The Adventures of Morten Harket (not that one): Part 4

Part 1 – I’ve Been Losing You

Part 2 – The Blood That Moves the Body

Part 3 – The Sun Never Shone That Day

Sycamore LeavesImage

Morten Harket stared out of his bedroom window at the sycamore leaves gathering on the street. “What if a-ha had written a song about these leaves?” he said, half-joking. “I wonder what sort of situation I’d get myself involved in this week.”

“Would I walk by a street sweeper shouting stuff like ‘7/10 for the studio version! 8/10 for the NRK version!’?” I bet I would.

“Darling?” came a voice from behind him. “Come back to bed.”

His wife lay there with just a mink coat on. “Maybe next week you’ll be able to encounter that road sweeper.”

“I know,” he said, turning towards her. “I just can’t stop…thinkin’ ’bout it.”

She smiled. “Why don’t you fill me with unease?”

And they indulged in some ever-popular adult time.

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The Adventures of Morten Harket (not that one): Part 3

Part 1 – I’ve Been Losing You

Part 2 – The Blood That Moves the Body

The Sun Never Shone That Day

Morten Harket stood in the men’s department of famous international superstore, Bloominghell’s.

“Welcome to Bloominghell’s!” enthused a dapper young man who was clearly making a rather embarrassing attempt to grow a mustache years before it was feasible. “I’m Nicky!”Morten 2000

“Um, hello,” Morten said tentatively, trying to work out if it were fluff or a shadow on the boy’s top lip. “I’m looking for a suit.”
“Wonderful! Well we have plenty of suits. We have black ones, navy ones, grey ones…”
“Great.”
“Dark blue, red ones, green ones…”
Morten winced. “Are you just saying colours now?” he asked.
“Yes,” admitted Nicky.
“And isn’t navy and dark blue pretty much the same colour?”
“To all intents and purposes, yes,” Nicky nodded. “Now what size jacket are you?”

Morten glanced at his chest and then back to the boy. “I have no idea.”
“Ok,” beamed Nicky, exposing a rogue piece of meat stuck between his front teeth. “Let’s get out the….” He paused as he stuck his hands down his pants before revealing a long object. “…measuring tape!”
“Hmm,” Morten sighed. “If you must.”

Nicky wrapped the tape around Morten’s chest. Muttering numbers to himself, he did some mental arithmetic in, um, his head.
“We have all sorts of sizes,” he continued. “36, 38, 40, 42, 44…”
“It’s just an increment of ‘2’ isn’t it?” Morten interjected. Nicky just nodded intently.
“You’re a 42!” he said excitedly, squeezing his hands in to fists. That’s a great size!”
Morten frowned. “Yeah, sounds like it,” he grimaced, almost slipping in the sarcasm dripping from his words.

“And shall I measure you for your waist and inside leg?” Nicky asked, hopefully.
“Let’s skip that bit,” Morten suggested. “I’m 36-inch waist.”

“I quite fancy you in a black,” Nicky said eyeing Morten from head to toe.
“Then get me a navy.”

The assistant ran off to a nearby rack and came back with an attractive navy suit.
“If you can put that on, sir! Do you need a han…?”
“NO!”

A few minutes later Morten returned from the changing room and Nicky made some measurements for the alterations.

“Superb! It looks great, sir. Is this for your job?” he asked, making polite conversation.
“Um, yes…well…no…I’m looking for a job right now,” Morten explained. “I like this…I think I’ll take it.”

“Great!” smiled Nicky as he jotted down some notes. “We’ll have this suit altered for you on Friday. Now if you would like to change out of it and join me at the cashier point when you’re ready.”

Morten returned to the cash register and handed over his credit card. Nicky did a double take as he looked at it.
“Morten Harket?” he exclaimed, wild eyed. “Oh … my … GOD!! You were like my favourite, ever! I thought you looked familiar!”
Morten smiled weakly. “I’m not him actually. I just share his name, but thank you.”
Nicky looked puzzled. “You share? So…on weekends…he…takes it…?”
“I didn’t mean that literally,” Morten explained.

Nicky tapped some keys and started humming everybody’s got to go, everybody tells you so.
“Is that an a-ha song?!” Morten snapped.
“Ehh, no. No, it’s Supertramp.”
“I’m a big fan of Supertramp,” Morten lied, “and I don’t remember that one. What album was it on?”
“It was … on ‘The Sun Never Shone That Day’ album. Um, it was rare. From Japan. They did a live version too.” Nicky cleared his throat.

“Really?” Morten said, disbelievingly. “And how would you rate both of those albums out of curiosity?”
Nicky nodded. “Probably 7/10 for ‘The Sun Never Shone That Day’ album. I like the rhythm and the bridge is groovy even if the lyrics are a bit grade school.”
“This is your view of the entire album?” Morten asked, fascinated by the still-visible beef between Nicky’s central and lateral incisor.
“Yes…” he said slowly, “that is my view of…the whole album. And the live one…”
“Oooh, tell me. Tell me what you think of the live one.”
“Oh I’d give that 7/10 too. I think it’s very…”
“Groovy?”
“Yeah, groovy,” Nicky said nervously as he looked at the credit card Morten had handed him.

“Mr Harket, I’ve tried this card twice and it’s not working.”
“Try it again,” Morten said, looking worried.
“Ok…” He swiped it again and pushed some buttons. “I’m sorry sir, it’s saying ‘denied’.”
Morten took the card back. “My wife probably didn’t pay the bill,” he said without making eye contact with Nicky. “I’ll come back…”
He turned and left the store.
“He won’t be back,” Nicky said looking at the Morten’s hunched shoulders as he left the store. Nicky hung the suit back where he found it before picking at his teeth.

