THE JAZZ ATTACKS: Music, peasant culture and Sweden Democrats
The Swedish National Day was celebrated a few days ago. As usual, I did not participate, not because I am against celebrating a Swedish National Day. I like holidays and celebrations. I am grateful for having been born in a place where I have received a lot of benefits. I like being a Swede. I am a pacifist, nevertheless I did my obligatory military service without hesitation and if I was not getting older, and thus cannot be drafted anymore, I assume I would willingly take up arms and try to defend the Swedish autonomy if it had been threatened by the armed forces of a forein regime. This in spite of the fact, that I cannot imagine myself killing another human being, and abhor warfare as a grave anomaly, a serious flaw in human nature. Even if I am an enthusiastic meat eater, I cannot imagine myself killing any kind of a mammal.
Despite of all this I cannot summon enough enthusiasm to celebrate a Swedish National Day. Why? I assume it is because Sweden is there all the time and I continue to be a Swede wherever I am. It is not for the reason that I consider nationalism to be stupid. It is, but I celebrate a lot of stupid things. My disregard for nationalism does not hinder me from liking Italy and Italians, the Dominican Republic and Dominicans, with warts and all and he same goes for Sweden and Swedes.
I am not against celebrating my own existence on my birthday, the birth of Christ on Christmas, the birth of Christianity on Easter, the maginificance of Swedish nature and the longest day of the year on Midsummer´s Eve and the longest night and the return of light at Lucia. Just as well as I celebrate the 14th of July while in France or the 17th of May while in Norway, or the Carnival if I happen to end up in a place where that is celebrated. I don´t have anything against participating in birthday and marriage celebrations, or in common religious festivities wherever I happen to end up in the world. I like to be among happy people and share their happiness; I like food, drinks and dancing.
I assume I don´t celebrate the Swedish National Day because I do not really know what I am celebrating at that particular day. It is not a spontaneously introduced celebration, like having been delivered from an oppressing tyrant or an occupying totalitarian regime. Sometime during the 19th Century some local, nationalistic revelers thought it was a good idea to have a few drinks to celebrate that Gustav Eriksson Vasa was crowned King of Sweden on the 6th of June 1523. However, is that a valid reason for celebrations? Since the end of the 14th century, Sweden had been a part of a Union with Denmark and Norway. The occasional Danish dominance had from time to triggered uprisings in Sweden, but for commoners the difference between a Swedish, Danish or Norwegian governor was not very different. Gustav Vasa proved to be a rough and able administrator, though rather capricious and with a ruthless streak not inferior to his Danish predecessor's, enriching himself and his family and brutally suppressing any uprising.
In 1891, Skansen (the Sconce) was opened to the public. It was founded by a certain Artur Hazelius, a great enthusiast for Swedish folk culture and it was an open-air museum and a zoo with Scandinavian animals located on the hilly island of Djurgården, from where you had a magnificent view of Stockholm. More than 150 traditional, historic buildings were brought in from all over Sweden and a full replica of an average 19th-century town was erected. All to celebrate the memory of a Sweden that was vanishing due to an engulfing industrial era.
In the buildings and their surrounding areas peasants, Sami people and different craftsmen in traditional dress acted out their various tasks, such as blacksmiths, fiddlers, tanners, shoemakers, bakers and glass-blowers. The place became hugely popular, but as with all such initiatives Skansen was in a constant need of money. In an effort to generate more income and encourage a “nationalistic spirit”, Artur Hazelius did at certain dates arrange attractive festivities. In 1893, he wrote in the Annual Report of Skansen that a focus, a certain date, for a celebration of Swedish national pride ought to be officially established and suggested the 6th of June, stating that:
As an anniversary to celebrate patriotic pride, Skansen has introduced June 6, Gustav´s Day, which henceforth will be celebrated as the Swedish National Day.
The date was enthusiastically adopted by the Royal House of Sweden, though the Swedish Government deliberated for years and years if such a day ought to be turned into a National Holiday. Gustav Vasa was a controversial Father of the Nation, not very suitable for a free, democratic country like Sweden. However, it was suggested that the signing of the Swedish Instrument of Government could be celebrated on the 6th of June. This document restored the political power to the Parliament, after it had been circumscribed in 1772. Nevertheless, it was not really a revolutionary event, more of a restoration and it was hard to raise any nationalistic fervor based on an administrative document. And - by the way, since 1974 the old Swedish Instrument of Government is not valid any more.
