by Marie Lagache
Translating or summing up the official biography is almost impossible. But I had to comment about it anyway. This site is dedicated to Morten Harket, as a consequence, I will mainly talk about him and his own involvement in a-ha these last 20 years.
Jan Omdahl, the author of the book, introduces Morten’s chapter with a quote from Groucho Marx (from the Marx Brothers) which perfectly matches with Morten: “Quote me saying I am misquoted.” I was looking for a similar quotation for my website but I eventually ended up to also quote Groucho Marx to introduce Morten Harket because I totally agreed with the idea that Morten has always been misunderstood. People judged him as a brainless singer, an icon for young people, a pop star, as if he was there only to parade. I do know this is not true, I have always known it and the book confirmed it. Besides, he declared himself that he suffered from that image despite what we could believe. He had other ambitions from the beginning and has never wished to parade as a top model. From his childhood, he was convinced that he would be a famous person, but not in the very common sense. We could take him for a megalomaniac, but from his point of view, he could have been a ballet dancer or a masterpiece sculptor. He knows that he can do it, even if he has never got the opportunity to prove it. Why not? But we can’t live only with our own certainties…. to be sure of something and to create it are totally different things…He’s aware that people can say that he is ridiculous or conceited, but he doesn’t give a damn because he just “knows” he can do it. We could believe that Morten is eventually everything except a humble and open-minded person. Nevertheless, we can find here all the ambiguity in Morten’s personality as he also knows that he’s got a medium role for people he meets. Then each one has to understand its own « ego » to go forward. But if Morten shows off an interest to chat with someone in particular, he can indeed chat for hours with that person about life and philosophy. Morten particularly dislikes what he calls « yes-people », that is to say people who only confirm his point of view. Morten likes to confront people and to be confronted and will be glad to have the opportunity to debate his own certainties. His acquaintance says that he’s very clever for that and won’t put a final point to the conversation unless he’s got the last word.
In this chapter, Morten is even described by his own acquaintance as someone special, misunderstood. Everybody describes him as someone who is generous, big-hearted with others but extremely demanding with himself and always unsatisfied, in particular with his voice. Strangely, he doesn’t trust himself on stage. That’s the reason why he always needs to sing along hearing his own voice very loudly with earplugs. The problem is he ends up to be totally centred on himself on stage, and as a result, we, fans, notice that there is no complicity at all with the rest of the band. Pity…
Outside the stage, Morten is described as someone very self-confident, arrogant, distant and self-ego, but at the same time so much deep in everything he will carry out. Morten himself declares in the book that all his own life is controlled by details. A “Wild Seed” is as much important as the plant which brings him to be interested in every detail of life. That is often a constraint for himself and his relatives because he’s inclined to carry out so many things at the same time that he becomes oblivious of time which goes by. Morten is incapable of running his own time and his own schedule. Daily and material tasks are absolutely not necessary for him. As a consequence, his friends and partners are often strained to do these things for him. It’s not in his nature and the true interest of things is definitely somewhere else. In the end, I would personally say that Morten is an eternal kid, completely dependant upon his relatives on a certain level, but at the contrary, he will bring them up in their mind. Strangely, I have always thought that I could not live with him! I adore him just as he is but I know that at the end I could not stand him every day. I would end up fighting all day…I also think that Morten doesn’t need a too much dominant woman but instead someone patient and conciliating but quite independent at the same time. On the other hand, he is right, we all have to stay alert and curious about every detail surrounding us. Morten seems so much to be in his own world sometimes as if he were coming from another planet and his role on earth is to be a medium by singing and writing. Today he is more a song writer than a singer. Morten needs to create something and to go forward. But music doesn’t occupy all his life as nature has got also a big place in his heart. He keeps on cultivating very rare orchids at home, he is also responsible for several huge aquariums with all kind of exotic fishes.
But let’s talk about his life among a-ha now, and about his own involvement in the band. As I have already said at the very beginning, it is impossible to translate each chapter but I have highlighted a couple of details that particularly interested me and which seemed important to me.
Firstly, faithful fans can’t ignore that a-ha has never been what we wrongly call a « boysband ». a-ha is not an ordinary band. The atmosphere is much more complicated than a simple band created to make hits and to parade. A-ha is a story of personal pride, internal jelousy, mistrust towards the others and also immaturity when they have to face the real issues among the band. They are used to ruining each other’s creativity for their own advantage.
