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Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of "Abba": The Real Story of "Abba" Paperback – 9 Jun 2008
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Compelling and incredibly detailed...essential reading. MOJOA powerful, moving read. THE TIMES
From the Author
Bright Lights, Dark Shadows The Real Story Of ABBA is my fourth book about ABBA. Admittedly, a fair number of books about the group have been published over the years, even if the market hasnt exactly been flooded with them. Still, the inevitable question is: how does this volume differ from my previous efforts and those of others?
I believe Bright Lights, Dark Shadows is the first true, full-scale biography ever written about ABBA. At least, its certainly my first attempt to achieve anything along those lines. My first book about the group, ABBA The Complete Recording Sessions, was a chronological account of the group's songwriting and recording work. Människorna och musiken (The People And The Music) was basically a Swedish, reworked version of The Complete Recording Sessions with some biographical detail added. From ABBA To Mamma Mia!, finally, was a collection of Anders Hanser's photographs of the group with my commentary text.
Bright Lights, Dark Shadows is a biography that begins with the childhoods and early days of all four ABBA members, as well as their all-important manager, Stig Anderson. Then follows an account of the members' pre-ABBA careers and Stig's rise to national fame and notoriety. This first section is called "The Days Before". In fact, these early days before all four ABBA members got together and started their tentative collaboration in the early 1970s take up quite a substantial part of the book.
Boring? Think again. Even though I already knew a lot about the four ABBA members' history before they formed the group, during the course of writing the book I was astounded at discovering and uncovering all the drama that occurred long before anyone outside Sweden knew who ABBA were. I also feel that this will give the reader important background information necessary to understand ABBA's cultural roots. And it does explain many of their later actions and decisions, during their years at the top, such as their reluctance to tour.
The book then continues with a somewhat shorter section, entitled "The March To Waterloo". This covers the period 19701974, ie the years when the four members had an on-off collaboration which gradually led to the formation of a permanent group.
Then comes the main section of the book, "The Time Is Right", which details ABBA's years of worldwide fame from 1974 to 1982. This is where you will find the ups and downs of their career, the bumpy road that made up the two couples' married life, the stories behind some of ABBA's most famous songs including some analysis of their musical development as well as the dramatic development of their business interests. And much more! Again, believe it or not, I found the ABBA story to be much more riveting than even I as an author had expected.
I should like to point out, however, that although Bright Lights, Dark Shadows doesn't flinch from some of the more distressing moments of the ABBA saga, the book is not a muckraker. Certain biography writers tend to put their subjects "on trial", with the intention of proving that they are ultimately deeply flawed, unattractive people. This was never my intention with this book, and I don't believe that's the impression anyone will take with them after reaching the last page.
The final section, "That's Our Destiny", aims to describe what happened to the four members and Stig Anderson after ABBA split up, including the rift between the group and their manager. It also describes the current ABBA revival, taking the story bang up to date with the success of the Mamma Mia! musical.
The book took me a full year to write, and this is not counting all the ABBA research that I've had ongoing since the early 1990s. I was working every single day between April 2000 and April 2001 before I finally submitted the manuscript. After further editing and additions I ended up with close to 240,000 words, which in this case translates as a 554 page book.
So is there anything new in this book for the diehard fan? Of course there is, it would be pointless otherwise. However, Bright Lights, Dark Shadows is also meant to be enjoyed by the general public. Therefore, some stories and events depicted in the book will be familiar to the most ardent fan. That should hopefully not detract from the new information that is in there.
On the subject of pictures: a couple of truly rare pictures have been included, which surely must be unseen by at least 99% of ABBA fans. But there are also some fairly familiar pictures, which are needed to properly illustrate the events depicted in the book. This book, then, is mainly about the text: the ABBA story. All pictures are in black and white, printed on four 8-page inserts.
I hope you will enjoy Bright Lights, Dark Shadows! --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Part I is gripping from the start of Chapter 1. I was impressed for several reasons. First, the personal and industry backgrounds on the four members and Stig are usually glossed over in other books. Here, the sketchy details are fully filled in, and it's fascinating reading.
Second, Carl Magnus Palm puts everything in its cultural and historical context with information about the regions where each member grew up, the origin of the various Swedish charts etc. He expresses an authentic feel for the times and for his country and its people.