The bewilderment around the establishment of a Swedish National Day went on for many years. As a way out of the deadlock it was suggested that immigrants from other countries thought it strange that Sweden did not have a date for celebrating national pride and for their sake, in order to make them proud of their new homeland, several politicians motioned for the establishment of a National Day. After years of hesitation and debate it was in 1983 officially decreed that the 6th of June would henceforth be celebrated as Sweden´s National Day. However, the deep emotions and fervor that, for example, characterize the celebrations of the 4th of July in France and the 17th of May in Norway are largely absent in Sweden on the 6th of June. I cannot feel that my heart is pounding any faster on the particular day.
Anyway, on the National Day I wrote a blog entry which I now intend to translate into English. Some of it would be of a limited interest, or comprehension, since it alludes to phenomena that were exclusive to my upbringing in a small Swedish town, though I still include them since a certain exoticism has a tendency to interest many of us.
I do not remember what year my father brought home a TV set, but it may have been in 1960. Before that my family used to gather in the evenings to listen to records, or the radio. There were not that many records in our collection, but there was Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Marlene Dietrich, some standard classical music - Beethoven, Bruch's violin concerto, Hayden's trumpet concerto, Mozart and the like, but also a few items that, considering the character of the rest of the collection might be considered as rather odd, for example Elmore James´ Blues After Hours, an LP that I listened to quite often. James´ opening riff to Dust My Broom drilled itself into my memory. This was classic blues descending from Robert Johnson, with roots down deep in the Mississippi swamps and even deeper than that. Blues that had been electrified by Chicago's harsh, urban sound, until it had been taken care of by Elmore James´ crude and violently expressive voice.
My mother and my sister Annika had musical talent. My mother was an excellent amateur pianist with Beethoven and Schubert on her repertoire, while Annika had a beautiful singing voice. The introduction of television in our home made common musical moments infrequent, but of course, music continued to come to me through television and radio. Soon I began to listen to Annika's records and also acquired some on my own. I bought Beatles and Rolling Stones, but also some jazz. I have not been gifted with an exclusive taste in music, often I get stuck with specific tunes that I listen to over again and over again, as when I am hooked by a poem without being interested in the poet's other works.
Some pieces of music that I first heard in the early sixties have followed me through life, like Louis Armstrong's version of Stormy Weather, or Ella Fitzgerald's scatting in her version of All of Me. Accompanied by Nelson Riddle's orchestra is Ella's voice in unassailable top form. The listener is hit with the full force of The First Lady of Song, The Queen of Jazz - Lady Ella. Scatting never gets better than this. This is dazzling musicality. Music arranger Nelson Riddle, who did great work for masters like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, keeps his band discreetly in the background and allows Ella to excel. The song was included in the album All Star Festival, which was issued in support of a UN campaign to assist refugees.
In conjunction with the launching of All Star Festival in February 1963, the Swedish television, as part of the UN worldwide campaign support to its High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), presented its first major fundraising gala. In those days all Swedish broadcasting was state controlled and the country had just one TV channel and three radio stations, meaning that almost every Swedish TV owner was together with the family placed in front of the TV set when Lennart Hyland, the almighty TV host, presented a cavalcade of Sweden´s most renowned artists. Like so many others, my father bought the All Star Festival record and thus Ella definitely brought me into the world of jazz.
There are jazz freaks who are considerably more knowledgeable and fanatic than I am, but for many years I listened once a week to Leif Smoke Rings Andersson when he, with his raggedy, but soothing voice, announced an hour with mellow jazz. I turned off the light in my room, placed myself on top of the bed, put on my tape recorder, watched how the light from the radio threw its yellow glow on to the ceiling and enjoyed when Leif Andersson in the evening darkness introduced a magical moment of musical joy beyond time and space with the words: "Hello there, music lovers ". I closed my eyes and one tune followed another, until the session ended with the words: "Thank you and good night. We'll be back with some more sweet and swinging music, we hope ... and this will have to do until the real thing comes along". Before I fell asleep, I turned off the radio and let darkness envelop me, softly and sweetly.
