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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Agnetha's 'As I Am' bio: A closer look

Commentary: ("Part 1") 

Late August, 2012: Hot, humid summertime once again here. Vacations taken, swims swum, bar-b-q's enjoyed, etc. Time for some light summer reading....

It is a couple of years since I last looked through Agnetha Fältskog's 1996-97 autobiography, As I Am. (Written with Brita Ahman back then.  (As I Am, ABBA Before & Beyond, London: Virgin, 1997 (English version),ISBN 1-85227-654-1.) Released in Sweden in 1996 as Som jag är.)  No surprise to stalwart readers of this Agnetha-focused personal expression that I'd pick that one up again.

Or maybe it is surprising. Though I found a few limited sections of As I Am to be absorbing (as a fan of the performer), (along with others) my initial reaction was of disappointment. Understanding that the coffee-table-style 'book' was not intended as a complete biography (and certainly not a "tell-all"), the effort still lacked satisfactory detail. Only a partial 'portrait' of Ms. Fältskog was presented. More like a too-confined 'sketch' with little room to range, expand, etc. (More is discussed further below.)

A fair amount of complaining, a couple of 'swipes', plus a dash of self-pity was included, though. (In my view...)  Though she may have unburdened herself by doing so Agnetha generally did not help herself  - and her worried-over "image" - by publishing such material. (In an 'autobiography'/biography no less. BTW, I am going to consider it (to be) a little closer to an autobiography. As per below, with a few notable exceptions, I did not discover a lot interesting or illuminating in portions not written by Ms. Fältskog herself.)

I have reviewed most of (fifteen-plus-year-old) As I Am again now. (It doesn't take long. Photos (nice) take up many of its pages.) Fans will especially understand, but it has been reemphasized: Along with the photos, the parts written by Ms. Fältskog (herself) are the book -- for 'non-noob' readers at least. My (increased) sense is that little, honest bits of Agnetha are contained in those sections. Definitely contained though - except when she'd occasionally slip into "rant mode". We are going to focus upon some of Agnetha's sections of the 'biography'. 
BTW: We have already done a bit of this via another post here, which briefly examines a small-but-important-for-understanding excerpt written by Ms. Fältskog. Here is a link to that 2010 post, a new window opens: http://star4abba.blogspot.com/2010/03/ms-faltskogs-1996-biography.html
Screen capture of cover, As I Am: ABBA Before and Beyond, by Agnetha Faltskog, with Brita Ahman, 1997. 
Link to current Amazon (U.S.) sales/description page (new window opens): http://www.amazon.com/As-Am-Abba-Before-Beyond/dp/1852276541
Here is another current Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/As-Am-Abba-Before-Hardcover/dp/B008ABDKVC
Link to current Amazon U.K.page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/As-Before-Beyond-Agnetha-Faltskog/dp/1852276541

Agnetha's book is the only one written by an ABBA member that we have to date. Including commentary (briefly) discussing portions of that 1970's music phenomenon (from one member's perspective). For that reason alone it should retain some significance for fans.

Before proceeding further a couple of quick reminders for readers. (We'll get into the book itself a few paragraphs further below.):  Noted a few places within this website, it should be apparent that I am not acquainted with Ms. Fältskog in any manner. I reside in a different part of the world. As do most of her fans, I further understand that the (former) singer's private life is her own.

However, Ms. Fältskog (the famous performer) was a special combination of feminine beauty plus true talent. So much so that I (along with others) find (public) Agnetha (in toto) to be a little inspiring. Or at least an enduring attraction - just as she left things. I.e., just as her published efforts exist. Plus, if you've followed her solo career and well-publicized life choices, she clearly possesses an independent streak (if you want to call it that). Which adds intrigue for some. Upon a re-read, Agnetha's written sections of the bio show glimmers of that quite strong-but-sensitive person - if you look.

Even well beyond her peak career I find it an interesting challenge to - from afar - try to understand the still-underrated singer/performer. (...A little better.) Whether others care to come along with me, or not, getting to know a little bit about the person associated with the superficial image - via public sources - enhances the 'devotee' experience. And even might add (to) appreciation. Some fans (still) reading along here may pretty much agree. What follows may be an aid to increased understanding. As I Am can be viewed as one - older - piece of the overall picture (puzzle?), (that's been) publicly produced by Agnetha. (This website generally examines other career aspects: Mainly, much of Ms. Fältskog's solo music and her special singing voice.)

