No, it is not a country music song! This modern day Viking saga about life in the Land of the Midnight Sun begins 16 hours after I graduated from Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture.
by Richard Thornton, Architect and City Planner.
This epic issue of the Americas Revealed includes many photos that will dazzle you. A virtual reality performance, broadcast to the world on Sept. 2, 2021, suggested that four talented, but seriously aging Swedish musicians are gods and goddesses, who are about to become stars in the heavens. As a result ABBA , the blockbuster Swedish singing group from the 1970s, is suddenly all over the internet and Youtube. I thought y’all would like to hear from someone who was a bonified eyewitness on the scene, when it all this began. I can verify that they are human. However, I do not appear to be a fossil like them because I faithfully kept up a diet regimen based on cabbage, grits, collards, yams, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, brown rice, Brunswick stew, Southern Fried chicken, hushpuppies, Southern Fried catfish, corn bread and barbecued ribs.
Those were crazy times. A war of words over the Vietnam War between the President Richard Nixon and Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme had elevated to the point that the two nations superficially seemed to be at war. There was only a skeleton staff at the US embassy in Stockholm. It would be closed later in the year. In the eyes of right-wingers, purchase of a Volvo or SAAB (cars brands from Sweden) was tantamount to being a Pinko Commie or maybe even a traitor.
Nixon labeled Sweden as a Socialist dictatorship and de-facto member of the Warsaw Pact, while Palme openly predicted that the US would invade Sweden without warning. He ordered the Swedish military to shift their defenses from being directed at Communist countries to protection from an attack by the US from NATO members Denmark and Norway.
Norwegians were quite amused, when Palme ordered increased border police and military special operations troops on their shared border to protect his country’s beautiful blue-eyed blond women from being ravaged hordes of blood thirsty, fascist American mongrels, about to cross over the mountains. Well, this mongrel arrived by boat!
Russia had been Sweden’s arch-enemy for over 500 years. The Swedish military and Royal Family knew that, but some members of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party believed the nonsense coming from Palme. The Swedish military maintained World War II era, concrete machine gun forts and tank traps along the beaches of Landskrona in order to discourage an amphibious attack by the Soviet Union. Palme and Nixon were delusional.
On the Sunday morning after I graduated from Georgia Tech’s architecture school, I embarked on a 24 hour journey by three different jets, a Danish bus and a Swedish ferry to a job in Landskrona, Sweden with the Landskrona Stadsarkitektkontoret (City Architect’s Office). My official project was the design of a pedestrian village on Ven Island in the Oresund Channel between Sweden and Denmark. I was to also design a prefabrication system so that the houses could be manufactured in modules by a factory in Landskrona then transported by boat to the island.
In 1972, Sweden had a population of 8,054,909, while Georgia’s was about 4,700,000. In 2021, Sweden’s population is 10,175 494, while the State of Georgia now is slightly larger at 10,816,885. While painted by Nixonian Republicans as an evil Marxist dictatorship and simultaneously an evil place of sexual debauchery, Sweden was far more democratic than the United States . . . which was quickly evolving into a police state because of widespread opposition to the Vietnam War. Even the highly decorated officers (two with Congressional Medals of Honor won in Vietnam), who taught me in Naval ROTC classes had been early opponents of our presence in Vietnam. Meanwhile in Sweden, the local police rarely even carried pistols on them, because there was so little crime.
On the right is a condom vending machine, which was on the wall of my apartment building, adjacent to the sidewalk. In Swedish it is called a Kondomautomat. It was owned by the county health department.
Such machines were scattered all over the city. The Swedish words, “Barn? javisst, men när vi själva vill!” roughly translate as “Children? Yes, of course! But when we want them!” Since the catastrophic drop in the birth rate among Native Swedes, the machines are more likely to beg women to get pregnant ASAP [no need to get married] but not catch an STD, while practicing.
These machines probably were a primary reason that Puritan tourists from the United States brought back impressions of the entire nation being promiscuous. In fact, as you will learn below, I found Swedish young adults to be vastly less affectionate that their peers in that era in France and Latin America.