Leif Smoke Rings Andersson never played what he termed as "migraine jazz", something that probably was be-bop and beyond, but I got a taste for such jazz as well, beginning when I for some weeks I did my “practical workplace orientation” as backdrop carpenter at the Malmö City Theatre and stayed with my sister Nunno, who at that time was a flight attendant, and thus left me alone in her apartment for several days and nights on end, when I listened to The Supremes and Miles Davis. Even before that I had listened to relatively sophisticated jazz in the apartment of classmate of mine, he was not particularly good in school but very musically gifted and later became a professional bassoonist. His father was interested in boxing and had American recordings from different heavyweight matches, as well as a large collection of saxophonists, in particular Coleman Hawkins and Johnny Hodges.
After my visit to Nunno, Miles Davis became one of my companions through life and I began to occasionally visit the jazz club, which at the end of a creaking wooden staircase was located in the attic of Hässleholm´s decrepit old Library. Cool cats lay around stretched out among large, dirty pillows that had been placed directly on the floor, smoking and jamming jazz, mostly a mixture of Bix Beiderbecke, Muggsy Spanier, Glenn Miller and an occasional Dizzie Gillespie or Charlie Parker, but actually more Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones, which gradually were replaced by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Since I neither smoked cigarettes nor hashish, I was never a regular, but sometimes I went up to the club and kept myself as unobtrusively as possible in the background.
I far more enjoyed being with a small bunch of friends listening to music in the home of one of them, something that became common during my military service when I befriended fellow conscripts who liked to listen to Santana and Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Often we listened to My Favorite Things with Coltrane and Bitches Brew with Davis.
While studying in Lund, I and my friend Claes often looked up a corridor neighbor we called “The Floorer”, a slightly tubby nerd with a great collection of jazz records. He was a real connoisseur with a sophisticated taste. We had given him his epithet since he once put on a disc with the words: "Listen carefully chappies, you will now experience an absolute flooring! A stunner that it will be hard to recover from - a tenor duel between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins!” After ordering a respectful silence he turned off the lights and we got to listen to La Rosita from 1957, certainly a winner and this knockout was followed by So What with Miles Davis, but that one we had heard before.
A few years later, I became acquainted with Mats who many times after has brought me with him far out on jazz's deep oceans, where he, like a whale voluptuously swam around, letting jazz wash over me from his apparent limitless collection, pinpointing remarkable features of the recordings. Mats is a living encyclopedia. When I for more than half a year was a house guest with his family just north of Stockholm we often sat up late into the night with jazz and whiskey.
As Proust with his worn-out Madeleine cake all that I have described above returned to me when I the other day on the Maxi Supermarket among the cheap CDs found a collection called The American Songbook where Ella Fitzgerald´s All of Me was included. Until then, I had thought that the only version where she sang that tune with Nelson Riddle´s Orchestra was the one on the All Star Festival record. Since that record now is scratched and worn I was delighted to listen to Ella again and again, marveling at the fact that when jazz once came to Sweden in the 1920s it could be described as a "horrible infectious disease, which with giant strides is approaching our healthy coasts ". Not least, could the practitioners be damaged for life by this contagious peril:
I warn you all! Not least the musicians. The wretched musician who spends 7 á 6 hours a day on playing jazz will soon lose much of his artistic capacity and if he insists in losing himself to this harmful practice he will end up as an incurable idiot. All decent forces must take up arms against this threat. Let us build up quarantines and delousing facilities to escape this epidemic, which now is proliferating all over our poor haunted Europe.
This was in 1921 Hjalmar Meissner´s opinion, president of the Musicians' Union, and two years later the celebrated poet Sten Selander wrote:
By one end of the room,
housing me, my tea and cigarette gloom,
the strength of seven darkies grow numb
while wasted on banjo, cymbal and drum.
It was as if the sound arouse
in a Negro mad house.
When they twisted as if in colic,
these ugly men made me melancholic
From their madness there´s no relief
and it is my firm belief
that jazz is here to stay - what a grief.
I hope my crummy translation makes justice to the poem and its general character. The original is far from being a masterpiece. It was probably meant to be witty, but ended up being pathetic, chauvinistic and ridiculously racist. It may be confronted with Zyl Spiegel´s poignant experience of jazz in a New York bar.
