Part 4 (of 12): Motivation and self-doubt

Published March 30, 2010

In retrospect, the idea to write a book about the music of ABBA must have been born virtually at the same time as the Monica Zetterlund project. Although I wasn't officially much of an ABBA fan in the 1970s, I had been a fairly keen follower of the group's activities even back then. My first ABBA record was the 'Ring Ring' single - the English version, of course, since I hated Swedish music and romanticised everything even remotely connected to England - which I got for my 8th birthday in 1973. No one was happier than I when the group won the Eurovision Song Contest the following year, and if ABBA were on TV, I certainly was there watching.

In December 1977, the newspaper Expressen started running a cartoon strip version of the ABBA story (quite cheesy if the truth be told). It ran for three weeks and I painstakingly cut each and every episode out, pasted them on sheets of paper and put them in a file - how much of a non-ABBA fan could I have been? However, I didn't actually buy an ABBA record again until 'The Winner Takes It All' was released as a single. But I would say that in time for their break-up, ABBA were more than okay with me.

In 1990, a rediscovery of the group began for me, and the thought of a project was awakened. I began collecting cuttings and taping television appearances, and so on. During the writing of the Monica Zetterlund book, in 1991, Thomas Winberg and I visited a certain archive where one could find recording dates for studio sessions that had involved outside musicians. We thought we might as well get the ABBA dates while we were there, and that's when we first encountered all those strange working titles that ABBA used at the time. At first, we thought we had found a whole treasure trove of unreleased tracks - as it turned out, some of them had indeed never been heard outside the recording studio, but most of the recordings had later acquired proper titles and then been released.

On March 18, 1992, I wrote a letter to Benny Andersson, telling him that I was about to start work on a book about ABBA's music and asking for an interview with him and Björn when the project had progressed a little further. In the summer of that year, the Monica Zetterlund book was completed and I could finally turn my attention to ABBA. Thomas wasn't so interested in committing himself to another long-term book project, so we decided that I should write the ABBA book myself. During the autumn I finished off the last of my university studies and began preparing myself for ABBA.

Fascinating Facsimile no. 1: My notes from the first encounter with the recording dates for the ABBA songs. These particular tracks were recorded during sessions for ABBA's eponymous album.So why, exactly, did I choose to write a book about this group? As with the Monica Zetterlund project, I knew it had to be a Swedish artist, and, basically, after Monica there were no artists left that I felt would be interesting enough to take on as a project written with no prior commitment. The challenge was certainly there: ABBA were one of the biggest acts of all-time, and although many dismissed them as crap and kitsch, they were also lauded for their expert craftmanship in terms of songwriting, studio performance and production. Yet, there wasn't even a full-scale biography out there, much less any focused documentation on the creative side of the group. No-one in Sweden was interested, and really, to be able to write with any kind of insight into ABBA - if the ultimate goal is to understand their origins and roots, how they became what they became - you have to have a fundamental understanding of Sweden, its culture and its showbusiness history.

But again I was plagued by self-doubt. After spending two years on the Monica Zetterlund book, which got almost no attention and sold even less, was it really justifiable to delve into another full-scale project like this? I knew that it would probably take all of my time for the better part of a year to write the book, and since this wasn't a commissioned project, I realised that I was facing a financially rough period. Moreover, there was the question: should one really sacrifice so much for the sake of writing a book? Was I crazy for even contemplating such a thing? Was I, in fact, nothing but a nerd who would be better off getting a proper education, a respectable job and a regular career?

This is where the inspiration from the dedication of Johnny Rogan gave me invaluable moral support. In the autumn of 1992, just as I was contemplating the above issues, Rogan published Morrissey & Marr - The Severed Alliance, his biography about The Smiths. Again, his dedication to the project had been quite extraordinary, ending up in "three-and-a-half years of tough research and considerable expense", an attempt to return his advance money when the book took more than the anticipated one year to complete, and so on. I thought to myself, "Well, if Johnny Rogan can be this dedicated every time he writes a book, sacrificing absolutely everything, then why the hell couldn't I devote at least one year to this ABBA book?" Around the same time, Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Chronicle - a day by day diary of The Beatles' recording sessions, live concerts, and radio and TV appearances - was also published. This magnificent work provided further inspiration.

I often find that "playing a game of pretend" is a most effective way of dealing with fears and self-doubt. Thus, I decided to "pretend" that I was a "real writer" - an amalgamation of Mark Lewisohn and Johnny Rogan, if you will - for one year. This would serve as a defence not only against my own insecurities, but also when friends and family - and whoever else would learn what I was up to - would question the wisdom of what I was doing. Also, it would provide me with a framework for the project, with the standards of Lewisohn's books being something to aspire to and both authors' dedication, research ethos and writing abilities being something to attempt to emulate. I said to myself: "If they can do it, I can at least try. I might fall flat on my face, but I will know that I did give it a go."