If you are ALSO interested, curious, appreciative, inspired, or even non-plussed; you may wish to read further. But note: The book (As I Am) seems a bit expensive to purchase these days. (Especially if you want a new copy.) It may eventually even become something of a collector's item for fans. I have to leave it to your own resources to secure a copy. (Pls. see links, above. As far as I know the book is not yet in digital form.)
If you do not have the publication consider what follows as one fan's partial primer for it. (Also consider checking a few reader comments at the Amazon sites linked above.):

Latest findings, impressions and analysis of As I Am are mercifully presented in shorter, quick(er)-points format. Page references from As I Am (English version) are included where important. A few brief, sample (supporting) excerpts may be incorporated:
by Marina Shemesh (no affiliation)

A. As noted and perhaps to Agnetha's credit, As I Am to date remains the only 'biography' published by an ABBA member. (Or (coffee-table-) book-length discussion about career/life aspects (from younger days).) Band members have participated in lengthy interviews, published thoughts on various subjects (esp. Björn),and/or have a dedicated website (Björn/Benny). (Björn/Benny are also (credited as) authors of Mamma Mia! written material. Etc.)

But no other member has yet attempted a biography or similar -- to my knowledge (corrections welcome). (True; it may still be a little 'early' to do so...) Whatever you may think of the book, it is the only ABBA effort of its kind - and also produced in (at least) the same millennium of the world-famous group's existence. Insert: BTW, FWIW: All ABBA members were (are) generally good 'ambassadors' (i.e., representatives of their country) via interviews, publications, videos, etc. Despite some criticisms of its form and content, I think that (that) applies for Agnetha's portions of her book as well.

B. It's increasingly important to recall that As I Am was completed in 1996-97. Quite a long time ago now. Portions of the book that discuss the singer's life (at the time), views, and even Agnetha's thoughts about parts of her career may have evolved and/or changed. Would seem natural that some may have....

B1. Also essential for possibly better understanding of parts of As I Am: A brief estimation of Ms. Fältskog's major life circumstances at around that time.
1) The singer's trusted parents had just recently passed away; one in reported (unverified), extra-traumatic circumstances. 2) Agnetha's two cherished children were reaching early adulthood; often associated with desires for increased independence. 3) Without verification or (un-expertly) expanding upon it, Ms. Fältskog herself - at around age 46 - would likely have been at least approaching menopause, a significant life-event.
Updated note: The points above do not imply that I consider As I Am to be a decidedly negative production, or similar. On the contrary, several of Ms. Fältskog's written sections suggest a kind of "positive -- though somewhat "put-upon -- practicality". (Or 'pragmatism'.)

C. (Moving on to key parts of the publication itself:) Ms. Fältskog's written preface to the book, plus her photo on the page opposite (the preface) seem essential for understanding much of what follows. (So I'm going to use some of our time to look at it...)

The preface has Agnetha's name at the bottom so I assume that she is the writer. By itself it is an excellent sample of Ms. Fältskog's unvarnished, straightforward writing style -- which I appreciate. (And could take a lesson from...) She is usually uncomplicated, logical and direct in her writing. Perhaps a reflection of the person herself at least when she is in "analysis mode" (if you will). However, my impression may partly result from translation of Agnetha's original writing (Swedish) into English.

The main reasons for the book effort are contained in the final, brief paragraph of the preface: 1) "...I'm tired of the image that's been applied to me over the years..." And, 2) "So now I feel that I'd like to show a few glimpses of my life to my readers...and some of my thoughts." Through my reading, addressing the "image" issues definitely seemed to be reason #1 though. 
Insert: In 1996 the general public had not really seen or heard from the private Ms. Fältskog for about eight years. And then, a bit of a "blast" (from her) with As I Am.... 
 I find that to be interesting. Years later the singer said something in an interview that - although out of context here - may nevertheless reveal something about her make-up:
 "Interviewer's question: One might perhaps think that you are a shy person, but you are rather determined when you actually want something. 

- Ms. Fältskog: Yes, I'm some strange mix. I'm both shy and determined.... "

(Continuing with As I Am:) Agnetha has set the boundaries. She is purposely limiting and controlling - even targeting - communication. (This is (also) immediately revealed in the first paragraph of the preface page. "...set the boundaries" (and similar) are words used there by Ms. Fältskog.)
And without 'shouting' it she is letting us know up-front: This will only be "glimpses"...