Zyl Spiegel had with his thirty years been the eldest of the twins who became victims of the callous and unscientific experiments of the murderous and sadistic Dr. Josef Mengele. Zyl´s brother had early on been killed in Auschwitz by the demonic doctor. Zyl was spared since Mengele had discovered the calming effect Zyl´s humane behavior had on the children destined to be killed in his merciless experimentations. Zyl took care of the orphaned twins and cared for them as if they had been his siblings and he was therefore called Father of the Twins.
Zyl Spiegel survived Auschwitz and as a sailor he drifted back and forth across the oceans in futile attempts to forget his terrible ordeals. Zyl Speigel declared that after Auschwitz he had only experienced one single hour of relief from his painful memories. It is a deeply wounded stranger, a lonely man who recalls an episode in New York:
I started walking around Manhattan. I was wandering on the West Side, along Eight or Ninth Avenue, when I saw a large crowd of people standing outside a bar. They were pushing their way in, and I found myself being pushed inside along with them.
Inside it was dark and cool. I could see musicians lined up on a stage. There were forty, fifty of them and they were standing in a single straight line. And even though they had no leader, no conductor, they managed to play in perfect harmony. They were playing music that was not from this earth. Among the musicians I noticed “Satchmo” – Louis Armstrong. I recognized him instantly from photographs. I ordered a beer. And another. Then another and another. It was very expensive; you had to leave a tip after each order.
At a table not far from me, there were these two young girls. They sat there, laughing and drinking. Then, they got up and went over to another table where a couple of men were sitting, and started kissing them. They embraced to the rhythm of jazz. I was in the bar for an hour, the only white man there. I spent sixty dollars-more money than I´ve ever spent in one hour. Before I even realized what was happening the same crowd that had pushed itself in, that had pushed me in, got up and left. I was pulled outside with them. I found myself back on the street. I started walking and somehow, even though I was quite tipsy, I made it back to my ship.
I have been to New York many, many times since then, and always I have searched for that jazz bar. But I have never been able to find even a trace of it. I can still remember the music, the atmosphere, the beer, the girls kissing the boys to the beat of Louis Armstrong.
Yes, I was happy then! In fact, never in my life have I been as happy as during the hour I spent inside that dive on the West Side. Because for one whole hour, I actually managed to forget Auschwitz, and Dr. Josef Mengele … one.
A depiction that may be compared to the overbearing reviews which filled the Swedish newspapers after Louis Armstrong´s guest performances in Sweden during the 1930s. A Swedish composer and critic, Sten Broman, wrote in one of the big Stockholm dailies:
How should we describe the black trumpeter? Dare one say that he sometimes had something of a simian look and occasionally gave the impression of being a deranged person, while pouting his mouth, or opening his enormous jaws, roaring like a hoarse beast straight from the jungle.
While Gösta Nystroem, another Swedish composer, wrote in a Gothenburg daily:
The rhythmic excitement that seized Mr. Armstrong sometimes made him appear as a madman, failing to impress his audience in any overwhelming manner. Lazy and flabby, with bloodshot eyes and swinging arms he shouted something unintelligible into the microphone, shook his hippo framed body and gesticulated, crawled and bellowed like a man possessed. Every now and then he produced a big handkerchief to wipe his fat sweaty face, which actually consists of a large howling mouth, while the drums, saxophones and trumpets behind him fought furiously among themselves to reach the pinnacle of these panting, screwball convulsions.
I do not understand what these composing music reviewers really saw, or heard. It cannot have been the same Louis Armstrong whom I for most of my adult life have listened to and admired. Armstrong´s music can hardly be characterized as an inarticulate howling coming out of a tropical forest, it is rather a sophisticated form of music that emerged in US cities that were at least as civilized as Gothenburg or Stockholm. And the artist described by Broman and Nystroem can hardly be the same man whose impressive musicality and warm human voice have impressed people all over the world. Whose version of What a Wonderful World was the only thing that managed to console a heartbroken friend of one of my sisters whose mother had committed suicide. The Louis Armstrong to whom the great Duke Ellington gave the beautiful epitaph: “He was born poor, died rich and never hurt anyone along the way.”
