Sture Dahlström (28 Dec 1922 – 5 May 2001)

The man who dances on the edge of volcanoes

Sture Dahlström was a totally unique Swedish author. His early style from the 1960s is close to the beat generation writers, with unplanned travel, writing dreams, jazz, sun, whiskey and love. In the 1970s he developed his own unique upbeat, high-speed style, where the bottom line is to conquer a black and hostile world by using sex and kindness. The only thing that can possibly compare is his own life story.

The Early Years

Sture was born in Huskvarna, Sweden on the 28th December 1922. His father worked in a factory and played the accordion, and his mother played guitar on Salvation Army gatherings. She also taught Sture to play the guitar.

In 1935 he finished school and started training to be a barber and electrician, working as a courier and playing guitar in a jazz band. In 1939 he started working in a gun factory, playing guitar and bass in the Dixieland band Clambake Seven and in the swing band Siwerts Kvintett, as well as writing articles for the Swedish jazz magazines Orkester-Journalen and Estrad. 1942 Siwerts Kvintett won prize as the best amateur orchestra at a competition at Nalen, and Sture won a guitar soloist gold medal.

In 1944 he quit his job to play music full time at a restaurant in Falun. He continued to play with several jazz bands in Sweden and Denmark. He also formed a trio which got their own radio program from Malmö and tried to write short stories.

Married With Children

In 1948 Sture married Anna-Stina Ehrenfeldt, an artist from Halmstad. They opened a music shop in Ystad. They built up the business, Sture gave music lessons and they travelled extensively around Europe. In spite of their busy schedule they managed to expand the family with two sons, Per in 1950 and Håkan in 1952.

The family travelled in Spain between 1953 and 1955. For Sture this was a influential experience with sharp light, wild anarchists, flamenco dancers, and all things Andalusian. This, he thought, is the best country in the world for somebody who wants to learn to write.

Back in Ystad in 1956, Sture worked day and night with the music shop, jazz orchestras and music tutoring to make enough money to travel to Spain again. He soon went back, moving to Costa del Sol (this was before the hotels and the golf courses) and travelled Andalusia and Morocco, where he met beat people, poets, painters, underground movie makers, etc. In 1958 his daughter Carina was born.

Moving to Spain

In 1959 the Spanish experience had taken over and he moved there on a more permanent basis with his family. He wrote his first book “Änglar blåser hårt”. Thanks to his authorship and Anna-Stina exhibiting in places like Casa de Cultura, they met a lot of interesting people, like the painter Alfred Rogoway and the author William Wharton, who both became very close friends.

In 1962, after having written “Kaktusstigen”, he and some Spanish friends built a small house in the mountains outside Malaga. He also drove around in Morocco and Sahara, as well as writing “En fot I regnbågen”. During this time the whole family lived a very spartan life with the only income coming from the music shop, occasionally augmented when Sture played jazz for Gibraltar TV.

Sture in English

In 1964 he moved to London for a year, where he started writing on “The Cuckoo’s Progress”. It’s worth noting that he wrote it in English for the language rhythm, and it wasn’t until many years later that he translated it to Swedish.

In 1965 he emigrated to the USA with his family, the idea being to buy a disused farm or two together with William Wharton. However, Sture didn’t manage to raise the necessary capital. Instead he bought an old Rambler station wagon and drove across the USA all the way to California. He then settled down in an old house just outside the Papago reservation in Arizona. Alfred Rogoway moved in nearby and all the children went to school in Tucson.

Back in Europe

Towards the end of 1966 the families Dahlström and Rogoway travelled back to Europe and Spain by ship. Sture was still writing on “The Cuckoo’s Progress”, but managed to get it accepted by legendary publisher Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press. Girodias sent Sture advance cheques every month to keep him focused on writing. “The Cuckoo’s Progress” was published in New York in 1970 and in London 1971 (the Swedish translation 1975). In 1976 Sam Peckinpah bought the film rights, and as part of the deal Sture got to use Peckinpah’s London apartment complete with butler and driver to finish the script. At the same time he wrote his next novel, “Den galopperande svensken” and was still working on the script when Sam Peckinpah was struck by a severe heart attack in 1977.

Sture continued his nomadic life style and moved around in southern Europe, in particular Greece and Spain, while writing two new books, “Tango för enbenta” and “Katten’s skratt”, as well as corresponding with among others Henry Miller.

Settling in Sweden

In 1981 Sture moved back to Sweden. He bought an old school building called Heingeborgen (Heinge castle) in Österlen, Skåne, where there was enough room for Anna-Stina to have an atelier. They now had a fixed point in Sweden where they could both continue their artistic creations.

Sture continued to write all the way to his death, and won the Frank Heller prize in 1988 for "Den store Blondino".

Through the years Sture became known for being very hard to get to interview. He thought that he communicated enough through his books, and didn't need to prostitute himself in the media. He even wrote a short story about the "operatic interview", which has a reporter coming to Sture's home, which has seven exits and no entrance. When the reporter finally has managed to enter and is just about to start the interview, Sture says that he has to sing his questions since that's a tradition in his house. On the journalist's reply that he cannot sing, Sture says that all people can sing and that all his interviews are sung interviews, because they are much better than normal interviews. The number of interviews drastically drops after that...

Books and publications

Sture has also contributed in the following (not exhaustive, translated title in brackets):
  • På tredje bänk (On Third Bench) – 1986
  • Min kärleks bijardhall (My Love’s Pool Hall) – 1987
  • Sture Dahlströms vulkanarkiv (Sture Dahlstrom’s Volcano Archive) – 1997
  • Svindel & extas (Vertigo & Extacy) – 1997
Books and films about Sture
  • Vulkanmannen (The volcano man) - A film by Blörn Runge
  • Sture Dahlströms Vulkanarkiv (SD's volcano archive) - Pictures, articles and short stories collected by Mats Keyet


Sources:

  • Sture Dahlström Society, http://www.bakhall.com/sture/biografi.html
  • Intervju in Repo magazine, http://www.bakhall.com/sture.intervju.html
  • Intervju in Darling, http://darling.spray.se/nr47/sture/
  • Vulkanmannen review, http://www.users.wineasy.se/jerker.petra/knytt/vulkanmannen.html
  • His books
  • Vulkanmannen

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