Coming from a Southeastern Native American family, I was accustomed to holding hands, hugging and pats on the back with the gal I loved. All of the loves of my life adored that affirming, special treatment. However, such public displays of affection were rare in Sweden . . . even among married couples.
The claim that Sweden was Marxist turned out to be a total lie. The only government owned business in Landskrona was the Alkohol Systembolaget or government-owned liquor stores. Seventeen states in the USA have a monopoly on liquor stores. Yes, Sweden had a national healthcare system – the best in the world – but so did every other country in Europe, plus Canada and Mexico.
For most of time at Tech, I has assumed that I would be a Navy Seabee officer after graduation, but then the Navy told me that it was retiring lots of Seabee Officers, but thought I would be a mighty fine Naval Intelligence Officer. That would require a PhD in International Affairs and a 10 year commitment afterward. I told them that I would be wasting my architecture degree, so the commandant asked if I would be interested in doing errands overseas for the US Navy, officially as a Inactive Reserve civilian. I said yes . . . but was not told what the errands were.
The first thing that I knew about working in Sweden was when I received a telegram from Swedish Crown Prince Karl Gustaf offering me a job in Landskrona, wherever in the heck that was. He is now the King of Sweden. I had not applied for the job and didn’t know why I got it until a Lt. Commander in US Naval Intelligence sat beside me in the British Airways 787. No one else was assigned seats on our row. Well folks . . . it very quickly became a scene out of Mission Impossible . . . complete with signing a 20 year non-disclosure agreement. My parents and ex-wife never knew about this aspect of my early manhood.
A group of Palestinians and Arabs had showed up in Landskrona. Several obtained work permits for jobs on or in support of two ferries that ran several times a day, seven days a week, between Landskrona and Tuborghavn in Copenhagen. It was where Tuborg beer was brewed until 1996.
The men turned out to be members of the Black September Terrorist Organization. They never should have been allowed in the country or given work visas. At this time, Swedish Internal Security (RPS/Säk) was believed to be riddled with Soviet agents. The Danish and Swedish Navy, plus NATO were convinced that these terrorists planned to either sink the Landskrona-Tuborg ferry – killing as many as 1200 passengers and crewmen or else hold them hostage to obtain releases for Islamic terrorists being held in Israeli prisons.
The men were living in a neighborhood, specially designated for the city’s international community. It was correctly believed that placing personnel with Scandinavian features near the terrorists would arouse their suspicion. I didn’t look Scandinavian or even similar to most North Americans.
My job was to keep a very low profile and never speak English in the hallway. I was merely to look for Europeans coming to their apartments or accompanying them on the sidewalks. My handlers thought that the Soviet Union had offered to supply the terrorists with the types of high explosives that would sink a large ship. I did in fact see East Germans make contact with the terrorists several times. The entire terrorist cell disappeared about two weeks before the Black September terrorist attack on the Israeli Athletes Dormitory at the Munich Olympics. I was ordered to take the overnight train to Munich and so was there mingling with the crowd on the second day of the tragic event.
Buying food and cooking for myself – YIKES!
For the five previous years, I had eaten all my meals at the fraternity house, unless electing to eat out at a restaurant or eating in a Mexican home. I had never bought food in a supermarket. Even when I camped out with the seven French college coeds or later lived in a Maya hut with Ana – the Tour Guide with Benefits – the young women bought and cooked the food. The last time that I had cooked a meal for myself was as a 13 year old Boy Scout . . . but I did have a cooking merit badge!
The section of the store that astonished me the most was the bread section. It was 75 meters (246 ft.) long! Most of that was unsliced whole grain loafs. The “American style” tasteless pre-sliced bread section was about 6 meters (20 feet) long. They had breads from all over Europe – even Turkey. There were also breads the size of rolls and flat breads.
On Monday after work, two days after graduating from Georgia Tech, I went to the ICA supermarket to buy food for dinner. I didn’t know the meanings of most of the signs. I didn’t understand the monetary system. All their chickens came from Gainesville, Georgia. All their canned peaches came from Perry, GA. So I bought chickens, canned peaches, bread (bröd), sausages (Korv), strawberry preserves (jordgubbskonserver), a head of cabbage (en kål) and butter (smör).
