Bright Lights Dark Shadows redux

Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBAWhen it was first released in September 2001, Bright Lights Dark Shadows – The Real Story Of ABBA by Carl Magnus Palm quickly became my favourite ABBA book.

For the first time we had a full-length authoritative biography of ABBA. Other books had tried but failed, based on gossip, opinionated theory or bad research from previously published mistakes.

Bright Lights Dark Shadows truly revealed how the group came together, their amazing international career and eventual dissolution. It covered the lives of Björn, Frida, Benny, Agnetha, and their manager Stig Anderson from the very beginnings right up to 2001. I found it a revelation to read.

The book has now been re-released with a new nine-page afterword, bringing the continuing ABBA story up-to-date. Which has been a good excuse to re-read the book, again.

There are those who have said that the book is lacking in “new detail”, that it tells that ABBA story “that we already know”.

I’ve always wondered what these people expect. A Kitty Kelly or Albert Goldman-style hatchet job based on unsubstantiated hearsay? Scandal , salaciousness and smut? A previously hidden alternative ABBA history?

The ABBA members were all conservative, white, suburban, heterosexual people in their late 20s and early 30s who were married to each other. Eventually the marriages ended, both men quickly finding new partners, and there were a few dodgy business deals, but that was as bad as it got. The details of their lives, especially during the group’s active years, were quite open.

Anyone who had followed the group and read every available book and article would of course know the gist of the ABBA story. But Bright Lights Dark Shadows brought together the whole story in a way that had never been done before.

Bright Lights Dark Shadows – The Real Story Of ABBA is a book that every ABBA fan should read.

See Carl Magnus Palm’s website for more information about Bright Lights Dark Shadows.

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2 Responses to “Bright Lights Dark Shadows redux”

  1. Samuel Inglles Says:

    Hi Ian

    Here’s articles on two reviews of ‘Bright Lights Dark Shadows’.

    Kind Regards
    Samuel Inglles

    TV Week – 29 September 2001 (Pages 12 & 13)

    ABBA: The Way We Were – Super Troupers

    They looked like two perfect couples making music – but behind the gloss 1970s and early 1980s pop super-group ABBA was hurtling towards destruction. A new book tells the real story.

    Sweden is not a country known for its pop charisma – at least it wasn’t until two couples clad in skin-tight spandex and platform boots cracked the world market in April, 1974.

    ABBA’s Eurovision Song Contest entry ‘Waterloo’, complete with bizarre, bouncy lyrics juxtaposing love and the battle of ‘Waterloo’ in 1825, was an unexpected worldwide hit – and songs like ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Fernando’ kept Sweden in the limelight.

    But ABBA were much more than just another breezy pop combo. Almost two decades after their final performance, CD sales continue to soar. The 1992 compilation CD ‘ABBA Gold’ boasted worldwide sales of over 20 million copies, and now the stage musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ (currently showing in Melbourne) is introducing a new audience to ABBAmania.

    The secret to ABBA’s incredible success was a combination of great songs, fine voices and homespun exuberance – all orchestrated by their volatile, flamboyant manager Stig Anderson. Here were two couples in love, making music and having a ball. But for Frida, Agnetha, Björn and Benny, the reality of life in the spotlight was very different.

    The group members have always shied away from intrusive publicity, but a revealing new, unauthorized biography by Swedish writer Carl Magnus Palm called ‘Bright Lights, Dark Shadows’ (Omnibus Press, $55) presents a portrait of ABBA’s dramatic rise and fall.

    It looks into the members’ childhoods, their musical backgrounds before forming ABBA and their personal battles once fame arrived.

    “Of the two instrumentalists in ABBA, Benny was a self-taught musician with a streak of determination that carried him and the group all the way, and Björn, a gifted songwriter whose talent was inherited from his grandfather,” Carl explains.

    “Of the singers, Agnetha was a reluctant sex symbol for whom fame became a poisoned chalice, and Anni-Frid was an orphan who carried on reinventing herself until she became, quite literally, a princess – after her divorce from Benny, Anni-Frid married a German prince called Ruzzo Reuss von Plauen who was an architect.”

    Although Frida and Agnetha found love and security with Benny and Björn, the relationships were far from simple.

    Frida and Benny both had children by previous marriages, and the guilt Frida felt at leaving her family behind to pursue her singing career in Stockholm weighed heavily. Agnetha was just 21 when she married Björn, and her new life in the spotlight (which eventually led to her current existence as a virtual recluse) was at odds with her desire to be a “normal” housewife and mother.

    “They were held up as being two perfect, happy couples,” Carl says. “But in Swedish papers they were quite open and honest about their differences and their volatile relationships.”

    ABBA battled with the different attitudes to their fame at home and abroad.

    “Sweden’s general public was very proud of ABBA’s success, but the 1970s were strange times in Sweden,” Carl explains. “The government was left-wing – judgemental and serious – and pop groups weren’t supposed to be overtly commercial. It wasn’t politically correct to like ABBA. Now they’re national heroes.

    “The difference was that the Swedish fans wouldn’t do things like go to the airport to greet them when they returned home from their trips. It just wasn’t in the nation’s psyche to afford domestic pop stars that kind of attention.”