I suppose that the strange aversion that so many Swedish leading cultural figures displayed while confronted with jazz was based on ignorance and fear of the unknown, sensations which seems to be rooted deep down in the souls of many Swedes and may take on worrying expressions. An antipathy to anything that appears as alien easily connects to patriotism and racism which make cultural characteristics and national identifications essential for the evaluation of eventual qualities of other human beings
Nationalism is, contrary to the assurances of so called Social Conservative ideologists, a relatively recent phenomenon. Until a few centuries ago it was maintained and motivated by Government and public institutions created and supported by dynastic regimes and not by any territorial or cultural communities. Nineteenth century burgeoning nationalism reacted against dynastic monarchies by creating doctrines that emphasized the "culture" of a dominant population group and characterized a "nation" as a largely artificial and comprehensive unity which often was associated with the eviction of certain population groups that did not fit into the simplified construction, often combined with a forced assimilation of cultural minorities.
Who and what which could be characterized as "Swedish" where defined on the basis of cultural norms. Accordingly could a composer like Kurt Atterberg write to his Swedish, modernist colleague Moses Pergament:
Do you want to pose as a representative of Swedish culture, then you should demonstrate your affinity with and appreciation of our music, and preferably also achieve something that is beneficial for it. Something you, as far as I know, have never done. So far, you have proved that you are fundamentally a Jewish composer – why not admitting it by designation as well?
For many it was (and is perhaps still is) essential to safeguard "Swedishness" by protecting Swedes from harmful cultural influences. The Swedish composer Wilhelm Peterson-Berger explained:
Art music is based on the harmonious energy present within the framework of tonality, and a rejection of this fact will open up the gates to Asia and Africa, something which will be the death of European music. [...] All true art is rooted within a specific soil: a certain national mood, a flower that blossoms by raising itself out of the national soil and thus become globally appreciated.
In accordance with such ideas Peterson-Berger, who wrote reviews for the influential daily Dagens Nyheter, could speak of the "Viennese Jew Schoenberg" or the ”Parisian Jew Honegger". When he called Moses Pergament, who wrote music criticism for the other Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet, a "foreign parasite" Pergament went straight home to Peterson-Berger, rang the doorbell and when the composer opened he got a straight right between the eyes from the angry Pergament. Peterson-Berger was a Swedish nationalist, but in spite of his anti-Semitic statements he disdained Nazis and after Hitler´s accession to power he raged against the "unprecedented barbarity" that had taken hold of "the former culture state Germany". A confusion of patriotism with culture continues to be present in the party program of the rapidly growing Sweden Democrats:
The roots of the unique Swedish culture are to be found in our history and in the nature and the climate from which it has emerged. [...] What we primarily focus on is to preserve those values that we esteem as the essence of Swedish culture. To this core, we do first of all deem such phenomena which to an especially high degree have characterized our community; the deep roots in Swedish history that are present among deceased and living Swedes who have a strong symbolic significance for Swedish identity or who in some way are unique to the Swedish nation, or a certain part of the Swedish nation. [...]. The Sweden Democrats are opposed to both cultural imperialism and cultural relativism. The unique and diverse identities which humanity's different peoples and ethnic groups exhibit are dictated by their respective cultures.
Of course it is not particularly easy to define the uniqueness of Swedish culture, though the Sweden Democrats' official website bestows several such attempts, such as this one from the Sweden Democrats in Falun:
Typical Swedish may well be queuing, to place ourselves on a completely empty seats on the bus, to bring with us a lunch box to work, to pay back 5 crowns to a friend or relative, not wanting to stand out from the crowd, to place gifts under the Christmas tree, watching Donald Duck on Christmas Eve, drinking schnapps and eating herring on Midsummer´s Eve, not to honk while driving, authors like Astrid Lindgren, Selma Lagerlöf, Elsa Beskow, and Esaias Tegner, Vasaloppet [an annual long distance cross-country ski race], July 14 [the birthday celebrations of crown princess Victoria], folk dance, folk music, tapestries on the walls, the painter Carl Larsson, rag carpets, light fittings, to keep the door opened to those who come after us and not to intrude on others. [...] We believe that Sweden and the Swedes will be uprooted and their identity dissolved if we do not adhere to a clearly defined sense of cultural belonging, something which is not only composed of music and eating habits, but deeply rooted in mentality and interpersonal conduct and behavior.
