Måns Mosesson was well familiar with the Avicii story. A respected investigative journalist in his native Sweden, Mosesson had — like so many others — absorbed the narrative about the young dance music producer almost through osmosis as Avicii rose to international superstardom at the turn of the 2010s.
Mosesson would come to know the artist born Tim Bergling much better.
After interviewing Bergling’s parents, Klas and Anki Bergling, ahead of the 2019 posthumous Avicii album, Tim, Mosesson and the pair began discussions about an official biography that would go in depth on not only Bergling’s life and influence, but what his story can teach even those of us far from the spotlight about mental health, the ego, the opioid crises, social media, notions of success and the serious challenges of existing in frenetically paced world. They are the types of lessons Mosesson feels Bergling himself would have taught himself, had he lived long enough to do it.
Mosesson spent nearly three years writing Tim: The Official Biography Of Avicii, released on January 18 via Sphere Books. For his research, he conducted hundreds of interviews and sifting through Bergling’s personal texts and emails going back a decade. In the process, Mosesson got to know the real person — a sensitive, sometimes difficult individual — at the center of a musical revolution. Both honest and compassionate, the book includes never-before-known details about Bergling’s struggles with opioids and the final days before he took his life on April 20, 2018 in Muscat, Oman.
Here, Mosesson discusses the process of writing the book, and why, he says, “As crazy as this might sound, I think in a lot of ways, this is actually a positive story about a young guy who starts to listen to himself.”
You got such incredible access for this book. I know you interviewed hundreds of people, and people who otherwise hadn’t spoke publicly about Tim. How did you get so deep into his world?
The first key to that was that Tim’s parents had put their trust in me, which made other people feel more relaxed about the whole project. But once I started to get going and really started to get to know Tim, a lot of my subjects could feel that I was someone trying to do this in a way that is very honest, but still in a way that’s trying to understand Tim’s world and Tim’s thinking. One of the main things here is, of course, the fact that I was trusted with going through his email.
Tell me about that process.
That’s around 40,000 emails being sent over 10 years, really from his first [projects] all the way to his last days. What was instrumental in that was the fact that in this whole jumble of events, I was able of carve out Tim’s perspective on things. That goes from small musical details, like how excited he was about the marimba in “Bromance,” to his times at the hospital. One would think that he felt that those were horrible days, but when you read his own reflections on it, he writes that “I understand that this is sort of strange, but that was actually a nice time for me. It was one of the few times off I had where everything slowed down. The inbox started stopped screaming.” So with these kind of things, my expectations shifted. That has been really exciting, to get to know this very reflective guy.
I imagine you were familiar with his story before you started working on the book and really getting to know the person. What part of the writing process was most surprising or revelatory for you?
I think a lot of people, at least in the broader audience, have this idea this was a happy-go-lucky guy who was thrust into the manic turmoil that is becoming a superstar in the music industry. What was quite clear early on when I started talking to his parents and the people that knew him in his childhood, years before Avicii, was that it’s too easy of of a narrative [to say] this is someone who’s just feeling great, and then once he becomes a star he starts dealing with mental health issues.
How did that narrative shift for you?
It’s quite clear that he was a very sensitive person early on, going all the way back to preschool years. This is a guy who really thrived and was comfortable in his little bubble. This is a guy that could have a hard time just getting out the door for a social function at a friend’s place. To me, it’s important to say this narrative didn’t change completely, because once this guy became a superstar, he did have a really hard time dealing with and coping with being in the public eye all the time.
You’re saying he always had those tendencies and that his circumstances turned the dial all the way up on what was already going on with him.
Exactly. To expand on that is, he wasn’t a guy you could just push around. Some people have got that idea, I think, but this is a totally strong-headed, very stubborn guy.
I’ve heard his father say that before, that he could be very difficult.
He was. He could be very difficult. And once Avicii started to happen, he was dead set on having his music travel the world. He really wanted people to hear it. It really took a while for him to understand some of his destructive thought patterns.
When do you think that shift happened?
Once he was admitted to this rehab clinic, at the height of his career. It was so breathtaking to me, to start to see his own writing from that time, where he starts to think of everything in a completely different manner and starts to see how destructive it has been to push away and suppress everything he deemed as negative. Because he also wanted to keep his momentum going. He writes himself, in some passage, that “I don’t have time to deal with this now. Future Tim has to deal with all this pain.”
[Later], he completely changed his mindset and started to understand that no emotion in itself has a bad intention. Even the ones that feel negative, they all want to steer you in a good direction. That was also one of the main things for me to understand, that a, and his own body and what his own body is telling him.