THEN when I got to the check out, they had an automated conveyer belt and laser, which somehow told the cashier how much each item cost. This system would not come to the United States for another decade. I panicked at the check out line, left the food in my basket and fled the store.
I then rode my bike to the IKEA department store, where they had an inexpensive cafeteria. I showed what money I had to the young woman cashier. She picked out what I had to pay her. The next afternoon, one of the female city planners in our office accompanied me to the ICA to help me shop. I soon got the hang of it.
On Wednesday, my boss, Stadsarkitekt Gunnar Lydh, announced that we were taking a boat to Ven Island to walk over my project site. My assignment was to design a pedestrian village around a late medieval farmstead. Local residents had twice voted down, midrise apartments, designed first by Swedish architects and then again by British architects.
Gunnar was concerned that I appreciate the extremely historic nature of the site. St. Ibbs was one of the oldest churches in Scandinavia. It was constructed when Vikings (pirates) were still making raids to England and France. The church was built on a Neolithic-Bronze Age-Early Iron Age worship site. I now know that the area around the church contained the same types of stacked stone structures that I am finding in northeast Georgia.
At the foot of the cliff were boulders, engraved with ancient symbols. I did not know the word, petroglyph, at that time, but I instantly recognized them to be Creek Indian sacred symbols. What were they doing in Sweden? I told that to Gunnar. He laughed at me, but that observation has puzzled me all my life. Only recently did I find the answer and it is mind-boggling. June 6, 1972 turned out to be one of the most important days of my life.
Livet på USA
In early May 1972 I called up Governor Jimmy Carter’s office to ask for some type of letter from the governor that I could give to the officials in one of Sweden’s larger ports, which made it clear that Georgia’s officials were not hostile to Sweden. In other words, Jimmy Carter was not a crony of Richard Nixon. I knew that Jimmy had been going on trade missions to Latin American countries with this same internationalist message. He was the first elected US official to give a press conference in Spanish and afterward was treated like a leader of a nation! The secretary immediately recognized me from being an intern for Jimmy the previous summer.
The next day the secretary called me back. She said that Jimmy told her to tell me that my call was very timely. He had recently been interviewed by some Swedish journalists and realized that he knew very little about Sweden. Afterward, he learned that Sweden was a major customer for Georgia’s frozen chickens, Coca Cola, canned peaches, kaolin clay, peanuts and peanut butter. Entire ship loads of frozen chickens went out of Savannah each month, headed to Sweden! In addition, all of Denmark’s famous porcelain china was made with Georgia kaolin clay.
Jimmy said that he would have a nice economic development package prepared for me, including a cover letter by him in English and Swedish, to give to the mayor of where I would be living. The Department of Industry and Trade would go ahead and send this same package to Sweden’s International Trade people in Stockholm. The very attractive international trade package included an autographed photo of Jimmy. There was a spare signed photo for me, so I could have bragging rights.
During the last week of school, Jimmy himself called to congratulate me on graduating from Georgia Tech. When I got back from Sweden, he wanted me to contact his office so we could get together some Saturday afternoon at the Governor’s Mansion. He had a lot of questions about what it was like to actually live in Scandinavia. He also asked me to contact General Richard Allen (Ret. Army Airborne) in the Dept. of Industry and Trade to debrief him on mutual trade opportunities with Scandinavian countries.
I gave the Georgia trade package to the secretary of Landskrona’s borgmästare (mayor) on Tuesday morning after arriving in the city. That afternoon, one of his friends called me at the office and invited me to have dinner with his family on Thursday evening. Afterward, we could watch television with his new Phillips color TV. Sweden’s Channel One had only been partially broadcasting in color for two years.
A new series, called “Livet på USA” (Life in the USA) was premiering in color that night. Herr Blyhammar thought it would be interesting to get my response to the impressions of the United States, presented by the journalist. At this point, neither of us knew that the premier was filmed in Atlanta, Savannah and several smaller cities in Georgia.