Such definitions make me doubt if I am a Swede. Probably I do not fit into the “People´s Home” that the Sweden Democrats have appropriated for themselves. The typical Swedish folk dance, folk music and tapestries on the walls make me think of something as homegrown as the movie Driver dag faller regn, “Sunshine Follows Rain” from 1946, which became the first film that in Sweden earned more than a million Swedish Crowns. I watched it recently and found it to be not as bad as I had expected; the acting was quite OK, the photo excellent and the narrative dynamic.
Here you find almost everything you might expect from a pure Swedish folkish movie - beautiful blonde women, peasant costumes, nimble fiddle playing, sturdy peasants and impressive nature with deep forests and rushing rivers. It is 19th century peasant land in the north of Sweden. A story of forbidden love between a farmer's daughter, Marit, and Spelar-Jon, the scorned result of an extramarital affair between a girl Marit's father Germund once loved and a gypsy fiddle player. Germund warns his daughter not to have any contact with Jon but it's no use when Jon rescues her from being raped one night. Player-Jon is first seen playing his fiddle on a rock by a gushing stream, like a Swedish Orpheus he makes the forest animals linger and listen. Farmer Germund´s homespun and beautiful Marit is to be married to handsome Mats from Eli's homestead, a strapping fellow who unfortunately is horny and fond of drink, a leaning he shares with the cunning, though kind-hearted, fiddler Glabo-Kalle, Spelar-Jon´s teacher and role model. When Glabo-Kalle and Spelar-Jon plays their fiery music at a barn dance, passions overflow resulting in fist fighting and attempted rape. Finally Marit decides to follow her heart and in the middle of her wedding to Mats she runs away and gallops off to her beloved Spelar-Jon, to starve in an isolated cottage high up in the mountains. However, it all ends happily with general reconciliation and the former outcast and fiddler sitting secure as a big farmer and family patriarch at the Ols homestead.
Nevertheless - there is something that is not quite right with this Swedish homespun confection. Just as the Swedish men of culture who were averse towards jazz, a conflict emerges from the peasant community´s split attitude towards the incitement of fiddle music performed by somewhat dubious practitioners, one of whom has a beautiful but swarthy complexion. Player-Jon not only plays the violin in a suggestive manner; he is also exotic and alluring. True, he is a paragon of virtue, but also the fruit of an improper relationship. A passion that ended with the lovers throwing themselves into the rapids. Large farmer Germund does not want Tattar-Jon, Gypsy-Jon, to run off with his lovely daughter and intends to geld the threatening upstart and to that end he gathers a posse among the peasants and armed with rifles they go hunting after the fiddler in the deep forests, as if the poor boy was a moose.
So yes, we have here an example of a dream of a formidable Swedish farming culture, but also an ambivalent conception of passionate music as a threat to culture and harmony. Something that the genial and popular Swedish artist Povel Ramel was quick to grasp. The same Ramel who early on had made fun of the cultural establishment's jazz scare, for example in his hit song The Jazz Attacks
The jazz attacks! Its weapons are polished!
The old culture will be demolished!
Old moral pundits consider it as treason,
But it´s fresh air and reason.
Up to fight! Present your horns!
Attack on gramophones, give them thorns!
Jazz attacks young and old,
short and long, skinny and cold.
We are tired of their constant threats,
now they will suffer from our clarinets!
The jazz will gain a terrible success;
You´ll all be part of a primitive mess!
Here comes the army in tuxedos and tails,
in your coffins the jazz will be the nails!
In his deceptively benevolent manner Povel Ramel often ridiculed various forms of Swedish chauvinism. In the episode Snart surnar mjölken “Soon the Milk gets Sour”, included in his movie I rök och dans ,“In Smoke and Dance” from 1954 Povel commits a formal murder of Swedish folk movies, a genre of which Driver dagg faller regn was only one of many examples. It is doubtful that if this art form of ever recovered from Ramel's hilarious satire.
