An aerial photo of the Indal river in Sweden with the text Odysseus by Bjorn Afzelius
- Linnea Lucifer

ODYSSEUS, BJÖRN AFZELIUS

LET’S LISTEN to Odysseus by Swedish singer, songwriter, guitarist and author Björn Afzelius. This is the first of this year’s Advent Calendar treats. You can find the lyrics in English, and the reason why I decided to make this song the first stop on the guided tour of my backwaters, below.

Calle Kristiansson sings Odysseus with Dan Hylander and Orkester (band).

From the 2012 live album Förscenad [1, 2]. 

Björn Afzelius, 1947 – 1999, was one of the greatest Swedish musicians of my time. His songs tell stories of resistance, revolution, freedom, love, passion, everyday life and the frailty of human existence. He was the voice of the little man and he dedicated his life to speak up against (political) oppression. 

In the autobiographical book 95 Sånger [3], Afzelius wrote the following note about his song, Odysseus:

“Yet another song about us wayfaring musicians.

We’re a peculiar lot, and I love talking to other musicians I meet

along the road. We understand each other, no matter which music

genre we belong to. We’ve all done, seen and heard the same things.

Musicians are the greatest humorists, mad hatters,

liars and storytellers in existence.

I salute you, colleagues!”

As you can see, I’ve included links to two versions of this track, the original and a cover, in this post. Please, support musicians by listening to their music via channels and platforms that actually pay them for their work. 

Odysseus, original version, by Björn Afzelius. From his 1987 album

Riddarna kring runda bordet (the knights of the round table).  

Odysseus, Lyrics in English

I’ve travelled through this country

A hundred times or more

Think I’ve seen

Every single part of Sweden

Höga kusten makes me weak

Oviksfjällen make me cry

Indalsälven sends shivers down my spine

It’s a great land we live in

It’s barren and it’s wild

Sometimes it’s just as lovely as a dream

But I’ve never seen a beauty quite like yours, my love

I’ve drunk so much moonshine

With the hunters way up north

They had me fooled

With their tales and dreadful stories

And I’ve downed so much grog

With the fishermen down south

I got so drunk

I will never board a ship again

The fish should be from Löran

The snaps should be tart

I have sampled every dish and every drink

But I’ve never tasted anything like you, my love

I must have played my songs

A thousand times or more

Think I’ve met

Every second Swede in person

I’ve played at every festival

I’ve stood on every stage

On a good night

We’re one big happy family

The Swede’s a gloomy bugger 

But his legacy’s great

He’s strong

And sometimes he is proud

But I’ve never seen a pride quite like yours, my love

Sometimes I go abroad

So as not to lose my mind

And to ensure that

I haven’t lost my passions

I’ll fly to Southern Europe

To indulge in their food

And to feel their anarchistic spirit

The bureaucrat within me

Gets his fill in this land

My carnal needs

Are met somewhere else

But I’ve never felt a passion quite like yours, my love

I have promised to be good

I have promised to be true

And a few

I’ve promised love eternal

I thought it was the truth

But when they let me down

I lost my mind 

And tried to eat their hearts out

If you want to be mine

You have to pay the price

It’s a bargain

If you look at what you get

And I want to give you everything tonight, my love

Yes, I want to give you everything tonight, my love [4]

Calle Kristiansson sings Odysseus with Dan Hylander and Orkester (band).

From a gig at KB in Malmö, Sweden, 16 March 2012. 

So, of all the songs I could have picked to start this guided tour through the Ulfrheim saga and my Swedish backwaters – why this one?

Well, first and foremost, because it mentions Indalsälven, the river Horse, Edda and the Cubbies ride along to get to their graduation ceremony in the first chapter of Horse’s Heart. One of the longest rivers in Sweden, it runs through Indal, the locality that bears its name. This is where the original Cubbies grew up, and went to school until they had to move to the city to continue their studies. This is also where Solvogna, Horse’s stud farm, is located.

I wrote the English lyrics to Odysseus as I could see Edda play this song on Old Bettie, her 50’s Gibson Ebony named after Bettie Page. It has the same kind of melancholic, bittersweet feel to it that she vibes with.

But there’s more… 

There were three reasons why I picked this song. The second was that I love how it captures a few snaphots of Sweden and the essence of the Swede. The gloomy bugger. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s also a rather spectacular declaration of love. Even an old commitment phobic like yours truly can appreciate a good love song. 

Last, but not least, I love the cover version by Calle Kristiansson, Dan Hylander and the band. It has a feel to it that (in my opinion) is lacking in the original. Björn Afzelius has written som of my all-time favourite songs, but I must admit I often prefer cover versions of them. I used to think it was the northerner in me who failed to warm to the Scanian accent, but Kristiansson speaks (and sings) in Scanian too so that’s not it. 

Tone. I think it’s the narrative tone that makes me fall for songs the same way I fall for books. I don’t just want to see, or hear, the words. I want to feel them. And when Calle Kristiansson sings Odysseus, I feel the words settle into my bones. Blooming brilliant! 

Odysseus, the original version, by Björn Afzelius is available on Spotify.  

Well, that was a rather juicy first calendar treat, if you ask me. Do you have any questions or something you’d like to say? Hit me up in the comments below or slide into my DMs on socials.

Got an advent calendar of your own going? Add a link below so we can hop over and see them.

Thank you for being here today!

Puss och kram,

//Evalena 😘

© Evalena Styf, 2021

PSST!

      1. Förscenad is a pun. A scen is a stage, but the homophone sen means late. There is no such word as förscenad in Swedish, but it is a clever way of misspelling a word to give it a number of possible connotations. Correctly spelled, försenad is a modifier that can function as a verb, an adverb or an adjective in a phrase. To be försenad is to be/arrive late, or to be delayed, and a försenad birthday greeting is belated. Thus, the title Förscenad could suggest that the album was belated, that the live tour (during which it was recorded) was delayed, or, perhaps, that the artist too his sweet time to get on stage. Or something else entirely, which is what makes puns so much fun to begin with. 😎

      2. Förscenad is a live album recorded during Dan Hylander‘s 2012 tour, following the release of his 2011 album Den försenade mannen (the late/delayed man). Dan Hylander, vocals and guitar; Janne Bark, guitar and back-up vocals; Johan Hängsel, drums, percussion and back-up vocals; Tomas Pettersson, keyboard and back-up vocals; Bobby Djordjevic, bass and back-up vocals; Jannike Stenlund, violin, harmonica and back-up vocals. Produced by Dan Hylander Maxe Axelsson. Released 28 March, 2012.  Pama Records, 2012. Published by Warner Chappell Music Scandinavia.

      3. Afzelius autobiographical book 95 Sånger (95 songs) is out of print and can only be bought through second-hand shops.

      4. English lyrics to Odysseus by Evalena Styf. 

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