Indo col 52:
The American songwriter Nick ‘RAS’ Furlong was in a Galway pub when he dreamed up his biggest hit. Surrounded by the sounds of a sing-song, laughter and clinking glasses, he was inspired to write what he would later describe as a classic Irish drinking song – or, as he also called it, a “pirate-y fight song”. The Nights would go on to be a worldwide hit, and while Furlong provided the vocals, it was the producer Avicii who worked his magic touch on the song and made it the anthem it became.
Tim Bergling’s death at the age of 28 was startling, not just because of his youth but because he was ‘living the dream’ – his music was hugely popular, full of upbeat party tunes like The Nights, and all we ever saw of him was playing at massive festivals to adoring throngs, grinning into the camera. He had it all – youth, talent and money; lots and lots of money, earning up to twenty million dollars a year at his peak. Somehow we think that these are the things that matter in life, to have the big house, the big car, the best of everything. But time and time again we are proved wrong, and are shocked that somehow people have inner worlds that the general public are not privy to, demons that drive them to self destruct. For DJs it must be even harder, as they don’t have the close network of a band to help them out or tell when to stop. For all the adoration, Bergling seemed completely alone.
The video for The Nights featured Rory Kramer, who describes himself as a ‘professional life liver’. It featured him larking about, jumping off things, wakeboarding, and generally enjoying life, which seems to be his stock in trade. Kramer always wanted to be famous – as a youth he emulated his heroes in Jackass, filming himself falling off things as opposed to his more refined work – jumping off things – in his later years. But despite all his efforts he ended up in a dead end job, drinking heavily, smuggling vodka into work in water bottles and lost in a fog of depression. He was living in his parents basement, and his father – who features in the video for The Nights – finally decided enough was enough; he drove Kramer three thousand miles across America to California, told him to follow his dreams, and after that everything changed. Kramer went on to be the official videographer for superstar DJ Martin Garrix, The Chainsmokers and Justin Bieber. Kramer also directed the video for Bieber’s I’ll Show You, which, unsurprisingly, features a lot of footage of the Biebs jumping off things. Kramer even landed his own show on MTV. But as Kramer’s career took off, Avicii was cancelling tours due to ill health caused by his alcoholism.
Late last year, the documentary Avicii: True Stories was released. Unlike many tour videos which feature all the fun and frolics of life on the road, it showed just how grim Bergling’s life had become. There are times when he is trying to cancel shows and his entourage are pressuring him into going ahead with them. He is seen in hospital in Australia after his drinking caused his pancreatitis to flare up, being told he will need to have his gallbladder removed. Footage from the following day shows him in the back of a car, barely coherent, as one of his management team pressures him to do some phone interviews. He looks like a doped-up child coming back from the dentist, his boyish face slack-jawed and eyes half closed as he struggles to understand what is being asked of him. Watching it when it came out, it was hard not to feel a sense of impending doom. He was signed to a management firm at 17 and dead 11 years later. There are people who could have helped him and didn’t, but in the end he just couldn’t save himself.
When Nick Furlong was inspired by that Galway pub to write The Nights, it’s hard to imagine he could ever envision his lines about living a life to remember would have such a tragic meaning for one of dance music’s biggest stars. Towards the end of Avicii’s life it became clear that he just wanted to make music – he didn’t want fame, or fortune, just to create.