    Frida, Agnetha, Björn and Benny all preferred this sort of low-key attention. So when the group toured Australia in 1977, they all were overwhelmed and terrified by the public adulation.

    “The pandemonium started from the moment ABBA stepped on Australian soil, “Carl says. “One 12-year old fan at the airport was trampled as the crowd of fans heaved against a police barricade.

    “As the girl tried to get to her feet, she was knocked down by the crowds and hurled against a wall.”

    The group was completely unprepared for the thousands of fans that flocked to see them and the hysteria that ensued.

    “The girl’s roles as focal points made them especially vulnerable,” Carl reveals. “Frida was suffering recurring nightmares and Agnetha had trouble sleeping.”

    “It was awful,” said Agnetha afterwards. “I felt as if they would get hold of me and I’d never get away. There were times when we burst into tears.”

    The situation was worse for her, as she was always asked about her reputation for having “the sexiest bottom in pop”.

    “When Agnetha was asked if it was true, she replied, ‘How can I answer that? I don’t know – I haven’t seen it,’” Carl says.

    Behind the scenes, the strain was showing, and it affected ABBA’s work. By 1978, Björn and Agnetha seemed further apart than ever. She longed to spend more time looking after their two children Linda and Christian, while Björn hankered after a career in the US.

    “Where the occasional conflicts in the studio used to add spice to the recording sessions, the crisis between them was now becoming detrimental,” Carl says.

    “Shouting matches that had previously been confined to their home were now an increasing occurrence in the studio.”

    “There were a lot of pressures,” Björn recalls in the book. “As they got worse we tried to disguise it, but things became impossible for us.”

    “I felt trapped in our marriage, locked up,” Agnetha confirms. “We ran out of love, quite simply, and started wearing each other down.”

    Later that year, the couple separated and eventually divorced. Two years later, Frida and Benny also divorced.

    “Now they say that if it hadn’t been for the group they would have probably broken up earlier,” Carl says. “The group gave them a sense of purpose.”

    “That’s what really killed ABBA. They were a love group, and when the couples weren’t together anymore there was no sense of purpose.”

    Today, music still plays a huge part in their lives. Björn is currently staging a Swedish version of his hit 1980s musical collaboration ‘Chess’ in Stockholm, and Benny recently released a solo album of folk songs. Frida, (a Swedish language album, ‘Djupa Andetag’) and Agnetha, (a compilation of past recordings ‘My Love, My Life’) both released solo albums approximately five years ago, and there are rumours that Agnetha is thinking of a mini-comeback.

    But although the ABBA beat goes on in clubs and discos all over the world, for this quartet ABBA is history.

    Who – 1 October 2001 (Page 170)

    Everything you always wanted to know about… ABBA. By Barry Divola.

    We all know everything there is to know about ABBA, right? Yes, both couples got divorced, but they were friends to the end, just happy to create music that made the whole world sing and sway awkwardly on unfeasibly high platform shoes. Carl Magnus Palm realized that wasn’t the full story, and the Stockholm-based writer decided to delve deeper than the smiles in the photos. ‘Bright Lights, Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA’ (Omnibus Press, $55) may have a naff title, but the story contained within takes some unusual twists, “They were normal people with normal problems,” says Palm, 36, “But the media preferred to portray them as a safe family group made up of two couples.”

    There are plenty of anecdotes that jar with the image (who knew that Björn wrote the words to ‘The Winner Takes It All’ while he was drunk on whisky?), plus details of bitter arguments with their controlling, alcoholic manager, and the cracks that emerged in their own relationships. Frida’s family background is strange (she thought her father was dead until she met him in 1977), and later her daughter and third husband died within two years of each other. As for Agnetha, the quips about her having the sexiest bottom in Europe were the least of her problems: she constantly missed her children while on tour, she had traumatic traveling experiences, and her romances floundered after the divorce from Björn. Then she became a recluse, only to enter into a relationship with an unstable fan who stalked her.

    Today, Palm’s life is entwined with the Swedish foursome. He wrote ‘ABBA: The Complete Recording Sessions’, penned the liner notes to compilations and re-releases, and collaborated on the book ‘From ABBA to Mamma Mia!’ So it’s strange to discover that until 1980, the only ABBA record he owned was the 1973 single ‘Ring, Ring’.

    “I liked them, but I think I hid the fact from myself,” says Palm, whose favourite band is The Beatles. “I even teased friends who were fans. In Sweden there was this left-wing cultural climate in the 1970s that was very judgemental. If something sold 500,000 copies it was crap and if it sold two copies it was wonderful. But secretly I loved ABBA.”

  2. Dave Graham Says:

    I myselfam am a real ABBAfan i really thoght6 how thay started was great i wqas only a very young child yet old enough to know who abba were in my pesonal opinon they were the best thing to come a long since the volvo car and sliced bread if you know what i mean i’ve had most of the album if not more today i bought more abba gold i know evry sing thre is on abba gold and the one i got today how they finised up really broke my heart in peices bjorn writing the winner ntakes it all
    totaly drunk on scotch or whisaky was terrible pour deval imagine how he was felling while writning those lyrics one of us was about frda and bennys divorce the beginng tay constanly smiled athe end they did ent at all what areal sad sham bright lights and dark shadows for shore

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