The last few years have been filled with deaths of famous artists. I’m only going to list three – Bowie, Prince, George Michael. All three shocked me, because those artists have always been around and I somehow assumed it would never change. Bowie, in particular, had more lives than a cat, how could he just go and…run out? I stayed online for way too long, refreshing forums and news, trying to make some sense out of it. When yesterday I found out that Marie Fredriksson of Roxette has gone I just started crying, listening to my playlists, the albums, Marie’s solo records. She wasn’t a celebrity to me. She was a friend who’s been around for thirty-one years, even if we didn’t talk much.
I was a bullied kid – fat, bespectacled, introverted – before nerds and geeks were invented. I had three companions: my Atari computer, books, and music. Kylie Minogue, sweet and bubbly (especially in the ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ video) was my first imaginary best friend. Marie was my second. The first Roxette song I have ever heard was ‘Dressed For Success’. I didn’t speak or understand English yet and I didn’t know what she was singing, other than ‘success’. She had the weirdest hair ever and a voice so powerful it just sounded like all I wanted to have – self-confidence, strength, joy. When I listen to it today, I realise that similarly to Gwen Stefani’s ‘What You Waiting For’, ‘Dressed For Success’ is an autobiographical song of someone who might feel the fear, but will do it anyway. Yes, ostentatiously it’s about love, but it’s really about success, and it was coming. I didn’t know that. I just knew I loved the song. I was eleven years old and this music was mine.
A few months later ‘The Look’ arrived and suddenly my personal band wasn’t just mine anymore, because it was the hottest discovery of the year for the entire world – the single charted at #1 in the US and #7 in the UK. They proved themselves right, they dressed for success and the success came. I felt proud. Yes, this proto-hipster muttered to himself, I loved them before they were cool. I didn’t know how soon Roxette would stop being ‘cool’, but I knew that even the kids who bullied me came over, panting in excitement, to ask ‘have you heard about the Rock Set?!’ and they were my best friends for the fifteen minutes it took to copy ‘The Look’ from my cassette tape to theirs. ‘Listen To Your Heart’ duly broke my twelve-year-old heart, but it wasn’t until ‘Dangerous’ that I declared Roxette my new favourite group ever.
Then Joyride came and did a rare thing: sold eleven million copies and, because of that, destroyed Roxette’s career.
The A&R person who picked the singles and authorised the design for the Joyride album made a conscious decision to turn Roxette into a cheesy novelty band they are still seen as nearly thirty years later. Don’t get me wrong, I was a kid, it was pop music, I loved those songs. ‘Hello, you fool, I love you’ was more or less the whole extent of my understanding of English. Those were my friends singing my favourite songs and they were everywhere. Joyride gave them worldwide number ones. The popularity of those songs ensured that the next album proper, Crash! Boom! Bang! wouldn’t see release in the States at all, except a CD called Favourites from Crash! Boom! Bang! available at…McDonald’s. Almost overnight Roxette went from a chart-smashing sensation to laughing stock – because someone chose ‘The Big L’ and ‘Church Of Your Heart’ to be singles instead of ‘Watercolours In The Rain’ and ‘Things Will Never Be The Same’, the former of which isn’t just the best Roxette song, but one of the best songs ever, by any band.
Roxette and I split ways. My favourite bands were now Pet Shop Boys and Saint Etienne. ‘Joyride’ would still played on the radio, but their new songs wouldn’t to the degree where I didn’t know there were any, even though in secret I continued playing Look Sharp! and bopping to ‘Dangerous’. They were a bit of a badly kept secret again, a guilty pleasure, missing from the music channels until in 1999 Anton Corbijn directed the video for ‘Stars’. He used the budget to pull a particularly cruel prank on Roxette, putting Marie in the water and surrounding her with quacking ducks. It was the perfect summary of how people saw them post-Joyride and I won’t pretend I was an exception. I loved ‘Stars’, but I kept it to myself. Roxette were naff and I knew that. This and the fact that social media didn’t exist yet and I’ve never developed any interest in TV was how I missed everything that happened in the next few years.
