by Sheila Burchill
Writing a review of Jan Omdahl’s a-ha biography ‘The Swing of Things’ is going to be no easy task. This is not least because the book is packed with so much; some 400 pages, 18 chapters, a wealth of information previously unwritten, pictures never seen, and scrutinizing details right down to the band members’ individual dietary requirements when they go on tour, but because no matter how much I try to be objective and assess the merits of the book and writer, I keep getting drawn back into the one resounding affect of having read the book, which is that I feel like I am judging a-ha: Morten, Magne and Paul.
I read the book over four evenings during the Christmas break, and found myself taking time to savour each chapter. This is not only because I had waited months for it to arrive on my doorstep and then had to wait even longer for Santa (my boyfriend) to let me open it and therefore wanted the enjoyment of reading it to last that little bit longer, but because the opening few chapters are full of so many snippets of information which I never knew, or I knew once when I was a teenager and have since forgotten, that I wanted to take in as much as humanly possible without skimming over bits.
Once I had gotten over the initial discomfort with the idea that Morten, Magne and Paul lead pretty separate lives these days and don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on a lot of things anymore, and I had adjusted to the fact that they had managed to record my favourite a-ha album ‘Lifelines’ without all three of them ever being in the recording studio at the same time, I was able to settle into reading the book with a more open mind, and was prepared to take on more of what the author perhaps intended: a portrait of three guys as they are today, and their histories inexplicably bound together.
I feel that Morten, Magne and Paul have been pretty brave (or clever?) letting this book go to print. It certainly challenges preconceptions about how the reader might think a band should behave with one another, and how they each have their own slant on events of the last 20 years or so. For the hardened fan it is an absolute must. For someone who dips into their music occasionally and respects or admires a-ha from the periphery, this is not the sugar-coated biography they may have expected or preferred. In fact it is quite a ‘hard read’ in the sense that it challenges and bombards the reader with facts, emotions and surprises. My friend has described reading the book as being similar to watching a film, because she has had flashbacks and segments of it running through her head ever since – trying to make sense of all the parts and putting them into context from the point of view of the band members and herself as a fan.
I guess that what Omdahl has achieved with ‘The Swing of Things’, is that he has managed to capture the essence of a-ha, not by writing a chronology of what could have been through rose-tinted glasses, but by giving us a rather sad and complex snapshot of a somewhat disjointed trio and their individual feelings (diluted maybe?) towards ‘a-ha’ and each other. The way in which he achieves this, is not by telling a story from A to Z…the rise and fall of (or should it be the rise and rise of?), but by letting the reader see for themselves what Morten, Magne and Paul remember about particular songs being written, how they were recorded or produced and other events in a-ha’s past. It is the accounts from ex-managers, friends and family, and the chapter on fame and how a-ha came to terms with it that adds a crucial element to the book. It is about lost friendship, ambition, drive and money. It is the way the book addresses the many different faces of a-ha that makes it a great read for any fan like myself. However its greatest achievement is in not being afraid to show that a-ha are not a band in the truest sense of the word….but more a ‘project’ that three very different and talented individuals get involved in when the timing is right.
The one thing it lacks is a short note at the end from Magne, Morten and Paul saying what they thought of the book! …but that would probably be way too much for any fan to take in!
Tags: Books, Reviews