Talking about surrealistic . . . I had only been in Sweden four days and I was watching a hyped-up prime time TV about the city and the state that I had just traveled from!
The program started out by saying that very few Swedes had ever even heard of Georgia or Atlanta, but Metro Atlanta contained 250,000 more people than Metro Stockholm. *In 2021 Metro Atlanta is now four times the size of Metro Stockholm. Most Swedes, who had graduated from gymnasium (academic high school) had heard of Savannah, but only vaguely knew its location. The story of Savannah’s founding for debtors and famous town plan is featured in the Civics book, used throughout Sweden. The announcer then asked viewers to look at the spout of the milk carton in their refrigerator. Every milk carton sold in Scandinavia read, “Manufactured under license of Pure-Pak, Inc. Atlanta, GA USA. The same thing goes for Coca-Colas!
The program then shifted to the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a name that virtually all Swedes would recognize. It described the history of the Civil Rights movement in Georgia then brought on Congressman Andrew Young, who was standing beside Martin Luther King, when he was assassinated. I shouted, “There’s Andy!” Everyone in the vardagsrum (living room) stared at me in shock. Herr Blyhammar quipped, “You know Andrew Young?”
I responded, “Oh yeh . . . he was the assistant minister at our Methodist campus church until he ran for Congress. We learned a lot about the experiences of the civil rights heroes from him. He is really a good man.”
They then switched to a long interview with Governor Jimmy Carter. I couldn’t help, but shout out, “This is wild! I just was on the telephone a week ago with Jimmy. He mentioned being interviewed by Swedish journalists, but didn’t know why. I will have tell him about this program, when I get back home.” My hosts began wondering if they should have purchased a more expansive wine for their celebrity guest.
My hosts were doubly stunned when the Swedish journalist commented after the interview that he thought Jimmy Carter would be elected President some day. Personally, I thought that comment was poppycock.
The Blyhammar family became somewhat relieved when I honestly admitted in the next section of the program that I had never met Atlanta’s mayor, Maynard Jackson. The last part of the program went to Carrollton, GA to do an in-depth analysis of the Southwire Corporation, which was providing its employees most of the benefits that Swedes got from their welfare democracy . . . and yet was beating all the competition, who treated their employees poorly.
The end result of that evening was that rumor spread through Landskrona that I was some sort of Progressive VIP. From then until my departure, I generally was invited to eat with various families or eat with them at restaurants anywhere from once to three times a week. It was a wonderful way of getting to know the Swedish people.
Falling in love with Mary Magdalene
Stadsarkitekt Gunnar Lydh invited me to join him and his wife, Saturday night for dinner at the Restaurang Basilika on Oestergatan then attend a screening of a film of the Swedish version of the Broadway hit, Jesus Christ Superstar. It was going to be held at the Landskrona City Theater, which was also on Oestergatan, so I could walk to both the restaurant and back home from the theater.
I would never turn down a free meal . . . especially as my culinary skills were little better at this point than my Swedish. I realized that I would understood very little of what the actors said and this was Sweden, so the singing would probably be like a American high school performance . . . but hey! what else did I have to do on a Saturday night?
There were a lot of pretty flickor (young women) on the street, but I did know if it was appropriate for me just to walk up to them and speak English. In 1972, most people in Landskrona had never even seen an American in person.
At the beginning of the film, the hostess for the event gave the names of the actors and actresses, but at this point, my Swedish was so minimal, I generally couldn’t tell the difference between a noun, adverb, verb or person’s name. I had learned the pronouns and numbers. We were making progress.
The first big surprise was that the actors and singers were very professional. As you will soon hear, the music was beautiful . . . even if I didn’t understand many of the words.
I immediately fell in love with Mary Magdalene . . . even if I didn’t know her real name or where she lived. There was something about her . . . a combination of innocence and sexiness. Her face was radiant, when she sang. There was not really much acting as such in the play . . . more singing and dancing. She excelled in both efforts.
