Saturday, 27 October 2012
Popshop, June 1977: Intimate portrait, Agnetha (from ABBA)
Two weeks after her first single 'I Was So In Love' was released it was already in the Swedish top ten. Agnetha quit her job as a telephone operator with a car firm and moved to a small apartment in Stockholm. Her next two singles were very successful too. They were all romantic, sentimental songs that fitted her image nicely.
The Swedish television started to get interested. She regularly performed on screen, in between her tours in the inevitable folk parks. Around that time, a German record company became interested in her as well and tried to buy off her contract. Although her popularity in Germany started to increase, she refused a contract. She also had a romance with the German lyricist Dietrich Zimmerman. They wrote a couple of songs together, but their romance faded out...
By coincidence, in a television studio, she met Björn. Three months later they secretly got engaged and moved in together in a small apartment in the Kungsholm area.
In October 1969 they announced their engagement officially and the Swedish newspapers headlined 'the pop romance of the year'. They moved to a three-bedroom apartment on the exclusive island Lilla Essenger, in the heart of Stockholm. They argued a lot, but they also had a lot of fun.
On July 6 1971, she married Björn, who had teamed up already with Benny and together they went on a couple of summer tours. But the time wasn't right yet for ABBA and Agnetha kept writing and recording her own songs. 'If Tears Were Gold' became a huge success.
Agnetha also starred as Mary Magdalene in the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and the well-known song 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' was put on record, together with other songs from her folk park repertoire.
In 1973, everyone thought that this would be the year for Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who had become Benny's fiancée in the meantime. They entered the Swedish preselection for the Eurovison Song Contest with the song 'Ring Ring'. Agnetha was pregnant at the time and the baby was due in February 1973, around the time of the final. The quartet was prepared for everything and there was even a version of their song to perform as a trio, in case Agnetha would have to miss the final. But she made it through and managed to get to that final, but the song only finished in third place. Four days after the Swedish final, little Linda was born. From then on, Agnetha would devote her time completely to Linda and ABBA, in that order.
Tell us something more about your first love?
"I must have been around seventeen. His name was Björn Lilja, no, not ABBA's Björn, but a local boy from the neighborhood in Jönköping. It was a teenage romance. But after the romance had ended, I remember that I tried to forget about my sorrow behind the piano and that I composed a melody, very sentimental and sad, really something for young girls. The melody didn't put me in a better mood, but it was a very nice and moving piece. And it's exactly that song that gave me a record deal in Stockholm. Now I'm grateful to Björn Lilja because without that romance I probably would never have written that song. Actually we never really argued. We are still friends. And apparently he is very proud because he inspired me to write that song. When it became a hit in Sweden, he came over to congratulate me. He wanted to give me a hug but he couldn't. He had just broken both his arms in a traffic accident and they were healing in a plaster!"
What are your thoughts about your parents?
"Very positive. I owe everything to my dad. To his patience for instance. He spent hours and hours teaching me how to play the piano. He never stopped encouraging me..."
It is said that you can be very candid, but also that you are very shy. So what is it?
"In essence I am shy. I'm the country girl that made it big and the past few years I've had some difficulties with that. I tried to hide that inborn insecurity behind a mask of self-confidence. It was claimed that my behaviour was influenced by that. That I made a lot of mistakes because of that. But people exaggerate too. It was said at the time that I couldn't even handle a spoon in a restaurant and things like that. Just imagine! Of course I have made mistakes. Put yourself in my place. A seventeen, eighteen-year-old girl with all these snobs from the record industry, my language probably wasn't polished all the time. Anyone who got to know me a little better would admit that I always tried to be gentle, honest and soft. Even to journalists. But when they are not to my liking, I keep it short..."
What have been the most exciting moments in your life?
"There are a lot of them! When it comes to intensity I can't put them in any particular order. Chronologically maybe? When I walked into a recording studio in Stockholm for the first time as a seventeen-year-old girl and I heard all those musicians rehearse that first little melody that I had composed, preparing themselves for the actual recording... When I met Björn and we got engaged. I remember an engagement holiday on the sunny island Cyprus where we could do what we wanted without being recognized... The day that I got married, it was lovely!... When Linda was born... And when we won the Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo'! And there are plenty more. I repeat: I've been lucky in life!"
How did you meet Björn? Was he the love of your life right away?
"You bet! I had seen him before with the Hootenanny Singers and at one time we found ourselves in the same TV studio. I walked up to him and said: 'Hello, Björn. I'm glad that I finally get to meet you. I think you are the best and I love your music!'. I really did like their music but I thought that Björn, their lead guitarist and singer was something else. I had never seen him in real life, but I remember that he looked even more handsome than on the little TV screen!"
What was so special about your wedding day?
"Everything! I know that's what every girl says but the entire day was one surprise after the other. As our venue, we had chosen an old, gothic church in a fairy-like little village. In Sweden you can get married wherever you like. In my white wedding gown I was taken to the church in an open carriage, the whole village was cheering me on. Swedish hymns were being sung and while entering the church, Benny was playing Mendelssohn's wedding march on the organ, followed by his own hit 'Wedding'. It was a short ceremony. After we were married there was some kind of uproar when we came out of the church. A police officer lost control over his horse and the animal stepped on my foot. A doctor was even called in but luckily it wasn't all that bad. He put a bandage around my ankle and it was okay. The entourage went to a tavern called White Horse for the wedding dinner. There were 39 guests and one dog - Ada, our French bulldog - and we danced to the music of Benny and his Hep Stars. Outside, hundreds of people were calling out our names, they wanted to see us once again before they headed home. So we decided to wave to them from the balcony, just like royalty. I will keep remembering every minute of that day. Even when I'm an old lady, I won't forget my happiness!"
Is it true that little Linda means everything to you?
"The birth of Linda was the proudest moment of my life. Since then, something has changed in my life. I keep making an effort to be and remain a one hundred percent member of ABBA, but my marriage and Linda now come first. I couldn't care less if the show business would turn its back on us or me. I would simply withdraw and devote myself completely to playing the part of a wife and mother. Especially when we're on tour, I miss Linda terribly. Every second away from her is real torture..."
Are you really as superstitious as is often claimed?
"We really are. Björn's secret weapon is his guitar, designed and shaped as a star. Anni-Frid has her sombrero and I have a stuffed donkey as my good-luck charm. It's very big and inconvenient, but I drag it along everywhere I go. People even make jokes about it, but I don't mind. Agnetha and her donkey, you know..."
Do you never argue: four people who have to work together every day, don't they get tired of each other?
"Benny and Björn get along really well, they are men and they complement each other musically too. Anni-Frid and I get along fine as well. Until recently we lived quite close to each other, but now we only see each other during tours, rehearsals and performances. But the fact that we still spend our holidays together proves that we are really quite taken with each other. Whenever there are problems in the ABBA camp, we talk about them democratically before decisions are being made. Everything is discussed. Even the outfits that we are going to wear when we perform. My long hair is always a subject of discussion too. Personally, I would like to cut it short, but the other three prefer the long hair. And then I give in. That's democracy!"
People tend to call you the 'beauty' of the group, the sexy one, the girl with the most beautiful legs. How do you respond to that?
"Me, sexy? Come on. I'm actually somewhat prudish, at least according to Swedish values. But that long, blonde hair is making a big impression, especially in Italy and Spain. I don't dare to go out on the streets alone over there! Outsiders may think that's fun, but I don't. I would rather have short and dark hair..."