I have, for sure, only an outside point of view, as a “fan” I could say because I’ve been following the band since the beginning. Before I was able to understand the band’s psychology, I had been through the « groupie » status for a couple of years. Jan Omdahl’s book is really interesting because he absolutely didn’t relate to a chronological story. At the contrary, he tried to come into a-ha’s world, from the very beginning to the end of 2004. Some people declare, and I may agree with them, that this book could be a real therapy for the band itself as each of them are supposed to have read the book. While I am writing this report, I am sure each one has already turned the page. Now it is our turn to react in front of that book. And I am convinced that we are not only entitled to do it so, but that it is also an important part of the story. We made a-ha too, we shouldn’t forget it.
a-ha conveys, since 20 years, a positive energy as well as a negative energy for the 3 members of the band. As Morten said in the book, a-ha are 3 leaders who each want to assert his own point of view. Whatever happens between Paul and Magne, between Morten and Paul or between Magne and Morten, the band has been through different steps of conflicts and at the same time, very creative periods which produced very beautiful and classical a-ha songs as « Stay on these Roads », « Manhattan Skyline », or « Lifelines », and « The Swing of things ». For a very long time, Magne so much admired Paul that he had a low esteem of himself as an artist. He never managed to finish a song. Paul had to finish it for him. Later on, Magne has played Paul’s role with Morten. Today, rumours say that Paul wants to work together with Morten whereas Magne is more occupied with his own solo projects. But Morten, Paul and Magne are all aware that something special happens when they are together despite their conflicts. It’s like 3 brothers or rather 3 opposite energy which attract each other whatever happens. We, fans, are totally conscious of that, but they perfectly know that a-ha is not a-ha anymore without one of them. Strangely, I have always had that strong feeling too since the beginning. Despite I have been influenced by Morten, I remain very closed to Magne and Paul too and if one of the members had to quit, it would be a disaster!! I personally have a-ha under my skin…
As a consequence, it is absolutely normal that the band has been through different steps in 20 years…it is healthy and human. After the euphoria of the 80’s, they needed to do something completely opposite, then to create their own material to find their own “ego” for a while until they eventually made music together again in 1998.
At the beginning of the 80’s, they have been completely shaped without daring to say a word but only listening to their management. Then, after a 10-year closed collaboration with Terry Slater, their former manager and « spiritual father », they decided to go forward without him in opposition with what they have achieved from the beginning. They created « Memorial Beach » but commercial success was not there anymore. Despite the 3 of them claimed that commercial hits weren’t anymore their ambition, their own pride has suffered from it in the middle of the 90’s.
Obviously, the major problem among the band, is they still dream of creating their best a-ha album ever. The one who will be the closest to their personalities, and the one who will touch people under their skin. But they didn’t manage to create that record yet and thank God, they still believe in it. But their own pride prevents them from working all together by forgetting grudges. Today, they are 3 complete artists and end up writing songs each one in their own cavern. They even end up not to record an a-ha album together! It was the case for “Lifelines” and that way of doing things really shocked fans, and myself. The result was not so bad but how can we really have a song under our skin if we know that there’s no symbiosis between them. It’s like lying to people, or just showing them the frontage. It’s an illusion ! Sverre Flatby, the Financial manager of the band, blurted out in the book that a-ha was a virtual band, an idea, a concept. What a shock to read that when you have a certain kind of admiration for that band for years. To illustrate his point of view, Sverre tells us a story about « Lifelines » recording. One day, Paul wanted Morten in the studios in Oslo to test his voice on demos. First of all, Morten declared that he had more important things to do but eventually came at the studio 2h late. He tested his voice as planned and went away without saying a single word to Paul face to face whereas they were in the same building! Actually it can sound normal for them but believe me, we fans, are not used to hearing such tales!
Most of us are not fooled by a-ha’s atmosphere. So what is the reason why we all remain faithful? I personally still don’t manage to frankly answer to that question but I would say it’s a mix of nostalgia, melancholy, emotions through their music. Their songs have been giving me thrills for 20 years now. A-ha is the only band who is able to make me cry in 2 seconds even if I have been listening to the same song for 20 years! Of course, Morten has so much influenced me but I am all the same fond of Paul and Mags.