As we were going out of the theater, I asked Gunnar what Mary Magdalene’s name was. He didn’t remember. The next week, I went to a record shop and bought a cassette tape made from the Swedish version of Jesus Christ Superstar. There was no names provided for the singers. The guy, who ran the shop said that the cast varied in each city, where the play was performed, but he thought the same girl played Mary Magdalene in all the performances. He said that he thought that she had cut some quickly forgotten rock records as a teenager, but didn’t know much about her. Well, here is my beloved Swedish Mary Magdalene from the spring of 1972. I played the tape almost every night in my apartment, before going to sleep.
My official Swedish girlfriend
At noontime on Tuesday after seeing Jesus Christ Superstar, I was sitting at the fountain in the Rådhusplats, eating a lunch of korver and stekt potatis (sausages and French fried potatoes) when I noticed a classic Swedish beauty, staring at me from about 30 feet. She was about my age, tall, curvy and with (of course) long blond hair. My gosh, she is walking toward me.
When about two meters away, she asked, “Are you Richard?” I stood up immediately . . . sausage still in my hand. “Hey, I am Britt. I am your new official Swedish girl friend.” I immediately thought that I was hallucinating.
Well, I wasn’t. She informed me that there were many pretty blond girls running around southern Sweden and especially in the discos and bars of Copenhagen, who were really Soviet spies from Estonia, Latvia and Karelia. It was thought that I would be much safer with a nice Swedish girl like her. Britt was a top notch law student at Lund University and PRESIDENT of the College Division of the Center Political Party in Sweden. She would go on to serve in the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) for many years. Basically, she was every young American man’s fantasy.
Oh, did I mention that she liked to go topless when we were out in the country? I could tell from her childhood photos that Britt was legally blonde, but as the summer wore on, it was obvious that she had to help nature along a bit by taking to the bottle. She became light blond again in September.
At this point, I could tell a tall tale that our immediate relationship was filled with joy, love and passion like the Latin American and French girls that I met in Mexico or the French actress I would meet 18 years later . . . but that was not true. Swedish young adults were different and I found it extremely difficult to figure out what was going in her head. I did not know what was appropriate actions on my part, so for weeks our dates were like we were Juniors in high school
It was only toward the end of my time in Sweden that Britt and I began to get close emotionally and physically. However, she never verbally expressed affection for me until after I was back in Georgia. She sent me several long love letters, but I never saw her again.
I found that Swedish gals BACK THEN at least, displayed zero body language. You couldn’t figure out, what they wanted or thought was appropriate affection. In contrast, Alicia (French, born in Mexico), Clair (French), Yvette (French), Ana (Mexican) and Vivi (French) very quickly after meeting me, placed their hand on my forearm to let me know that I was invited into their personal space. Britt never, ever did that.
The Big Summer Dance
The Center Party decided to sponsor a big dance in late June to whip up support from college students in the upcoming election. Britt hired a band from Stockholm that frequently appeared on Swedish television. There were several hundred people at the dance.
It was the time of the Midnight Sun, so we decided to go out to eat at a romantic restaurant in Malmo, which overlooked the Oresund Channel. We were in a big group that included the band, their girlfriends, Britt, Lena, Max and I.
For awhile, the other people were polite and translated the gist of what they were saying in Swedish. Then the leader of the band asked me if I was from California. I told him, no, I was from Atlanta, Georgia, the city and state that was featured Thursday night on the premier of “Livet på USA.” I added that I personally knew Andy Young and Jimmy Carter – had been an intern for Carter the previous summer. Instantly, I was a VIP and the blond singer, swapped seats so she could ask me questions about the USA.
I understood her because each day, I was learning more and more Swedish because I was immersed in their culture. However, her English would have been hard for most Americans to understand. One of the guys suggested that the two of us go to another table, where it was quieter, so she could practice her English and teach me some more Swedish.
Without the distraction of several people talking loudly near her, the blond singer was able to enunciate English words more clearly, so I understood even better. She told me that her name was Agnetha. She immediately asked my height. I told her, “191 cm.” She responded, “Wow . . . Bjorn was only 161 cm! I am 173 cm.” At the time I thought she was referring to an ex-boyfriend.
