When people hear me sing they often say: “is that really you”. They think I sound so young and the music is so fresh, how can it be? Because the truth is, I’m over fifty, and it doesn’t stop me from feeling young, raising my voice and claiming a seat in the hall of promising songwriters to be taken seriously. I have been fighting for this for so long. Should I let superficial things like age stop me from doing and sharing what I love? I hope you don’t think so. It hasn’t been an easy road to travel for me, and here’s my story:
When I was thirteen I started to write pop songs in English. I was influenced by the English pop music at the time (the seventies) and was in love with George Harrison and his beautiful “My Sweet Lord”. Other artists I listened to at the time were Deep Purple, David Bowie and Swedish Ted Gärdestad, who was a couple of years older than I and was born in the same neighbourhood. He sadly passed away all too soon, but his songs are treasured by Swedish music lovers. On a deeper level I was surely influenced by the young songwriter and singer Agnetha Fältskog, who had a solo career when I was still a child. Her beautiful love songs, like “Om tårar var guld” (If tears were gold) have a sincere expression that I still appreciate.
My mother encouraged me and sent me to talent contests and found me a singing friend, together with whom I had my first small success on stage. In my neighbourhood, but still…
Later, in my late teens, I discovered the progressive rock, and groups like Genesis, Yes and Focus became my favourites. I loved the variety, the complex structure and beautiful melodies of Genesis, not to mention their detailed and poetic lyrics. I learned a lot from them, and my songs started to become freer in composition. For me it was not just about following the mainstream recipe of a pop song: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. I created freely and in my own way.
I wrote songs by the piano at home at my parents’ house in Sollentuna, just north of Stockholm. That was my favourite place to be. By the piano, which my mother had bought and which she much later gave to me, on my fortieth birthday. Until that day, she had been lending it to me for many years. I love my piano. I have written so many songs by the piano.
I went to study music for a year in a boarding school many miles from home. I was nineteen when I started and twenty when I finished there. By then, I had made a decision that proved to be not so wise. I met the young man who was to become the father of my first three sons. I moved with him to a town in the south of Sweden, far from my worried parents.
In three years I had three children. I loved them all dearly, but couldn’t think of a career or even an ordinary job for years to come. My husband tried to keep me in strict obedience as he was convinced a woman should obey her husband. And children should obey their parents. He physically abused them, and I was not allowed to get a job or an education. I was supposed to stay at home and make the children obedient. Our home was a very unhappy and loveless place.
I wanted to find a way out, but where could I go? My father helped me find a flat in the Stockholm area and after five years I left my husband. I moved back to Stockholm with my three boys and started over as a single mother. It was tough being on my own with three small kids, but slowly I started to write songs again. Now the piano was in place in my new home and I got three of my songs signed with two different music publishers! It gave me self-confidence to keep going. During this period I wrote some of my best songs.
My parents were happy I was close again. I started to relax and to find out who I really was. I had been playing so many roles up to then. I worked as a translator to and fro, trying to make ends meet for me and my boys.
During this time I contacted many record companies and music publishers. I had interesting discussions with some of them, they encouraged me. I used to phone them and say I was about to send them a demo tape. And a few days later I phoned them again to follow up. At the same time I had my three little boys to take care of, alone.
I even went to London to make visits to a few music publishers there. One of them was genuinely interested, but for some reason it never came to a deal.
Back home I contacted a guy who owned a studio in Stockholm and he helped me make a demo that sounded better than the ones I had made so far. I had been sitting at my piano with a cassette recorder and a very simple microphone. In those days, that was not unusual. But things were about to change.
When my second son was six he started to complain about pain in his legs. First they thought it was growing pains, but it was leukaemia. For many months we practically lived at the hospital. He got chemotherapy and radiation and then he was to take lots of pills at home every day for years.
I was accepted to a drama school and studied acting for a year while my boys were still young. They spent their days at a very good preschool and I had a chance to focus and think about my own life for the first time in years. After five years my sick son was declared healthy.
Now a couple of good years followed. We moved to a new flat and I met a new man. Soon I had my fourth son and we were a big family, especially when my new husband’s son was living with us in weekends. Now I started to write new songs again and recording them on a portable home studio. I bought a really big 32-channel mixer, but never really learned how to use it, so I sold it and decided to stick with four channels.
I still loved sitting by the piano, and that’s where I fled as soon as I got a chance to get away from family duties. In the house (which was a kind of commune) I didn’t only meet my husband, I also met a young musician who had a band. We did some music events together and I helped his band with lyrics to some of their songs.
I wanted to learn more about the theatre, so I applied and was accepted to a three year long education in directing in Stockholm. In this school I got serious training for the stage and for my voice. Now my second son, who was now fourteen, had a relapse of his leukaemia. I had to be at the hospital at the same time as I was trying to keep up with my education. Another long treatment followed, and before it was completed my son had yet another relapse. Now we went to Mallorca for a week, despite the doctor’s recommendations. We just had to get away to something warm, nice and different from the hospital environment. Back in Stockholm again we planned for the future. The only thing left to try, said the doctors, was bone marrow transplantation.
This was performed in the summer 1995 at Huddinge hospital with bone marrow donated by his younger brother. The radiation treatment on the whole body preceding the operation was like going through hell. They wanted to eliminate all his white blood cells to make sure there were no sick cells left before the new marrow was transplanted. I cannot describe what it was like for me as a mother to see my child in that condition. After one hour under the radiation apparatus he was a human wreck. It still hurts when I think about it.
The transplantation went well although he was isolated for weeks in a disinfected room with a lock chamber where we had to put on disinfected robes to come in and see him.
Autumn came, he was well enough to come home, but he soon got some strange fever. He also started to behave very strangely and was mentally weak. Again, we were at the hospital nearly all the time. The nurses became our friends. He had to move to the psychiatric ward where they diagnosed him with psychosis.
Back in his old hospital ward again he went through a new test and it showed, again, that the leukaemia had come back. When leukaemia comes back after bone marrow transplantation there is nothing more to do. He got pneumonia and six days later he died.
Later, the doctors understood that the strange behavior and the psychosis were in fact the sick blood cells that had now affected his brain.
When you lose your child, there is a big hole in your stomach. You have to walk around with that hole for quite a long time. Slowly, slowly, somehow, it heals as you go ahead with your life.
Three years later, in 1998, my father passed away. He had been suffering quite long from lung cancer. That year was also a very creative year, I had got my strength back and was writing songs and had a lively discussion with two music publishers who wanted to hear more from me. I sent them more, but for some reason it stopped there. I remember talking to some A&R-guy on the phone while I was visiting my father at the hospital. He told me I wrote really good music and that I was bound to succeed sooner or later. But right then he didn’t need what I could offer.
It was a hectic time. But when dad was gone I lost that creative force again. And this time it was gone for years.
My mother died in 2005 from Alzheimer’s. By then I had been to the university and working as a culture administrator and art supervisor for a few years.
To be continued …