Another subject Jan talks about is the Stage. Jan Omdahl rightly writes that there seems to be a big difference between what a-ha shows off on stage and what fans are willing to receive from seeing the band play on stage. I personally have a story to tell you which had a certain impact. For the comeback of the band in France after 11 years, some fans and I had decided to prepare a surprise to the band. We had talked about it on the Internet and we had agreed to interrupt the gig to sing along a song which was not in their repertoire. I’ve done everything to try and to convince them. From the choice of the song (And you tell me), to the printing of flyers, discussing about the right moment to interrupt the show, distributing the flyers in front of the concert hall. We were ready and we had succeeded. The French audience sang along “And you tell me” Accapella. But my biggest deception has been the band’s reaction! They hardly granted the audience, and none of them has been able to sing with us! Paul or Magne could have played the notes. But « the show must go on » and they have been incapable to be spontaneous on stage! I have been stunned! We have the reputation to be one of the greatest audiences in the world and I think we proved it one more time here and a-ha had not been equal to the fans’ expectations! Even a famous French artist was in the hall that night (Pascal Obispo) and had been himself surprised. But let’s come back to the book. Indeed, even the band’s partners all confirm that a-ha is not used to making compliments. They hardly thank the technical team during the tour and those last ones are sometimes disappointed by Morten, Paul and Magne’s attitude. Morten replies in the book that he also remains open-minded and if one of them wants to chat or whatever, he will be ok…but anyway Morten doesn’t deny that Norwegian people don’t know how to communicate. Norwegians don’t know how to use their image for entertainment. On stage, we can’t say that a-ha is really “entertaining”. Other live bands do much better on stage. Jan admits it in the book and I also agree with him as a fan. I personally think about Robbie Williams or Bon Jovi that I have both seen live. Fortunately, they are really good artists and played together with very good Scandinavian musicians. It is just my personal point of view but I widely preferred the 1991 versions…I think about “Manhattan Skyline” for instance which was much more “rocky” and had an “underground” sound on stage. I feel the same with “The Swing of things”…And I will always regret “Rolling Thunder” on stage…anyway they have to make a choice and they can’t play everything.
To come back to the book, Jan relates to a significant example of a-ha attitude on stage. Moscow, November 2003, Kremlin Hall. I was there too and everybody could see that the band got profit of the huge stage to be as far away from each other as possible. No complicity and no heat was emanating on stage. It has been one of the worst a-ha gigs I have ever listened to. Not only for the atmosphere on stage but also because of the insane tickets price; 150 euros minimum to get the slim chance to be in the front rows! Russians call it the VIP area. Only the upper social class can afford those kinds of tickets. We could only see big industrial Managers, or journalists with their wives. Of course NO fans could afford the front rows, even the European ones! My 2 friends and I had no choice than to buy « normal » tickets, far away from the stage. Because of several security guards, we had no choice than to be seated. Standing up and singing was for sure forbidden…I even tried to « escape » from my seat because I could not stand that Morten couldn’t see us, but I’ve been trapped by a security guard.
Brian Lane said in the book that Russian tours are a question of money, anyway. But they can’t change the whole system. Nevertheless, I was happy to be in Russia but in a certain way I have also been shocked by the system and that a-ha management could join it. The concert itself was not the main reason for me to be in Russia but we ought not to forget that a-ha earned a lot of money with that tour even if tours cost a lot of money too. Anyway I am glad that Morten is able to admit openly in the book that the band can earn in 2 days what most of us earn in a year …it is good to hear it!
To conclude, a-ha managers, Terry Slater in the 80’s and Brian Lane today, or even Sven Person their sound-check engineer, have all declared in the book that a-ha could have been a « Genesis » or a « U2 », or whatever, that is to say a real pop band with respect they have always deserved but they haven’t been able to channel their skills in between them. There is so much energy and they still want to prove that can do it…it is enough for me to still believe in the band, and I said the band, all 3 of them, and not only 3 seperate guys.
The last chapter of the book gives good news in that direction. Indeed, the band has signed a new contract with Polydor Germany for 3 more a-ha albums. Polydor Germany is Universal’s subsidiary based in Berlin. The band has declared that they will take their time to record a new a-ha album as they are all 3 of them busy with their own solo careers. As a consequence, we do have to be patient…a-ha is far from being dead.
To conclude, I have been really interested in this biography. Some fans declared that they have been disappointed by a-ha’s bad attitude….the other side of dreams. Those ones don’t want to know, and don’t want to see, they just want dreams. I disagree with that. A-ha are creating dreams, indeed, but we can be keen on a musical band and be also interested in its human dimension. Each one has got his own reactions in front of that book but I have been personally very touched by every chapter. From my point of view a-ha will never be just a virtual idea but 3 great guys, completely different but all them 3 very touching.
Tags: Books, Reviews