She then asked me my age. I was 22 about to be 23. She turned 22 in April. She asked me if I had siblings. I had one younger sister. She had one younger sister too.
*I did not know that Agnetha was married, when I met her, until doing some research for this article! She never mentioned being married . . . perhaps thinking me a possible ticket to New York City. Wikipedia also says that Bjorn is 178 cm tall. He is obviously not that tall. The false height has to be one of many manipulations of facts, which Bjorn’s PR staff have inserted into the internet.
In the photo, at right Bjorn is obviously wearing grotesquely tall platform shoes in order to appear the same height as Agnetha. Possibly, it was Bjorn who suggested that Agnetha practice her English with me, but he was definitely not in the band and I don’t recall talking to him.
Agnetha did not know where Georgia, Atlanta or Savannah were located. He had seen and like the movie, “Gone with the Wind.” She said that someday, she would like to visit Tara. She asked what New York City was like. I told her that I had never been there and it was 1200 km to the north of me. She said that was only about 300 km less that the entire length of Sweden. I would travel the entire length of Sweden in August!
She asked me if I was a student or a professional. I told her that I had just graduated from architecture school and was working as an architect at the Landskrona Stadsarkitektkontoret. She told me that she had never really met an architect before.
I quickly discerned that her world swirled around music and the music industry. If we were going to have any conversation, it would have to be concerning these topics . . . at least I had been a drummer in a rock band in high school! LOL
Agnetha then told me that she had been a rock singer since age 16 and had cut several records. She had also been on the casts of several TV programs, but what she enjoyed the most was being a live play, earlier in the year. Her dream now was to sing on Broadway in New York City . . . but to do that, her English would have to improve.
I responded that she could have a great career on Broadway and Hollywood like Swedish singer-actress Ann-Margret Olsson. Americans loved Swedish actresses. She smiled and said “Jagvisst, Ann-Margret is my hero!” I then added, “I guess you know that you don’t have a snow ball’s chance in Hell, going big time in a Swedish rock band. She nodded affirmatively.
I then asked her what play she had performed in. She said, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” OMG! I was sitting at the table with Mary Magdalene. I did not recognize her because in the play, she had worn pigtails. I am not worthy! I am not worthy! I told her that I had fallen in love with her, while watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” two weeks earlier. She smiled and said, “So you know my dreams.”
It was an extraordinary experience, and we chatted a little longer, but it was 3 AM! The sun was up in the sky. The birds were chirping and we four non-musicians were getting really tired. The band members were still drinking. We said “Tack – hej då” (Thank you – goodbye) went out the restaurant door. I assumed that I would never see Mary-Magdalene again, but it was still an memorable evening. By the way, the short-haired brunette in the fuzzy photo of the band above was non other than Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the future other A in ABBA.
As Britt, Lena, Max and I were walking down the sidewalk, though, I was thinking of Yvette de Veaux, the beautiful, brainy, affectionate French architecture student, I had met on the bus going to Oaxaca, Mexico two years earlier. Unlike the situation with Mary Magdalene, from the time we sat down together in the bus, we had found an unlimited range of conversation topics that could last 24/7. Within an hour, we were holding hands and by midnight we were lovers.
Of course, the cellular phone and internet didn’t exist in 1972, but had they been around in 1970, Yvette and I would have never been disconnected. The day after we met, her French friends were saying that even though born across the Atlantic from each other, we were a perfect match. We were. In 1972, I still hoped to find her. I was realizing that long term marriages could only succeed when the two people were in sync emotionally and intellectually. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, but we also couldn’t stop talking with each other . . . in a strange mixture of English and French.
Britt also did not know that Agnetha was married. As we were driving back to her mother’s apartment in Malmo to crash for the night, Britt asked me if I had asked the pretty blond singer out. “Richard, did you see the way that she was looking at you as she walked out? I did tell her earlier that we were just friends, not lovers.”