Third, the narrative flows beautifully. Although it's largely chronological, it feels fresh - the first four chapters don't just go through each member one by one, the book has been better planned. It seems perfectly natural that we don't arrive at the childhood of the youngest member, Agnetha, until we've learnt about Stig's background and followed the others into their teenage years.
There isn't as much public information available about each member's childhood, which must have made it difficult to piece a lot of these facts together. The book really begins to hit its stride with the early chapters of Part II. In Chapter 12, Palm begins to weave the various stories together. There's such a lot that isn't known about ABBA's formative years, there's a real joy of discovery in these chapters. Palm's tone is also more assured at this point - he slips in some reasoned criticism of each member's early recordings - and he injects some satirical, but affectionate, humour into the reportage. I loved the style on pages 177 and 178, for example, when Agnetha
recounts her "baking accidents" and the bemused tone when Frida decides to throw it all in and "become a clothes designer".
An impressive feature of the book is its succinctness. That may sound funny, since BRIGHT LIGHTS DARK SHADOWS is over 500 pages, but it's a fair assessment. The Habari Safari movie takes up about a page; the progg movement is concisely charted and explained in a few pages. He sums up the sound and limitations of Gemini in one pithy phrase - "studio product, shoulder-pad music sorely lacking in soul" - and is equally spot-on with Agnetha and Frida's 80s solo efforts. Although I didn't accept his criticism of Djupa Andetag, it is a rational critique, and I admittedly suffer the disadvantage of not being able to understand the album's lyrics in their natural language.
Part III - The Time is Right - covers Waterloo through to 1982. The material is generally more familiar here; for instance, I could usually be sure of what incidents would be included in each chapter (other fans, as opposed to the general public for whom this book is also written, may be as acquainted with this part of the ABBA story to feel the same).
Fortunately, although a large part of this slab of the book is taken up with recounting events, Palm is not writing a mere overview of the ABBA years. He's writing a biography, and the significance of events on ABBA as people is analysed; he keeps
sight of the biographer's purpose in representing the big picture. Occasionally, this is of necessity a little strained - the psychoanalysis of Frida (p. 508) didn't entirely convince me, for example.
After reading BRIGHT LIGHTS DARK SHADOWS, I've learnt as much as I think I'll ever know about the people that make up ABBA. Ultimately, it's eye-opening and - towards the end - dispiriting reading. But you get a real sense of the demands and pressures that they were going through - the chapter on 1978, supposedly a quiet year for ABBA, makes this plain. As the business side of Polar consumed Stig, and the marriages collapsed, I think it's clear that the ABBA "magic" was a relatively short-lived alchemy of personality, managerial drive, talent and determination in a specific historical and cultural setting. But it wasn't a fluke - it wouldn't have lasted as long,
over as many unambiguously great albums, if it was.
You'll understand a lot more about ABBA, and I think you may even better appreciate the music, after reading BRIGHT LIGHTS DARK SHADOWS. It's the first real biography of ABBA but, more than that, it's the definitive biography. And it's the standard against which all future attempts at retelling the ABBA story will be judged.
Carl Magnus Palm carefully traces the origins of each member of the group to show how they got where they did. The Swedish political music scene of the 1970's is fully explained and contrasted with Stig Anderson's commercial vision for his proteges.
The characters and events come alive and you get to understand each members strengths, weaknesses and motivations, (though just now and then the author assumes a little too much knowledge of personal thoughts). The reader is left marvelling that the group lasted as long as it did and in no doubt that a reunion is not possible.
There are moments of candid humour eg,Michael Tretow recalling the doctoring of the 'live' recordings and Frida's one time claim to be a socialist, (she misunderstood the term). But there are also moments of great sadness, particularly the account of Agnetha's relationship with an obsessed fan who eventually stalked her.
Overall it is a story of how four talented people came together to make music which is loved by many people to this day and shows no sign of fading.
It renders fan arguments about which member who contributed most obselete. The sum was greater than the parts and the ABBA members have largely failed to find pop success as solo artistes or producers. Only when they have branched to other musical forms have they found niches, and Agnetha may still be searching.
The Mamma Mia musical is a money spinner but gives a false impression of where they are today. Expect more traditional style music from Benny, and/or possibly a Swedish musical with Bjorn. Frida will only record as a hobby or for causes. Agnetha may only return if she decides that the attention she receives as a retired performer will be no different if she makes a comeback.
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