Roughly speaking, the plot may be summarized as follows: A sturdy peasant boy, Alvard, becomes fond of the beautiful, summer fair Anna-Marja. However, she is also courted by the storekeeper´s son Per. Nevertheless, after Alvard and Anna-Marja have ended up in a hayloft she declares: "It's you I belong to, Alvard". In the light of dawn they bathe naked together in a summer tranquil lake, while a subtitle declares: "for export only". Then it´s time for the traditional barn dance, which begins with two witty old men, Gusten and Gusten, talking to one another in a completely incomprehensible dialect. The dance begins and after the maids and farmhands have danced themselves tried to Gipsy-Martin´s demonic fiddling a violent fist fight erupts. In the meantime Gipsy-Martin bewitches all the womenfolk with his passionate fiddling, including the Anna-Marja. Mad with jealousy Alvard abducts Anna-Marja. There´s no happy ending to the drama. Alvard´s and Anna-Marja's fathers, Snål-Janne (Stingy-John) and Stor-Hugge (Hard-Chopper) come into conflict with one another and an ensuing bitter feud ends in disaster for the entire community.
When I watched these movies I remembered how Povel Ramel frequently appeared on television and on YouTube, I found a sequence from the 1963 Swedish All Star Festival gala where Povel performed a medley of his most popular songs. Lennart Hyland, who hosted the event, was at the time an almost unimaginably successful Swedish media phenomenon.
Hyland had after a visit to the US become inspired by the TV talk shows that were becoming ever more popular over there and managed to develop a winning concept for the Swedish television; with program hostesses, a house band, games, nation-wide competitions, surprise guests, recurring comic interludes, cultural and easy-going debates. When Hyland's Corner was broadcasted on Saturday evenings (it was not until 1969 that Sweden was rendered a second TV channel), the entire nation came to a standstill. If Hyland ordered all viewers to turn off the lights in their homes and apartments, we could go to the window and note that it was dark in all the windows of the apartment buildings surrounding us. Various forms of "city championship" were organized trough Hyland´s Corner and people left their homes to participate in quizzes and other stunts organized in the city square. Hyland declared that there would be a Frufridag, a “Wives Day Off”, meaning that husbands would do all the household chores and a majority of men obeyed, though the witty Povel Ramel wrote a sardonic little tune: “Watch me making the dishes”.
It would not surprise me if several Sweden Democrats look back at Hyland´s Corner and the Swedes' enthusiastic acceptance of the concept, as one of those marvelous bonds that in the past united us all in one happy nation. Many features of Hyland´s shows evoked a dream of lost times when we Swedes lived in a close fellowship, without dissimulation and falsehood. A time which now, alas, is lost and lies far behind us.
Hyland had an ability find people who could conjure up visions of a genuine rural Sweden which was about to be lost forever. As an example, to his first Hyland´s Corner in October 1962 he had invited a certain Cecilia Bruce, who was school teacher in a village with nine houses, surrounded by deep forests eight mile to the west of the town of Hudiksvall, far from what she described as the "terrible Stockholm". Miss Bruce added prophetically: "You are laughing, but romance is returning and in fifty years it will be considered as the height of living standard if you have your home in a small village." Cecilia Bruce performed her own songs Vem vill gå med mig hem, “Who wants to walk me home?” and Ta en tablett “Take a pill”. The last one is a gem and my inane translation does not do it any justice:
If you are ill,
take a pill.
Take a pill, take your pill.
Lost love made you go downhill,
take a pill.
Stress makes you want to chill,
take a pill.
But you are tired still,
take a pill.
To have children is not your will,
take a pill.
You lack a vitamin, refill,
take a pill
Diseases might kill,
take a pill.
To end it all is your will,
bid farewell with a pill
Take, take, take
pills, pills, pills.
Take a pill
The twenty-seven-year old Cecilia Bruce finished her appearance by declaring:
I live on a mountain in the forest and I have been called Sweden's only licensed forest elf. I prefer the genuine to the synthetic. In my songs I want to sing about those things that I feel are important and do so in a language that as many people as possible can understand.
Hyland's Corner has been described as a final attempt to rally the Swedish people around memories of a Sweden where "our ancestors built an existence with their own strong and sinewy hands", this at a time when rural areas became increasingly desolate and was about to turn into black holes where sound and odors were sucked up, disappearing forever:
An entire culture had ended up in its grave. A lifestyle disappeared. At the threshold of a disappearing peasant society and an emerging welfare state Lennart Hyland lit his campfire and people gathered around it every Saturday evening. They were offered a treat which was like a mirror of their own time, but it also made us look back towards a time when people were considered to be much happier than they are now.
