Benny have witnessed up close how Agnetha and Björn drifted apart.
Frida: "It was awful seeing it happen without being able to do something about it. We saw how desperately Agnetha tried everything to save her marriage, but unfortunately she and Björn had grown apart too much already to patch things up. Björn is completely dedicated to music, while Agnetha prefers a cosy, homely kind of lifestyle. Things became increasingly painful between those two. It was terrible! When they finally decided to go their separate ways as friends, it was kind of a relief for all of us. A certain amount of tension disappeared."

In these very difficult times, Frida tried to look after and comfort Agnetha as much as possible. She knows very well from her own experience how miserable one can be when a marriage falls apart. Anni-Frid has gone through a divorce herself, before she found happiness with Benny. Because Anni-Frid knows the intense lonely feeling that comes over you in such a situation, her envy turned into compassion. "A divorce is something you wouldn't want your worst enemy to go through," she once stated. Due to this, a solid friendship evolved between Anni-Frid and Agnetha. When Agnetha told her friend Frida a couple of months after her divorce from Björn that she was head over heels in love with ice hockey star Lars Eriksson, Frida was truly happy. "I hope you will be as happy with Lars as I am now with Benny," she said cordially. And she meant it from the bottom of her heart.
But unfortunately it wasn't to be. Eriksson, about whom it has to be said that he likes to be the centre of attention, has left Agnetha's mansion in Sweden's Stockholm again. He couldn't deal with the fact that his famous girlfriend got a lot more attention than he did.

When Eriksson broke off his relationship with Agnetha, the blonde singer was sadder than ever. She loved the 29-year-old sportsman and she had high hopes that she would be happy with him. And even this time, it was Anni-Frid who was there for her right away to comfort her. "You can always call on us if you are having a bad time," she said. "Just call me when you want to have a good cry. Day or night."
Anni-Frid: "This is simply a very difficult time for Agnetha. But I'm positive that she will see it through. She just has to bite the bullet. I'm sure she will eventually find someone who will make her happy."
Isn't there any possibility that Agnetha and Björn will get back together again? "Oh no," Anni-Frid replied resolutely. "That will never happen. Thankfully they are still good friends, but there is not a bit of love between them any longer."

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Pop Foto, 1977: Become a real pepparkakor baker with ABBA

There's a lot of cheering and shrieking coming from the enormous kitchen. Cautiously, ABBA's Agnetha is trying the door handle. It's locked. The shrieking turns into a joyful, two-voiced burst of laughter and on the other side the door is being unlocked. "Do come in," it sounds in a strangled voice. We push the door open and we are looking at the biggest ABBA mess ever!

Grinning sheepishly and covered in white flour, the male half of Europe's most popular pop group is standing behind a large quantity of cake dough. Behind us, the female half of ABBA is bursting with laughter. "What's this?" we ask tongue-tied and bewildered. "We are baking pepparkakor," Benny and Björn proudly declare. "Pepparwhat?" "Pepparkakor," Anni-Frid - still chuckling - comes to the rescue. "Some kind of cookies that are being served with our Gluhwein here in Sweden. Normally these cookies are a real treat. But yesterday Benny was bragging that he had learned a very special pepparkakor recipe from his mother. Well, then Anna and I said: 'Just prove what you can do'. And this mess is the result!"
Cautiously we all look at the work of the pepparkakor master chefs. A little guitar, no surprise there, a little puppet with a bow in her hair and some troll-like creature. "Not bad," is what we think, "but you surely can't eat it like this?" Frida again comes to the rescue: "No, they have to go into the oven first. But if they've treated the cake dough properly, that shouldn't be a problem..."

She isn't able to elaborate any further because the men are pushing us out of their domain. They are going to bake now. When we look over our shoulder we see that Benny and Björn are rolling out the next piece of cake flour... We are very curious, and at the same time anxious. Just imagine that they don't succeed and we will still have to eat these cookies with a broad smile on our faces? But thirty minutes later it turns out that we have been worried in vain. Surrounded by a delicious smell the two chefs solemnly walk into the room, with a dish of cookies! And when we finally put our teeth into those (carefully at first), it's hard to catch our breath. This is really delicious. The puppets and the little guitar have miraculously remained intact in the oven. Only the real cookies, small and shaped like all kinds of flowers and stars, are eaten. The puppets are for Linda, Agnetha's little girl, and it turns out that ABBA has a surprise in store for us as well. Because when our craving for candy has been fully satisfied, Benny brings out a tattered piece of paper. "Here, this is the recipe. You can have it for your readers," he says, leaving us speechless for the next fifteen minutes. "I hope they will have as much fun preparing these genuine Swedish cookies as Björn and me!"
We went to a lot of trouble translating the recipe from Swedish and it's printed here for you. Good luck with it.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: Anni-Frid: this is my life