By many accounts, at the end of his life, Tim was actually in a really good place and taking those revelations and putting them into practice. Given what you learned in your research, is it fair to say he was doing well?
Yeah, in a lot of ways. He was so happy that his creative juices were flowing again, because it had been a long while where he had been….I think he didn’t really know how Avicii was going to fit into a new musical landscape. He had been in a creative drought. And then he invites all these Swedes that he feels really secure around [to the studio] that he feels are sort of fun and easy to work with. In a lot of ways, he was doing great.
But a lot of people I’ve talked to, now in hindsight, they can also sense there were still some existential woes beneath the surface. He meditated a lot, and in a lot of ways he felt that was helping him. It helped him become more relaxed and feel better about himself. But in typical Tim manner, he also started doing that to an extent that…I write about how he really wanted to break through and find this inner peace. I think he was almost stressed about staying in a good place.
He was afraid that he was going to lose it.
Yeah, lose his grip again. So there are outlines of existential woes here, but again, that’s also hindsight. Suicide, at the end of the day, part of it is always going to be a question mark. You can’t go all the way into someone’s mind. I’m really glad that other people in the book are sharing their experiences of anxiety, panic attacks, of suicidal thoughts. One thing you can say about suicidal thoughts in general that I think is in play here is how quickly they can come.
They feel very overpowering and totally tilt your perspective. Even in Oman, the main [part of Tim’s trip] there, he was feeling great. They were out in the desert. He loved exploring, discussing the stars. He loved that trip. And so my point is, and again, this is sort of a general thing, it can it can come so quickly, these dark feelings and thoughts. And they can change your perception to the point where you get sort of confused.
There is incredible detail in your book that I never knew before about that trip to Oman. Ultimately, you decided not to reveal the way Tim took his own life. What is the thinking behind that decision?
It’s really going back to research, to science… I think it’s a pretty non-controversial thing that, especially when you deal with someone that is admired — and even more so someone admired among young people — you really have to be careful about the specifics.
You don’t want to give people something to emulate.
Exactly. That’s the point. And also, that’s not the book I wanted to write. I want people to feel that this book is dealing with the bigger picture. Of course you have to talk about the trip to Oman, but I don’t even see the point in being too specific. I think it’s more interesting to discuss and understand the more general ideas.
What do you hope that this book does for Tim’s legacy?
I really want people to understand Tim the musician, who was courageous and really pushed boundaries. It’s hard to fathom, almost, the fact that he got booed over having these live musicians with him [at Ultra Music Festival 2013]. That’s totally household now. House music has really shifted into to becoming global pop. He was really on the forefront of that, and at that time, he did some brave stuff musically.
I always think of that quote from Wyclef, who said he’d only met one other person whose brain functioned like Tim’s, where he could hear everything in his mind exactly as it was supposed to be — and that that other person was Michael Jackson. As you know, Tim didn’t always garner respect from people who considered themselves serious dance music fans, but with regards to the DNA of his music and its influence, it’s game-changing stuff.
This goes back to how he was this very stubborn guy, even at seven years old. There are a lot of factors in play here that combined makes him into this phenomenon, but that’s one of the main things I think that musically he always trusted his gut.
He just knew it was right.
I’ve been working on this book for almost three years, and during that process I’ve been reflecting a lot on how destructive it can be to just look at the end result and not take the time to reflect on “How am I feeling during the process?” If you asked Tim, he would talk in terms of mindfulness and how the ego strives to accomplish, but that’s not necessarily good all the time. So, I hope that readers can also start to reflect on their own well being.
You’re saying there’s a lot of practical lessons to be gleaned from Tim’s life?
I think we’re so programed. Like almost all of us, into believing that success is, by default, a good thing and it doesn’t matter how you get there. Tim was thinking like that a lot before he shifted his view completely on it. That’s the part that really touches me, that he felt he had gained so much insight. He had this really idealistic side to him, where he wanted the world to know and benefit from all of that.
He started to think about this society where all of the greatest directors and filmmakers and scientists would come together to develop new ideas that would help the world. That’s really touching to me, and that’s a side of him I for sure didn’t know going into this.
It sounds like he was using the same level of intensity and intelligence and passion that he put into, like, the percussion on “Seek Bromance” into these big, new ideas, which seem really indicative of a big heart and a very compassionate, well-meaning, ultimately sweet person.
For sure. At the end of the conversations with so many of these people I’ve talked to, we’ve been sitting talking about really hard stuff, and stuff where Tim was a pain in the ass. But so many conversations ended exactly like that — at the end of the day when people who really knew Tim think back on him, that’s what they see: a big, compassionate heart. I’m very fond of him.