Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Marie Fredriksson | Lefsetz Letter

Hello, you fool, I love you
C’mon join the joyride

I thought “The Look” was a novelty song. Swedish band crosses over for their one hit wonder and then disappears. You know, like Shocking Blue and “Venus.” Actually both tracks are similar, with indelible guitar hooks and simple concepts. Was “The Look” accidental genius, or insight into the human condition from authentic rockers, nailing the essence?

But then came the ballads, “Listen To Your Heart” and “It Must Have Been Love.” Well, there was more to this act than I previously believed, but obviously they were hollow at the core, lightweight, the stinging guitar of “The Look” was an anomaly.

And then came “Joyride.”

This was the era of music videos, the original MTV VJs were gone, but the channel powered on, if you were on you were a success, if you weren’t, good luck, there was a clear delineation between failure and success, and we all knew the successes. And “Joyride” was a success.

I waited for it to come on, and then I taped it, it made me feel good in a time where that was not my mood, my ex had left me, called me, putting a stake in the heart of my new relationship, and now I was alone and broke, with only my music to inspire me.

I hit the road out of nowhere
I had to jump in my car
And be a rider in a love game
Following the stars

That’s all I had left, my car, which I filled three dollars a throw at the Arco, getting such a deal because I paid in cash, even though this cheap gas ultimately burned out my fuel pump.

But that was later.

And in your car, you can forget your troubles, at least you used to be able to, before the advent of mobile phones.

So I’d play “Joyride” over and over. But what were the odds anything else the band did was any good?

I pored through thousands of CDs, this was before the earthquake, when I moved about five or six thousand to the garage, after the towers they were stacked in fell and prevented me from going from the living room to the bedroom.

So this was a project. Long before Napster. When you either had the CD or never heard the music, other than the hits that were played on MTV.

I found “Joyride.”

And the nature of a CD is if you forget to hit the button for single repeat it ends up playing and you become enamored of what follows.

Maybe it was the solo piano intro of “Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)”, or the scrappy intro of “Knockin’ On Every Door,” I got hooked by this CD, I let it play through.

And this was back in the era of cool, when guys in pegged pants, long hair, all in black, thought they controlled the music business and told us what was good and pooh-poohed everything else, maybe this is why Roxette’s music was not released in the States, even though it was huge on the Continent.

This also demonstrates how labels can be clueless. But the truth is every record company has an agenda, and if someone else signed it, especially overseas, the person running the company frequently wants nothing to do with it, they want to promote what they are personally responsible for, to look good, to burnish their image, demonstrate their chops.

And labels are populated by believers, so if it’s commercial, obvious, perfect, they want nothing to do with it. Rather, you constantly read about acts with bad vocals and indecipherable lyrics clouded in a miasma of sound and acts like Roxette never got a chance.

Until an exchange student brought their music back from Sweden and the rest is history.

Now my favorite cut on “Joyride” is not the title track, but ‘Watercolours In The Rain.”

Going through the motions
Ending up nowhere at all

Like I said, I was newly single, and I hated it, having it and losing it is much worse than never having it at all. And I’d play records to get through. Records that would take me away, to a private place where I could marinate in the music and feel understood.

But what hooked me on “Watercolours In The Rain” was not the lyrics, but the sound, Per Gessle knew the Led Zeppelin trick, going from acoustic to electric and back again. Boston rode this paradigm to success, but everybody else ignored it, just like today, when traditional building blocks like hooky choruses and bridges elude acts.

Come on, you know “Led Zeppelin III,” “Ten Years Gone,” the way Jimmy Page strummed those strings…”Watercolours In The Rain” has that same sound, but Marie Fredriksson is not screaming, but singing, somehow pop and rock sensibilities were merged and what came out was unique. Come on, I dare you to mention another act that sounds like Roxette.

You see they knew the basics. And then flowered therefrom. This is the Swedish paradigm, educated musicians, oftentimes in school, who try harder because they’re in a backwater, trying to make it to the main event, which is the United States (although the game is now more worldwide than ever, credit the internet and streaming services).

And then there was “Spending My Time.”