Because Anni-Frid grew up without a father, she always fantasized about a real family in her childhood. "When I'm grown up I will get married and then I will only care for my husband and children," she once said to her grandmother in the middle of Sweden, where she grew up after her mother had died at a young age. She was singing in the folk parks merely to keep her head above water until she got married. When she was eighteen she already reached the destiny of her dreams. Anni-Frid got married to the musician Ragnar Fredriksson and gave birth to two children. But the family bliss she was hoping for failed to materialize. Only today, with her Benny and the ABBA success, she is truly happy.

Pictures from left to right.
When she was only thirteen she already performed as a singer in parks and halls. Frida: "I had to make money to earn my living." That's what she kept doing after she got married as well.

Frida started concentrating more and more on her success as a solo singer, a pretty girl, constantly radiant and with many different looks.

In a 1967 TV show, Frida sang every competition into the ground. Although the long-desired breakthrough had been achieved, her private happiness was shattered. Because Frida hardly lived with her family anymore.

For 32 years, Anni-Frid had felt like an orphan. But her father had not - as it had been assumed for a long time - died in the turmoil of war in 1945. These days he is living as a pastry cook in Karlsruhe and he only found out about the existence of his daughter after stories about the ABBA girl's fate had appeared in the newspapers. In 1944, the then 26-year-old German sergeant had met Anni-Frid's mother in Norway. The war separated them.

This was the start of a tremendous career: in 1974, four unknown Swedes called ABBA sang a song at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton that would become a worldwide hit: 'Waterloo'. One of the girls on stage was Anni-Frid. The three others: Agnetha, Björn and Benny. This line-up remained and they scared the top class of pop musicians stiff. Two years after Brighton, the four Swedes had already sold more than 26 million records, mostly albums. Previously, only the Beatles had achieved such a feat. And that's how the story continued.

No matter what ABBA sang, it always became a worldwide hit, whether it was in the East or in the West. It was also raining gold records from all kinds of different countries. On their trip to Warsaw as well, where they are pictured here.

A happy family: Frida with her husband Ragnar and both of their children Lise-Lotte and Hans. But scenes like this were very rare in Frida's marriage. Frida: "It wasn't what I had always fantasized about."

In this building in Stockholm it all started for ABBA. The first songs of the group were created here. And today, ABBA's office is still located in this building.

The marriage to Ragnar fell apart. But Anni-Frid has found her private happiness: Benny, her partner in ABBA. "Benny is my security, I depend on him completely," Frida declared happily.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: Agnetha: this is my life

Blonde, blue-eyed, long-legged: Agnetha embodies the typical Swedish girl. Music is in her blood. After school she earned her living as a singer with a dance band. And when she was only eighteen she recorded her first solo single. The song 'Jag Var Så Kär' became a hit, at least in Sweden. "All of a sudden I was well-known and I appeared in TV shows," remembers Anna, that's how Agnetha likes to be called nowadays. "I also met the Hootenanny Singers there." She was especially smitten with one of the boys from the group: Björn Ulvaeus. "It was love at first sight," both of them affirm these days. After a joint holiday they started living together and a couple of months later - in 1971 - they got married. Their joint success with ABBA has only brought Anna and Björn closer together. But the most important thing to the both of them remains their family, to which - after daughter Linda - a little son was added.

Pictures from top left to bottom right.
The typical Swedish girl: long blonde hair, blue eyes and a lot of naturalness. You wouldn't guess that she is 28 years old and has two children. Up till now she has always had good luck on her side. Her first solo single, that she recorded when she was eighteen, became a big hit in Sweden. When she was twenty, she married the man of her dreams: Björn Ulvaeus. Little daughter Linda (meanwhile five years old) is growing into a lively girl and up till now Anna doesn't have any worries about her now four months old son either.

