Today I have a funny little Scandinavian lullaby for you. I only know Norwegian versions, but apparently it’s also known in Sweden. The first version I want to share with you comes from Hirundo Maris, the early music and folk group founded by Arianna Savall and Petter Udland Johansen. I’ve already featured two of their songs, including Tarantela from the same album. THe other version is by one of my favourite Norwegian folk singers, Helene Bøksle, who hails from Mandal in the south of the country. I have also featured some of her other songs before. Here’s Bibiel’s translation of this song:
When troll mother has put to bed her eleven little trolls
So I’m quite behind with this series, which is quite a pity, because on 12 November was one of my main fazas – Cornelis Vreeswijk’s – death anniversary. It’s been 33 years since he passed away!… As I always say, way too many! And I originally wanted to commemorate him exactly on that day but oh well… at least I can do it now.
I’ve been feeling kinda crappy lately so I chose a poem which, , between the lines – but in a way that is still easily readable – is also about feeling shitty with and about yourself, which generally is very different from how I am experiencing it yet at the same time very similar because essentially it’s all about having an overactive and spiteful self-critic and hating yourself as a result, just the ways this hatred manifests are different between different people I think.
The author of the poem, however, is not Cornelis, although as you may remember from my blog he himself was also a poet in addition to being a singer. This poem was written by an early 20th century Swedish poet Gustav Fröding, who is really loved in Sweden, although, just like Vreeswijk he was also quite controversial in his time and if I remember correctly even had an episode where he faced a trial for obscenity because of one poem he wrote. Also, again just like Vreeswijk, he had a life-long problem with alcohol as well as intimate relationships with women. Interestingly, in my Dad’s personal slang dictionary, a troll means someone who drinks heavily and chronically, like people who sit all day long near their local village shop, they’re called trolls in his language. 😀 Fröding spent a large part of his life in all sorts of mental health institutions though it’s not clear what diagnosis he had exactly, it sounds like some sort of psychotic disorder and depression, the latter ran in his family. More exactly it was his mother who suffered from it when he was a child, and as a result wasn’t able to parent him properly and so he had a rather difficult childhood. Years ago when I was learning a lot about Fröding and reading his poems simply because I knew Vreeswijk appreciated him and they appeared to have so freaking much in common (and if you’ve got any idea about fazas you know that for someone who has a faza anything even remotely related to the faza peep is interesting and worth digging into), I’ve come across an opinion that this early separation from his mother was the main factor contributing to his later problems with relationships and pretty much all the other emotional and mental health related difficulties that he was experiencing, including the self-hatred thing that we’re focusing on since that’s what the poem focuses on.
Cornelis Vreeswijk, as you may know since I’ve written about that a few times earlier when writing about him in more detail, also struggled with similar emotional issues. He had terrible problems with intimacy and closeness and often wrote about it and generally his love life difficulties, and had relationships with many women in his life, but whenever things started to get deeper, it scared him, or something else made the relationship impossible to be stable for longer and things were constantly stormy and messy from what you can observe when having a closer look at his life. He was always very shy though it may be hard to believe just when hearing him live a few times, I had a problem with that anyway because he is so eloquent and has a sort of jovial, kinda boisterous air about him. But when you observe things for longer, listen to many more live recordings, read some more and listen to some interviews like I did, it does show a lot, plus obviously it is there in his poems and lyrics. It often amazes me how he could mask it so well but from what I understand he saw his outside personality as some sort of a role he was supposed to play in life, or something. Must have been so freakishly exhausting, would surely be for me anyway haha. And of course there’s that whole self-loathing and self-destruction thing which is just so sad. I remember when watching the 2010 Amir Chamdin’s film “Cornelis” (which was a real struggle since I didn’t really have any audiodescription or anything and with my less than perfect Swedish skills didn’t always understand everything fully but still I think I understood a lot on that first watching, I did have English subtitles to help myself with though when need be but back then my Swedish was actually better than my English) that was what affected me the most when I saw the level of that self-destruction, perhaps because, while I am not an addict in the classical understanding of this word, I struggle with other self-destructive behaviours like self-harm and can deeply relate to what it’s like feeling awful about yourself, so I guess it must have struck a chord or something. So it seems quite natural that Cornelis would feel some affinity with Fröding as they shared so much, and I am actually a bit surprised that he didn’t interpret more of his poems because apparently a lot of Swedish singers did that.
He released his interpretation of it, with a very jazzy/bluesy feel on his 1970 album “Poem, Ballader Och Lite Blues” (Poems, Ballads And A Bit Of Blues). It’s not as musical as many other Frödings poems are, so probably for that reason, rather than an actual song, it’s more like sing-speak, which is something Vreeswijk used a lot in his music and I think it often makes it more expressive than just singing and is very characteristic of his style.
But a couple years ago, quite some time later after I acquainted myself with Cornelis’ discography, I came across his live performance of this song on YouTube, in collaboration with a 70’s jazzrock band Made In Sweden. I like the album version a lot and it’s not much different at all, despite the instrumentalists are different, but I slightly prefer the rocky live version rather than the jazzy album version as it just speaks to me more, so that is why I chose to share the live one with you.
For contrast, there is another artist from Sweden called Sofia Karlsson whom I absolutely love (I shared her cover of Vreeswijk’s Grimasch Om Morgonen in the very beginnings of this blog), who also interpreted this poem in 2009, but in such a starkly different way! While Cornelis’ version is so raw and jaggy, intense and frenzied, raving and just so very directly conveying the feeling of this poem, Sofia’s version, while no less expressive, is so much subtler, sophisticated and I’d say more from an outside observer’s point of view rather than sitting directly in the lyrical subject’s brain. For some people it might make it more emotionally bearable. 😀 I love both!
In Cornelis’ live version, he makes a brief introduction just like on the album and says that: “Gustav Fröding was a hip poet. He tried to drown his sorrows. But they could swim”. I think it’s such an interesting way to put it lol. Below is a poetic translation of this poem, so that you know what it’s all about. I took it from
It’s a pity though that most of you probably can’t understand the Swedish version and there are so many cool words that I’ve never heard anywhere else, my favourite is klumpkloss, which in the translation below is interpreted as “object of fright”, I’m not exactly sure how to translate it to English but I suppose it would be something like a lump. I find this word really funny but sadly never had an occasion to use it in a real life situation haha, I don’t even know if people actually use it. 😀