Swedish Travel-Blog #4 (Dallas Smith): Swedish landscapes, global warming and history, and an argument in the band

On the road from Kalmar north to Stockholm

April 3, 2008

At the midpoint of the tour

Spring has sprung in southern Sweden. The daffodils are blooming. Temperatures are in the fifties. The snow has mostly melted, except for dirty piles left from the last plowing. The tour is half finished. After one overnight in Stockholm tonight, we will be driving north for five hundred miles or so, where we will rejoin winter again.

The new factor for the second half of the tour will be the fact that we will have a dedicated sound man and light man, traveling in their own vehicle with a complete sound and light system. That means that we will have the luxury of arriving at the gig and having the stage pre-prepared. This luxury comes compliments of the music association that is sponsoring this part of the tour. We will be visiting some rather small isolated villages, and I will be seeing parts of Sweden that I never visited before on previous tours.

All my previous tours have been in central and southern Sweden where most of the population lives. The southernmost region, named Skåne (long o-sound) is the richest agricultural region. The landscape is quite flat, with large farmsteads, most of them with the traditional red barns. Some of the old farms have approaches via alleyways or paths lying between beautiful rows of old trees. There are occasional old stone walls made from the rocks and boulders removed from the fields and piled up over the centuries. (Central California, in the Coloma area north of Sacramento, has some of these types of old stone walls, made by the immigrant Chinese laborers in the 1800’s.) If anything, the landscape of Skåne reminds me of Holland, as well as Denmark. Indeed, there are occasional old windmills that are indistinguishable to my eye from those of the Dutch or Germans.

Driving north, the landscape becomes by degrees hillier and rockier. There are numerous lakes around which the small towns are often located. One of the most beautiful features of Sweden’s landscape is the archipelago, consisting of approximately 22,000 islands, big and small, along the Baltic Sea coast.

Mynta’s biggest hit

The standard aspiration of Stockholm’s Swedes is to own a summer cottage on one of the islands in the archipelago. Indeed, Christian has one, his “stuga”, which Susan and I visited on our 1999 Europe trip. His cottage is famous because Christian composed a traditional folk-type melody dedicated to the village where his summer cottage is located. The earlier Mynta arrangement was picked up for a music compilation used by the largest fitness center chain (Friskis och Svettis=those frisky sweaty ones), and at this point at least 15,000 copies of that album have been sold. Sometimes during our school programs, kids say they’ve heard the song before because of this “work-out album”. And so, Christian’s piece, entitled Gånglåt från Laggarsvik, is Mynta’s biggest hit to date.

Climate change

Global warming, or “climate change” is a frequent topic this year. On a couple of my previous tours, one could walk on the frozen rivers surrounding Stockholm’s islands. However, this year, it never got cold enough for them to freeze at all. Indeed, there was almost no snow in Stockholm all winter. (On the other hand, northern Sweden had record high snowfall this year. This can be compared to Atlanta’s persistent drought while Missouri suffers from floods.)

There is one story from Swedish history that illuminates the larger climate change. At one point in history, I believe around the 1600’s, Skåne belonged to Denmark. Sweden and Denmark fought a long and bloody war. But a decisive shift occurred when the Swedish king’s army was able to mount an attack on Danish King Lear’s castle by crossing the narrow ocean channel separating Sweden and Denmark, because the sea had frozen over that winter. No one in living memory can remember that channel freezing over. Perhaps if the climate had not enabled the Swedish attack, Skåne would still be Danish.

A little history

We talk about history quite a bit, especially in light of current world events, such as the dollar’s new low against the Swedish krona (crown). I had not been aware that after Hitler had invaded Denmark, he threatened to invade Sweden unless Sweden allowed his Wehrmacht (military forces) free passage through Sweden in order to conquer and occupy Norway (which Hitler wanted for its long western coastline). Sweden consented and allowed this, not an historical fact of which Swedes are proud. Indeed Sweden had been an aggressive colonial power at times during its history, at one point or another having conquered Finland, Norway, and Poland. Part of Sweden’s post-war economic power is derived from the fact that it emerged from World War II with its industries completely intact.

We also talk about the Vikings, who were the original stereotypical sea-faring conquerors. I was told of a royal Viking ship having recently been discovered and raised. A dead Viking king had been placed on the boat along with his favorite possessions, something similar in style to the artifacts buried with the pharaohs of Egypt. It is speculated that the Vikings spoke a language closest to current day Icelandic, whereas modern Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian languages are quite divergent.

Tour odds and ends

1. Our one day without any concerts booked was spent in a recording studio that Christian had found on the internet. It was located near the town of Kristianstad, the site of our concert the night before. The studio was located several miles out of town in the country in a converted barn, which its owner had bought quite cheaply and then converted into an excellent and well-equipped studio. We recorded several more tunes, including two of mine, which gives us enough material for a new CD to be released for Mynta’s 30-year anniversary tour next year.

2. One of our school concerts (for students during the afternoon and for the public at night) was at an incredible music facility in the village of Torsås (which literally translated means the god Tor’s spear). Several local recording studio entrepreneurs had created a public/private partnership to build a complete studio complex for use by the local magnet school, specializing in all aspects of music production, including recording, performing, staging, lighting, video production, make-up, image-making, etc. This facility was better than any I have ever seen at any educational institution in the states, much less a high school. Again and again, it is demonstrated that Sweden values cultural arts education much more than the US does. The ironic thing is that music is America’s best export. While touring the school’s Apple Computer music studio, I was treated to a very professional-sounding production of rap music, sung is Swedish by a blond-haired high school kid.

3. One serious personal breakdown occurred between a couple of Mynta’s band members. For a few days, they weren’t speaking with each other, couldn’t sit beside each other in the van, etc. Their unresolved conflict was negatively affecting all aspects of the band. After all, it’s hard to have six guys traveling for weeks in a van, working so closely together, when two of them aren’t on speaking terms. Fortunately, Christian was able to facilitate the needed apologies and reconciliation. And so, a potentially destructive social cloud has been lifted from the rest of the tour.

4. A further elaboration on being “in practice”: With an average of two concerts a day, we are spending, including sound checks and rehearsing, around four hours a day playing our instruments. At home, Susan and I are lucky if we can average one hour a day, this in the absence of any steady performing opportunities. It’s just hard to devote so much time to playing music, when one is not directly engaged in performing or preparing to perform.

It was (perhaps) pianist Arthur Rubenstein who said: “If I go one day without practicing, I can feel it. If I go two days without practicing, my critics can notice it. If I go three days, everybody knows it.” This reminds me of our late friend Jack Nebergall’s quote: “If I have one drink, I can feel it. If I have two drinks, I’ll let anybody feel it!”

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