I told her, “No-o-o. She lives in Stockholm and I don’t have a telephone in my apartment or a car. Her whole life is music.” Unexpectedly, I would have contact with Agnetha again a couple of times during the next few weeks, while she was in the area. The last time that I spoke with her was on the Landskrona Strand (waterfront and beach). However, by the time I got back to Georgia in December, I barely remembered her name, but did vividly remember Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Britt’s and my misperception of Agnetha’s marital status was not an accident. Beginning in fall of 1972, when Benny, Bjorn, Anni-frid and Agnetha began cutting records – some going to the USA – the artists were listed as Bjorn, Benny and the Svenska flickor (Swedish girls)!!! Bjorn and Benny presented themselves to the music industry as two unmarried Swedish playboys, with some anonymous Swedish girlfriends hanging around as scenery.
1975 . . . three years later
I was working full time at the Atlanta Planning Department then working on my masters thesis at night. In 1974 Britt was available again. By May 1974 both Alicia and Ana would be back in Mexico and available. Ana and Britt-Louise even wrote me to tell me so. However, I had gotten engaged to a Gringa and foolishly remained so after getting their letters . . . She would become the incredibly treasonous wife from hell.
Alicia even drove by my Mexican host’s house, while we were in the front yard. While drunk a few hours later, my bride would tell my hosts that she did not love me and was only going to stay married long enough to make a divorce worth her while. When I found this out from Sr. Soto after returning to Atlanta, I almost filed for an annulment.
Well, back to 1975. There was a poster at Peaches Super-Record Store near our duplex, stating that ABBA was making their North American premier on Saturday Night Live. For a year, I had been regularly hearing and enjoying songs by a group named ABBA on the radio. Curiously, one of songs played was an English translation of a Swedish folk song, performed at the Center Party Midsommerfesten Dance . . . “Jag har en nickol – du har en pfennig.” If named at all, ABBA was described by disc jockeys as a new British or European band.
We invited friends from the TNT Sunday School Class at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta to a late night hot cider and ice tea party to watch this special Saturday Night Live. About four seconds after ABBA came on to sing their hit. “SOS.” I gasped and shouted, “Mary Magdalene and the brunette singer!” then dropped my ice tea glass to the floor . . . sending shattered glass and ice cubes flying across the floor. Everyone gave me a stare like I had plumb lost my marbles.
I quickly quipped, “Oh! I thought the blond singer had played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, but I was wrong.” Jan Johnstone, who herself was Swedish, responded, “Richard, Yvonne Elliman, the actress who played Mary Magdalene, had black hair!” I answered, “Yes, I know. I thought she had dyed her hair blond.”
I quickly left the living room to get a plastic broom and dust pan. Because of the 20 year non-disclosure agreement, I could explain very little about what I experienced in Sweden until the summer of 1992. The first person I told and showed my slides of Scandinavia was Vivi the French Courtesan, while she was staying at my house. Vivi was secretly an agent with the Direction générale de la Sécurité extérieure.
Two future presidents in the same room
My Saturday afternoon in February 1973 visit to the Georgia Governor’s Mansion to tell Jimmy Carter about Sweden coincided with a visit by the young senator from Delaware, Joe Biden. We spent much of the afternoon playing Southern Rock music records, munching on snacks from Miz Rosalynn and discussing LIFE IN SWEDEN. Then Joe interrupted the fun to announce he was there on behalf of the Democratic National Committee to ask Jimmy to run for president.
Last public concert of ABBA (May 18, 1979)
My last contact with Mary Magdalene was on the Strand in Landskrona. Evidently, the entire ABBA group had grown to like Landskrona. At the end of their world tour, ABBA contacted the City government of Landskrona and asked for a location for perform a free live concert. They were offered the Strandpaviljongen Nattclub, which is owned by the city, but leased by Björn Skif. No one knew, even the members of ABBA that this would be the last time they ever performed in public.
Notice how happy the ladies look even though supposedly the couples were living separate lives by this time. Maybe that is why they were so happy. According to the Landskrona Direkt newspaper, they sang 11 songs live and that the last song they performed was “Dancing Queen.” However, my favorite ABBA song is “Fernando.” We will close with videos of both songs. The photos below were taken at Landskrona.
Life is indeed . . . stranger than fiction.