Memories of Marie
Working for EMI Music, I was very fortunate to have been Roxette’s US video executive from the beginning of their discovery in the states through their ascent to international superstars. Like so many who loved and admired Marie, I was left stunned and brokenhearted in the wake of her passing. During the hours, days and weeks that followed, I have tried to process her loss with pictures, memories and thoughts of the very real and talented person that was Marie Fredriksson.
First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers have been with Mikael and her children for their unimaginable loss; as well as with Per and Asa and the rest of the Roxette family. Marie was such a light. From the outset of her initial diagnosis, I was awed at the absolute fearlessness she displayed while confronting her serious health issues to be able to live every possible second for her family, as well as for her friends, faithful fans and art.
On the day we received the news, my wife and I were traveling to see our own family. Somber and quiet, we decided to listen to many of our favorite Roxette songs during the drive… “Dressed for Success”, Spending My Time”, “Excited”, “Fading Like a Flower”, “Silver Blue”, “Sleeping Single”, Watercolors in the Rain (a personal favorite), and naturally “Listen to your Heart” and “It Must Have Been Love”. In our state of shock, it was as though we were listening to those songs for the first time. We both commented on Marie’s utterly original voice, her honest delivery, and awesome power that was seemingly delivered in complete sync with her emotions. We talked about how she most assuredly influenced several of today’s women on the charts, and how completely her performance tapped into the music and filled every nuance of a particular song. On that account, the ride became uplifting…until we played “Perfect Day”… and I absolutely lost it. There were more feelings to process.
Returning home from our trip, I pulled out several boxes full of photos and slides taken on various video shoots and concerts from “The Look” through “Queen of Rain”. I was looking to soothe my heavy heart, and searching through old photos helped transport me back to those wonderful times. Some photos simply chronicled moments on video sets, scouting, filming, etc., but there were many that revealed more, with an older perspective serving as spectacles to the distant memories. Of course, I saw the self possessed star that was ever present, but the photos also reflected an undeniable humility and humanity that Marie shared – both on and off stage. It is what made her so special and rare. It didn’t matter if a photo was taken at a rehearsal, backstage, a studio, a record shop appearance, or a concert with thousands of fans, each and every one of them mirrored those intrinsic qualities.
It was apparent during my first encounter with Roxette that Marie possessed a palpable trust and commitment to her craft. Gratefully, she also possessed a quiet strength and willingness to walk through any creative door that was to open for her. Peter Heath, the director of “The Look”, was aware of that and made this observation before shooting the upcoming video: “You have to present Roxette, Per and Marie, like they are ALREADY international stars, and we are just lucky to discover them!”. His perspective resonated with all involved, and I believe served as a touchstone for the successes to come. That approach, coupled with Marie’s ‘anything goes’ attitude is what placed her scrubbing a guitar and seated upon a toilet seat in a distressed electric bathroom!!…making “The Look” one of the most discussed videos on MTV’s air at the time.
In the summer of that same year, there was great anticipation for the “Listen to Your Heart” video, which was to be filmed at a live concert at Borgholm Castle. Marie was so proud to host the crew and show off her homeland during those long, sun-filled days. It was an important shoot, and she helped to create a very relaxed atmosphere. The crew, who might normally encounter precious diva energy on other productions, saw none of that. In rehearsal footage from that show (watch Silver Blue), Marie sported a torn t-shirt and her Chuck Taylor sneakers…the unpretentious rocker. In fact, that production captured many different parts of the talented Marie: an intimate softer side at a make up table, ruling the stage with Per, and holding court for proud and adoring fans with the King and Queen of Sweden in attendance. The entire experience was as special and enchanting as the video affirms.