On September 11, 2002 Marie was working out when she was struck by a headache so brutal she lost vision in one eye. She returned home, where she fell in the kitchen, hitting her head on the sink and cracking her skull. This saved her life. She was immediately taken to the hospital, where a brain tumour has been detected. A four-hour surgery has followed. When Marie returned from the hospital, she was blind in one eye. She couldn’t read or write or count. The record label panicked and decided to keep them in the faint limelight by releasing three compilations in a row. In 2005 Marie was declared clear from the cancer and sang on ‘One Wish’, the single promoting A Collection Of Roxette Hits: Their 20 Greatest Songs! The band have accepted their place in the pop cannon as the cheesy pop-rockers with wacky hairdos. They would take five years to record a new album.
I didn’t know any of that. I just hammered the Don’t Bore Us CD. It was only in 2007 that I found out what had happened and I was absolutely shocked. Marie? That unstoppable force? That girl power before Spice Girls were even born, the one who sang ‘Dressed For Success’? Cancer? This just didn’t make sense. It must have been a mistake, I decided, pushing aside the unpleasant, stinging realisation that there might be no more Roxette records. Instead, I bought Room Service, only six years late, and discovered ‘The Centre Of The Heart’ which remains my favourite Roxette single to this day.
Now that I knew what happened to Marie I dreaded the thought that there might be no more coming. Ever. The fact that there were now albums that were new to me (and most of the world) didn’t count. Not much happened, other than Gessle’s solo albums, until Charm School, was announced in 2011. I really wish I could say I loved it to pieces, but I didn’t. It was an album of a band that lost their confidence, a band that stood by the sea and feared dipping their toes in the water in case the water would prove to be cold. But a tour has followed and I managed to convince myself that things were just fine. I didn’t realise Marie never recovered, that she was still half-blind, and as the tour progressed she lost the ability to walk. She was performing sitting down, but I didn’t get a chance to see them, so I just assumed that they were back and they would remain back. All was good and I would definitely see them soon.
The last studio album, Good Karma, was released in 2016. I updated my personal ‘best of Roxette’ playlist with two Good Karma songs. I saw some potato quality clips from the concerts. I got all excited, awaiting an announcement of a show near me. Then Marie’s doctors told her this was it when it came to touring because of her ill health. I was devastated, but not because of me not having a chance to see them live anymore. It was becoming extremely difficult to push away the dark thoughts. I wanted, I needed Marie to be well. She got me through the years of loneliness and bullying. Just listening to her voice made me a bit happier, or maybe a bit less unhappy, but in any case she made things better. The more time passed, the more often I listened to my playlists, coming up with an alternative tracklisting for Joyride, revisiting the old records, searching for hidden gems. I finally became old enough not to care about appearing cool. My good friend Marie was by my side again, even if she didn’t know that. (Not so much Per, whose solo songs tend to be very…blokey and mostly about how attractive the female fans found him.)
When I found out she died it was like punch to the face. Not her. Not Marie. It must have been a cruel hoax, a mistake, even if their management and Per confirmed it. It wasn’t only about the songs, which haven’t gone anywhere and I am listening to them right now. It was also about cancer and survival. My cousin’s wife had a brain tumour and went through surgery and chemotherapy. My mum’s colleague died of cancer – he was younger than me. My husband had melanoma. Marie and Kylie were supposed to be my proofs that you can go through cancer, beat it and just continue to be immortal. Someone who sang ‘Soul Deep’ or ‘Stars’ or ‘Chances’ was not a person that could just go and die. I mean, we all know that Madonna will still be touring two hundred years from now when the Earth is known as The Planet of Fire, right? I saw Marie like that. She’s always been with me, even when she wasn’t. By now I had special, remastered editions of all the albums. I had a four CD box set of one of the many best of compilations. Cancer had nothing on good sis Marie, it couldn’t. She was…good. She sounded like life itself… No, you know what, fuck that past tense, because I am playing ‘Soul Deep’ right now and she still sounds like life.
I’m going to go back to pretending my friend Marie, the one who got dressed for success and then grabbed that success and I felt as personally proud as if it were me, is absolutely 100% alive and will make another comeback very soon. I’m going to do that once I stop crying.