Spending my time
Watching the days go by
Feeling so small, I stare at the wall
Hoping that you think of me too
I’m spending my time

You can’t get them out of your mind, you wonder…do they feel this way too?

But it doesn’t matter, because they’re gone, and despite your hope, they’re never coming back, ruptures are hard to repair.

My friends telling me ‘hey, life will go on’
Time will make sure I’ll get over you
This silly game of love you play, you win only to lose

That’s the truth. Your friends can only be so supportive, they burn out on your story, and the truth is time puts you back together, but you never forget, you can never forget.

And “Joyride” is full of gems. “(Do You Get) Excited?” “Church Of Your Heart.” “Soul Deep.” “The Big L.” The aforementioned “Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” and “Knockin’ On Every Door.”

And “Perfect Day” closes the album on a bittersweet note, the raucousness, the excesses of what came before, are stripped away, down to the pure essence, it sounds like Marie is singing from within your brain, you cannot stay in this space, it’s too uncomfortable being confronted with the naked truth, all you can do is start the whole process over again, drop the needle on the opening track, the title cut, “Joyride.”

And after loving “Joyride,” what came before gained context. “The Look,” “Listen To Your Heart” and “It Must Have Been Love” could be seen as genius, which almost did not get a chance in the U.S.

And “It Must Have Been Love” was part of the “Pretty Woman” juggernaut and then…

It was all over, at least in the United States.

I saw the band at the Universal Amphitheatre, hung with Per Gessle and his manager at the time, Journey’s Herbie Herbert, told Per my feelings about “Watercolours In The Rain,” but then there was a consolidation, the execs at EMI in the U.S. were blown out, a new team came in, eventually the next Roxette album was released, but got zero promotion and then it was all over.

But success continued overseas. Kind of like Queen. We think it ended with the Elektra albums, but the band continued to have huge success elsewhere. Teams matter. Priorities matter. The music doesn’t always matter.

So Roxette soldiered on. I continued to play the “Joyride” album. And then Marie Fredriksson had a seizure, she had a brain tumor. It seemed like it was all over.

But in 2012 the band went on a world tour. Marie didn’t move so well, but the music, the sound, was still there.

It’s always about the sound.

So “Joyride” is almost thirty years ago, it seems like yesterday, but it isn’t. MTV doesn’t even call itself “Music Television” anymore, rock is a niche genre, hip-hop dominates, but the truth is the scene is splintered into a zillion different elements. Read the Top Ten lists being released, chances are you’re unfamiliar with most of the material.

But this is not the way it used to be. We used to all know, we were involved, we argued over this music. Music was not a sideshow, but still the main show, in an era where America was flourishing, greed dominating, we still believed…in the American Dream, in the power of music to save our lives and change culture, before the billionaires, when we felt if we were at the show enjoying the music of our favorite acts nothing could be better.

And now it’s getting worse. But Marie Fredriksson will no longer be able to chart the course of history.

We think we’re gonna live forever.

And some people take chances that don’t play out so well, whether they be physical challenges or drug risks. But you can eat right, sleep right, live a clean life and the Big C, health problems, can still come out of the blue and bite your ass.

That’s how it happens. You’re minding your own business and either your M.D. tells you there’s a problem, or you have so much pain you finally go to the doctor after avoiding visiting for eons and get a fatal diagnosis.

It’s not fair. It takes a long time to own this. To realize life is not really a game, there aren’t winners and losers, no one is toting up your money and achievements…we’re just all here for a short time, and then we’re gone.

Now if you’re an artist, your work might be remembered, you see people don’t forget being touched.

And that used to be the goal of the musician, to capture lightning in a bottle, lay down the essence of life and touch people.

Now all players can do is bitch about the money they’re not making and embrace the lifestyle. Yes, we’ve gotten far from the garden.

But the garden is still embedded in these tracks. Roxette was not a one hit wonder, anything but.

They don’t make this music anymore.

But if you lived through the era, you remember it. When the mellifluous sound penetrated your ears and you followed it like the Pied Piper.

Per and Marie were leaders

I was a follower

And now Marie is gone.



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