Friday, October 31, 2008

Full Benny action

Benny Andersson has always been my favorite member of Abba. There's many things I love about him so I'll pick just one: the way he beams in many of the group's videos and in live footage. There he is, banging on his piano, bobbing his head, looking happy as a Swedish clam. But it's not self-satisfaction you can read on his face: He looks as if he can't believe his luck of having the other three to help him create such brilliant pop.

Conversely, I recently learned that his "Tröstevisa" is the piece of music that's played the most at Swedish funerals.

About a month ago Benny was given a honorary doctorate by Stockholm University, and he recently participated in a one-on-one chat there. Of course the Dilettante's Special Stockholm Correspondent was in attendance, camera in hand, and he emailed the following.

"Today, I attended Benny Andersson's lecture at Stockholm University. Or, rather, his conversation with the head of musicology, professor Holger Larsen. Visibly nervous, but quickly warming up to the encouragement—in the form of smiles, laughter and gentle applause—of the audience (there were about 200-250 of us), he talked about his career and played a few songs on the grand piano, including one from Chess and two or three from BAO [a.k.a. Benny Anderssons Orkester]. One he played that I hadn't heard before was "Cirkus Finemang" (an almost untranslatable title; 'Finemang' is something my grandparents might have said, meaning 'top stuff', 'smashing'). Actually, an orchestral studio version was played in the big speakers, and then Benny played the solo bit in the middle live. I was quite touched by the haunting melody.

And he had brought a CD with a medley of favourites, seven or eight tracks, though sadly I don't know what all of them were. Well, one was a traditional Swedish folk song (performed on fiddles) and one was Maria Callas, and another one I'm pretty sure was Le mystère des voix bulgares, and then there was 'Good Vibrations' by the Beach Boys.

No great surprises perhaps, but he really comes across as a very nice person. He said making music is making choices. You choose what you want to do and where you want to go (if you have that particular gift). He told us he drew on a slightly different set favourites from British and American composers of popular music: Caterina Valente, Hugo Montenegro, Mantovani, 50's and 60's Schlager—as well as the expected Beach Boys.

They were going to broadcast the conversation live, but opted against it at the last minute. They were supposed to talk for an hour and then have some questions from the floor, but Benny didn't seem to want to stop, so the whole thing went on for an hour and a half. And he signed autographs afterwards! My impression is Benny's a music man, through and through. He loves music, making it and, I think, listening to it.

When asked what he thought about the present (conservative) government's plans to drastically cut funding for music, drama and dance in Swedish schools, he said he didn't know that this was more than a proposal, but if it were, we would need a new government. And he added, I think we need a new government anyway! Considering the amount of times he's been accused of being a greedy capitalist, this, I thought, was quite a strong statement. Curiously enough, there was no great round of applause. (This is a government that has abolished free museum entry and has talked about introducing charges in libraries…)

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