In the 31 years since ABBA split up, Agnetha Fältsgok has avoided or made light of questions about her time with the world’s second bestselling band of all time. But last week, during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Frontline, she opened up at last about the highs and lows of the superstardom she eventually shunned. Or so it seemed.
She talked about breaking up with Björn, about how difficult it was for her to be on the road, about the experience of singing The Winner Takes It All – the song her ex-husband wrote about their divorce. But at the same time, she said nothing new at all.
These are well-known, rehearsed facts about Agnetha and ABBA. Although it seemed as if she was baring all, she wasn’t telling us anything new at all. But then John Wilson tried to get beneath the surface story. He asked her if she’d be going back to Stockholm for the opening of ABBA: The Museum on May 7, to which she replied:
“I’ll still be here in London, I’m afraid.”
Wilson sounded shocked that she wouldn’t be going and then asked: “Would you like to sing in public together again, the four of you?”
Agnetha gave a soft laugh and then said: “I think we would like it, but I don’t think that we’re going to do it because we have our separate lives now, we are much older, and I can’t see a reason why we should do it, really.”
Wilson wasn’t taking no for an answer. “You must wonder what it would be like of the four of you got together in a room, and just to hear what happens in the air when the four of you sing,” he said. ‘You don’t think that will ever happen again, even in private?”
“No,’ said Agnetha. “I don’t think so.”
ABBA do reunite in my novel, Knowing Me Knowing You. It’s a dream that may never come true, but at least with fiction we can try to write between the lines. Between the lines of Agnetha’s interview there was a very different story going on.
It’s hard to match up what she said earlier: “I think we would like it”, with her flat, firm refusal to even broach imagining singing in a room privately with Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid, which leads me to think that her excuses for not getting back together – separate lives, too old, no good reason – are yet more surface statements, and Agnetha isn’t letting anyone in at all.
Her new album is simply titled ‘A’, a direct reference to her initial being used as part of ABBA. She’s taken it back, and it’s as if she’s saying that although ABBA still retain their epic popularity, her initial will never be linked up to B, B and A again in real time.
There’s a mystery at the heart of this that may never be made public, but you can’t help but wonder if Agnetha’s lack of enthusiasm isn’t somehow linked to the other A in ABBA.
I originally came up with the concept for my new novel while cycling in Dublin (often my ideas come while biking, there’s something about the rhythm of it that makes my thoughts flow). I remembered a story I’d written for a comedy newspaper I produce every now and then for my family, about my youngest brother who as a teenager was big into Eminem. The story said that he was spotted coming out of an Abbaholics Anonymous meeting.
Suddenly I had it. I would write a book about an ABBA fanclub who reunite to go to Stockholm to see an ABBA reunion concert. I would call the book Abbaholics Anonymous.
I pitched the idea to my publishers, who liked it, and so the long and hard work of writing Abbaholics Anonymous began.
Cut to a year and a half later, when my second draft was finished, and my editor says she wants to have a meeting. Nobody in the publishing house likes Abbaholics Anonymous as a title, she tells me over coffee. Can’t we call it something else?
I argued hard. I thought the title was comedic and would leave people in no doubt about the subject matter, but my editor argued that the book was about so much more than just an ABBA fanclub and an ABBA concert. They were just the hangers on which the full wardrobe of the novel were hung.
Eventually I had to agree. I let go of Abbaholics Anonymous (although I did keep the phrase part of the novel itself) and started casting around for a new title. It wasn’t easy. I looked through the ABBA catalogue over and over again, but nothing was jumping out.
The the publishers suggested The Day Before You Came. But I felt the song was too obscure, that only diehard ABBA fans would instantly remember it looking at the cover. I wanted it to be more instantly grabbing.
My editor’s instincts were spot on, in one respect. ‘The Day Before You Came’ is not only ABBA’s masterpiece (to my mind), but it has a real sense of story to it. As a title it suggests a past, present and future – the hook telling the browser that something interesting is going to happen in the course of this book.
Voulez Vous? “No,” said my editor. It’s too 1970s sexual.
Thank You For The Music? “No, it sounds like an ABBA biography.”
S.O.S.? “No, it sounds like a cry for help.”
I had suggested Knowing Me Knowing You early on in the process, but we both dismissed it because it was once the catchphrase of Alan Partridge, and people automatically delivered back comedic “Ah ha!” at the end.
But then one day I was driving to Sligo, my hometown (and where the teenage sections of the novel are set) and ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’ came on the radio. I listened to the lyrics and found that they fit my story in so many ways.
It’s a book about love lost and found, friendships that have fallen by the wayside, and what happens in the aftermath of people’s lives. In it my characters get to rekindle romance and friendship 30 years after the summer they were feeltingly friends, and in a way it’s a book about knowing another person, really knowing.
When the cover designs for the book came through, it was Knowing Me Knowing You that stood out by a mile. It was perfectly right. I saw it in a bookshop, staring out from the shelf at me the other day, and thought: Abbaholics Anonymous? What was I thinking?