In some ways, visual Agnetha - or Agnetha through the camera - regularly seems a different person than speaking/writing Agnetha. The picture of the singer opposite the preface (in my version) may be one case in point. Understanding right off that Ms. Fältskog is photogenic, has a wonderful, "light-up" smile (when seen), and is adept with posing for photographers: The accompanying photo still seems a bit inconsistent with what's written next to it. If you don't have access to a copy, (in my version) Ms. Fältskog is shown with arms lifted and crossed over, covering the bottom half of her face. Only her eyes can be seen but it seems that they are "smiling" a bit. The overall impression (to me) is of someone covering up their face as if bashful (or reticent), but in a sly, playful, or coquettish way. Who knows? Perhaps it was an attempt to lighten words that follow - both in the preface and beyond. Like others included, it is an appealing (partial) photo of Ms. Faltskog (from the time). But some of the words - by Agnetha - that follow are heavier. Direct.
I.e., feelings/thoughts exposed, uncovered. More serious. In contrast to this playful photo...

But perhaps that is over-analysis. (No surprise!) Maybe Agnetha is merely pantomiming the fact that she is allowing us only a glimpse of herself in the book. (Fans who have watched Ms. Faltskog closely in old, ABBA performance (music) videos recall that she occasionally would do something like that: Literally act out or pantomime certain song lyrics (via gestures, etc.).)

D. Unless you desire only a sketch or outline of the the former ABBA singer's life, As I Am is not recommended here as (being) a complete autobiography. It is not that.. Per above, Agnetha (and Brita Ahman) provided us with only a basic run-through of (highlights of) the star's (interesting) past. Plus just a few peeks at Agnetha's present life - from the time.

Although I am not familiar with all of his efforts, Carl Magus Palm's Bright Lights, Dark Shadows would be one suggested source for information and insights about Agnetha's growing up - especially from a music-career perspective. There may also be other books on the "ABBA(-related) bookshelf" (I am not familiar with) that provide (at least) a more complete biographical account. Agnetha - and all ABBA members - also participated in many interviews during the band's peak. Though some articles are suspect (e.g., just gossip), here is an excellent source containing many of these (old-time) pieces:
(link) http://abbaarticles.blogspot.com/

Note to readers: ... A whole lot of words have tumbled out here already. And we're only just beyond the preface -- of what is a picture book (from last century) as much as anything!

So I'm going to break this rumination off for awhile (and go re-visit my regular life again). Several of my main points have been made, above: 1) For a few reasons, Agnetha at least ventured to produce a - limited - personal book effort, intended for fans - as well as certain others. 2) Along with the photogenic star's photos, her written sections of the book are what matter (especially for fans). 3) Allowing for effects of translation Agnetha generally writes clearly (like her voice); employing a straightforward style/economy of words. (Possibly so much so that what is really important (in her words) sometimes may be understated or not adequately explained.) 4) The book's preface is important for overall understanding of it. 5.) Terming this publication an "(auto)biography" is practically incorrect usage. (Either noun...) I.e, the effort was too sparse about personal details - incl. background - of its subject.

For any readers left standing I may pick this topic up again at some point during the cold, dark winter. Some of Agnetha's "glimpses" remain of interest, and we may get into those a bit....We don't have a lot else available 'penned' by the singer herself, before or since.

As her fans realize Ms. Fältskog is a person with out-of-the-ordinary gifts and talent, in contrast to her long-term low-profile; her concerted efforts to live as a normal, "everyday" person.  I find that I must try to look beyond the superficial (the obvious, the public image) to earn an even greater understanding of that. 

P.S. Yes...there are just way too many words all throughout here. Though needed to express thoughts and analysis they regularly do almost nothing to really capture the special performer that this pop singer was. (All of ABBA were.)
If you're still around take a break from the words and enjoy one tiny snippet, from 'back in the day'. (Link follows, below.) Displaying a pop singer/performer extraordinaire...TWO of them, in truth. (I.e., both ladies; most definitely.) 
While watching mesmerizing 'Chiquitita' live (and more), remember that, per As I Am, page 137 (etc.), Agnetha did not consider herself to be at her best as a live singer/performer.
Though it may be true that the "studio (was) her home"....Many (popular) singers would beg and plead to be "not showing their best"...like this: ('deep' link, new window opens) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UElpcpOQt9Q #t=14m36s
(Song begins at around 14:35 (of the YT video above) if the link does not take you there directly. "Link rot" update: Here is another, current link to the same performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbudehH1zwA )

(Note: This post is backdated in order to better position within all entries on this website. 
Its actual creation date is 8/31/12.)

2014 update: In his revised 2014 edition of Bright Lights, Dark Shadows, author Carl Magnus Palm (at least) implies that some of Agnetha's words in As I Am may have been "ghostwritten". 

FWIW, he would know better than I....

Copyright (original portions only) © 2012-2014. 

Link to my full blog: http://star4abba.blogspot.com/

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