Apart from “The Look”, there was never more pressure to make a hit video for one of their songs than for “Joyride”. Following the success of Look Sharp! the stakes were high for both Per and Marie as well as for the record company, as everyone by now was completely invested in their success. The good news was that Mr. Gessle had penned yet another thoroughly original gem of a song. Doug Freel, who had directed “Listen to your Heart” and all of the associated songs performed at Borgholm, was back with a fanciful concept about a broken-down bus and a dream that I totally bought. Such an idea would require both Per and Marie to dive all the way in, since the treatment called for them to be strapped onto the hood of a Ferrari driving in the desert! How openly they both availed themselves to this wild ride was the definition of professional and it paid off!
Per was very attuned to the different aspects of production and how the video would come together. In this case, there would be green screens, airplane wings, picture cars, and a carnival of wind-up toys. Marie would just quietly exclaim…”That’s really weird!”… then begin to thoughtfully internalize the entire discussion, as if she was already starting to conjure her performance and what would eventually end up on film. Using sports vernacular, they were both ‘gamers’, always willing to give it their all to assure the production was great, and making it a blast for the people around them. During my photo excavation, I happened upon a series of Black and White images taken to document part of the “Joyride” video. I think they captured Marie’s conviction and commitment to deliver a great performance. I pieced together seven shots that reveal a wonderful range of attitudes expressed while she played with the camera on that day.
Marie continued to develop a relationship with the camera for every video clip we produced together. She seemed to embrace the intimacy of the lens and its ability to capture her seductive personality. “It Must Have Been Love”, a video that broke ground by integrating movie footage in less obvious ways than cutting to full-frame scenes, relied mainly on Marie’s sublime performance to help the Pretty Women film exceed $450 million in worldwide ticket sales. (An interesting side anecdote, Marie and Per shared the same production warehouse that week with Aerosmith, while they were filming “Janie’s Got a Gun”.) She continued to perfect her video persona for “Spending My Time” and “Excited”, performances that, I believe, would have propelled her to even higher heights in America were it not for the band experiencing the negative repercussions of a record company merging and restructuring.
Marie was Swedish at heart, but made for the world. When I made my first trip to Stockholm back then, I remember hearing several great street bands playing folk music near the Swedish Opera House. I would often think that Roxette might have been one such band, but given their exceptional talent they were destined to rise and bring Sweden to the world. My memory of filming “Fading Like a Flower” seemed to capture Marie’s love of Sweden. There were so many people watching the performance long into the night, just out of frame, as Roxette performed in the historic cobblestone square. Marie owned those streets of the city, giving an enchanting performance in the Golden Hall, and overlooking all of Stockholm from on top of city hall.
I also came across photos from Roxette’s memorable live shows in Barcelona and Sydney that attested to her mastery of the stage. Often on sets in music videoland, there is a premium placed on making images picture perfect. Marie could easily fill those shoes, but it was in those live performances that her fierce, raw energy would really shine. She thrived on the interaction between the music and the audience and left it all out there every night with full-tilt sweat and spirit.
My last project with Roxette was the video for “Queen of Rain”, which I directed. Changes were afoot at EMI and in our own lives, but working with Per and Marie was as natural and easy as any video we had done. Filming on the tidal island of Mont Saint Michel and at a French chateau, we had only a short amount of time to capture the performances, but all were committed and got it done. Fittingly, it would be the last video Marie would make before becoming a mother.
It’s been a bittersweet exercise looking back at all those old photographs, as each one can both soften the heart and drive home the reality of the loss. Those years were a special time in my life and my memories of Marie will be with me forever. I will always remember the “old soul” who at the top of her fame would closely inspect the quality of stitching on a blouse purchased for a shoot – much like a Swedish mormor. I will always remember her alluring, honest way with a song and the emotional connection she had with her audience. I will cherish the times spent relaxing with her and the group after a concert or shoot. On a personal note, I was so very happy that she got to sing jazz again…like she told me she would. And I will forever register a little smile when I hear her voice in a public space.
Beautiful Marie… the bright-eyed, talented, warm and friendly young rocker who grew into a masterful artist and performer, and ultimately a brave, courageous, mother and icon. We were all so lucky to have experienced her being. Most people intend art; Marie was a work of art. I will miss her. Thank you, Marie.
January 20, 2020