At the end of November 1967 Agnetha had all the reason in the world to smile. After she had toured through Sweden and Europe for two years with a dance band, she finally achieved her breakthrough as a solo singer with a self written song. Swedish TV shows were tripping over each other for the blonde singer. "I even received offers from Germany," Anna remembers from her first success.

The blonde girl from ABBA was born on April 5, 1950 in Jönköping. Agnetha's father, an organizer of amateur revues, introduced her to the stage when she was still a child. She learned how to play the piano and the organ and she started to write her own lyrics.

Anna always maintained a good relationship with her parents, Ingvar and Birgit Fältskog. Mona is very attached to her older sister as well and she often pays her a visit in her Stockholm home. This family picture was taken in 1968.

In one of these TV shows Anna met Björn, in those days the star of the Hootenanny Singers. The both of them got along right away, they went on a holiday together and got married in July 1971.

Björn and Anna prefer to spend the little spare time they have between their tours, recording sessions and TV shows with their little daughter in their cottage on one of the Swedish isles. This year, their little son Christian will join them as well.

Anna and Benny are getting their make-up done for a TV show. Last year, the Swedish broadcasting company has persuaded the four superstars to chronicle their lives in a TV show. Obviously the ABBA hit 'Waterloo' was featured as well in the big television extravaganza, the song that won the group the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

Anna feared that her voice would suffer from a tonsillectomy in 1976. But she recovered from the surgery without scratches and little daughter Linda was enjoying her mother's compulsory break.

The Swedish quartet ABBA was presented to the world for the first time in November 1970 in Göteborg. Years later, the four of them returned to leave their hand prints for the Liseberg park.

Björn and Anna in Germany during the ABBA tour last year. After that, the group took a baby break for the sake of Anna. The family takes precedence for Björn and Anna in 1978 as well.

Already in her childhood, Agnetha took ballet classes. These days, the ABBA girls keep in shape for their tours and TV performances with morning gymnastics.

Last December, ABBA enjoyed a glittering movie premiere in Stockholm. Manager Stikkan Anderson and director Lasse Hallström were congratulating.

Anna's son weighed exactly 3.920 grams. He was born in December after a difficult childbirth. Obviously, Björn was present during the delivery in Stockholm.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Joepie, 1977: ABBA off to America for good?

In America, it's buzzing with rumours that ABBA is allegedly planning to move to Los Angeles - the centre of the superstars - for good. It is said that Stig Anderson, the manager of the group, has made use of the quiet period that followed after filming for the movie was completed to travel to Los Angeles and look for suitable residences over there. Officially, ABBA doesn't want to talk openly about this subject yet, but it has become a public secret that ABBA is tired of having to pay so much taxes to the Swedish government.

Joepie, 1977: Why Robert got the leading part in the ABBA movie

We already discussed ABBA's very first feature film, 'The Girl With The Golden Hair', earlier. And although the title of the movie refers to the beautiful Frida, the film actually revolves around Robert Hughes, a rather popular DJ in Australia. He plays the part of a radio presenter who hopelessly tries to get an interview with ABBA and starts daydreaming when he doesn't succeed. He imagines himself in the arms of the two girls, he goes out with the group to have a drink, to play some golf and he invites Frida for a ride on a horse.
In short, in his imagination he is having a real good time. Insiders who have witnessed the filming of the scenes claim that Robert will be the biggest revelation of the movie. And that his popularity will rocket to new heights.
Why exactly was this Robert chosen as a key figure? Why was he chosen to play this dream part? "Robert has always supported us in his radio broadcasts. Even shortly after we won the Eurovision Song Contest (when we hadn't achieved our international breakthrough yet), he already played our records. And he kept doing that so we owe him a great deal for our Australian breakthrough. Look, now that we are as popular as we are, the requests for interviews and things like that come pouring in. There are so many of them that we simply can't accept them all. But a man like Robert, a friend from the times before we hit the big time, we can't disappoint or ignore someone like that. That leading part is our way of saying thank you..."
Meanwhile, ABBA has completed filming the scenes for the movie. One of these days, the new single 'The Name Of The Game' will be released, but there aren't any further activities on their schedule yet.
"Björn and I will mainly focus on composing new songs," according to Benny. "And Anna, well, she is waiting in all peace and quiet until her baby arrives. Supported by my Frida, by the way..."
You can find a couple of neat pictures from the ABBA movie on these pages. In anticipation of the day that you can watch the movie yourself in the movie theatre...