Lennart Hyland had found a powerful role model for this longing for the old, rural and unsullied Sweden in Karl Gösta "Snoddas" Nordgren, bandy player in Bollnäs GIF and a child of nature from the great depths of the Northern forests. In a radio predecessor to Hyland´s Corner, called The Carousel, Snoddas Nordgren sang Flottarkärlek, “Log floaters´ Love”, and took Sweden by storm:
I was young long time ago,
a floater strong and beau.
All the girls were like wax in my arms.
I had a little friend in all the farms,
from Norderås down to the division by Berga O.
Haderia, hadera, haderian hadera.
from Norderås down to the division by Berga O.
If Snoddas really had been a log floater was doubted by those who remembered him as a fish monger´s shop assistant, though that did not prevent his appearance from causing what came to be known as a "Snoddas fever", a mass psychosis that made people buy his records and in large numbers flock to his shows. Here was a genuine guy from the deep forests, a simple, straightforward man who personified the Swedish soul and who furthermore could sing in a simple and understandable manner. Snoddas´ songs and style reminded nostalgic Swedes about a time and a lifestyle that were becoming lost in the wake of a vulgarizing commercialism that after the War had flooded the national borders.
Snoddas was a genuine Swede of a type that had to be preserved. His songs consisted of a safe and familiar mix of folk songs, ballads, peasant waltzes and folkish pop. Songs that you could hum and sing along with. Keeping Snoddas safe from big city contamination was the same as keeping Sweden safe from foreign influence. Povel Ramel was once again prepared with his witty tongue:
Floater is not the one in front of you
what you see and listen to is not true.
My notes sound clear, my song is top listed.
Though the smallest kid knows it´s stolen and twisted.
Haderian haddera, hadderajan haddewhit
All of Sweden is listening to my little hit.
In radio I sang about Jöka´s gushing cataracts.
while record labels waited with their contracts.
Now I left the bandy balls behind
and from Bollnäs GIF I have resigned.
Hadderian haddera, snodderian snodderell
I´m living in a spell.
When I worked as a waiter for the restaurants of the The Swedish State Railways, I sometimes saw Lennart Hyland. It happened that he boarded the train just before six in the evening, to travel home to his wife Tuss in Tranås. I was surprised that such a well-known person dared to show himself in a state of significant intoxication. The Restaurant wagon was a so called "two room apartment", that is a cafeteria area and a restaurant area joined by a "kitchen" in the middle, i.e., a place where I could quickly tear up the plastic packaging and heat up the food in a microwave. In the "restaurant department" guests could be served small bottles of wine and Hyland often ordered several of those
He placed himself at the rear end of the car and spoke with a loud voice, well aware that he had everyone's attention directed towards himself. When I think of Hyland back there in the restaurant car the title of a book pops up in my memory The Great Role: King Gustaf III, played by himself. That was exactly the case of poor Lennart Hyland where he alone and for a few guests performed his role as the Great TV Host. Furthermore, I detected a rather evil trait in him.
Once I came into the carriage at the last second, rushed into the kitchen and quickly changed into my waiter´s uniform. When I entered the dining cart Hyland shouted: "Did you all see that! Did you see! It was hiiiilarious! The guy was late and quick as a flash he came into his finery, it was really hiiiilarious!" As soon as new guests arrived, he repeated the same phrase: "It was hiiilarious!" To me, he shouted: "You little Lazy Bones, please come over here and serve me another of those tiny bottles."
It was positively sorry for Lennart Hyland. There he sat coming tipsy while the train rushed through a darkening Sweden. He himself was turning into a remnant of a Sweden about to become helplessly lost. Remember that dear Sweden Democrats, particularly on June 6, Sweden's National Day. Panta rhei, everything flows, you cannot step twice into the same stream. You want to have your lost Sweden back, but the past is a dream and it is doubtful if your Sweden ever existed.
Naturally most of my sources to this essay were written in Swedish, with one exception: Matalon Lagnado, Lucett and Sheila Cohn Dekel (1991) Children of the Flames: Dr. Joseph Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz. London: Penguin Books.