Morten turned the key in his front door and was met by his expectant wife.

“So…?”

“No joy,” he said, staring at the family of rats who were using a handkerchief as a massive rodent hammock under the hall table. “It was the a-ha curse again,” he said as he checked his own teeth for beef. “And our credit card is maxed-out.”

“Never mind, darling,” she said, embracing him. “Maybe next week you’ll be able to buy a wonderful suit.”
“I should have known that today would not be the day. From the early dawn the sky was grey.”
“But the sun might shine tomorrow,” his wife said squeezing his hand.

And they went, hand in hand, to the bedroom to see if adult time would be fun. And, of course, it was.

The Adventures of Morten Harket (not that one): Part 2

Part 1 – I’ve Been Losing You

The Blood that Moves the Body

It had been a full week since Morten Harket’s unsuccessful job interview at the Acme Bank Company. The Morten Harket words of the bespectacled manager Ron McDonald echoed in his brain: “how can I stop now”…

“Indeed,” he thought to himself, “how can I stop now?”

The rain had been bucketing down all day, his flimsy and inexpensive rainjacket barely protected him from its incessant, almost intrusive actions. He stared at the insurance company shop front across the street, the dreary weather hardly lifting his spirits. “Ok,” he muttered.

A bell tinkeled as he opened the door. There must be a bell deployed just over the door frame, he thought to himself.

“Either that or an amazing coincidence,” piped a voice to his left.

“Excuse me!?” Morten frowned, looking towards the man sitting behind a cheap pine desk in the corner.

“If there is no bell deployed over the door frame then it must be a incidental sound that coincided with you opening the door!” smiled a short, balding man.
“But…”
“You’re thinking, ‘how did he know I said that to myself?'”

Morten nodded, looking around him wearily.

“Ah, well, I can read minds. I don’t do it for a living – I sell insurance for a living!” he snorted rather unattractively. “Oh, I’m Ralph Cake.” He extended his hand.
“Morten Harket,” replied Morten.

“Yes, I know. You rang about the job as office manager here at the Acme Insurance Company.”
“I did.”
“Well, please sit down. Your CV was extremely impressive…but I have to say…I thought you would be more suited to somewhere like a bank. Say, a bank?”

“Yes,” Morten smiled. “I did go to the bank but…” Morten paused.
“Yes?” Ralph inquired by raising his left eyebrow – using his finger rather than his facial muscles.
“Well, I just didn’t think I’d be a fit there. The manager was, uh, a bit fixated on my name.”
“Really?”

Ralph Cake pursed his lips. “How odd. I mean what’s in your name that intrigued him so much?”
“There is a singer who shares my name. And Mr McDonald seemed to think it would be funny to talk about the singer all the time.”

“YES!” yelled Ralph, banging his fist on the desk. “Morten Harket!”
“You remember the singer?” Morten asked nervously.
“Of course! Yes, I remember him. Oh, he was great. The blood that moves the body now covers the ground do do do dooo dooo”

Morten stared incredulously at Ralph as he proceeded to sing the entire “Blood that Moves the Body” song.

“I loved that one,” he said excitedly. “Oh, it was so moody. For me it was a direct descendant of that James Bond song. I didn’t like that one. Probably because that guy who wrote all the James Bond songs was involved. I mean COME ON!! How many songs did he get to co-write!!? There must have been about 800 Bond movies. Sheesh!”

The room descended in to silence.

“Anyway, the job…” Morten began to ask.

“The song performed poorly in the charts yet it was one of their most mature works. Makes you wonder what goes on in people’s heads sometimes. I know when that song came out I was a big fan of Sabrina. Remember her?? Boys, boys, boys, I’m looking for a good time.”

Morten stared at Ralph. “That’s the song…”

“Yes, the song, not me recounting my youth,” Ralph reaffirmed. “Wasn’t the background vocal great in that ‘Blood that Moves the Body’ song? The way My love and your love were whispered just lent a mysterious air to the whole thing. I thought it was classic. Definitely worth 9/10 of anyone’s money.”

“Are you finished now?” asked Morten as he started to button his coat.

“I’d just add that they really made an arse of it when they brought it back to the live set in the ‘Lifelines’ tour. Much like the trick they pulled with ‘The Swing of Things’, they slowed it right down and took the urgency out of it. I’d have to say 6/10 for that one.”

“I must go,” Morten said politely, turning towards the door. “Thank you for your time.”
He left Ralph Cake humming the refrain in an annoying, out of tune, high-pitched way.

Morten turned the key in his front door and was met by his expectant wife.

“So…?”

“No joy,” he said, staring at the damp patches that were becoming more prevalent in the walls, as well as his pants. Well, it had been raining. “It was the a-ha curse again,” he said as he brushed away a tear masquerading as a rain drop.

“Never mind, darling,” she said, embracing him. “Maybe next week you’ll find that perfect job.”

“The ironic thing was that as the rain fell and the interiors of the office fogged – my pain didn’t fade. It was sharper and more intense.”

“That’s not irony, dear,” she assured him. “That’s life.”

And they went, hand in hand, to the bedroom to have some more adult time together.

The Adventures of Morten Harket (not that one): Part 1

It seems that about six years ago I wrote seven ‘shorts’ about a man called Morten Harket who wasn’t the Mortenguy from a-ha.

Morten was not complicated. He was a nice man with a loving wife and all he wanted was to work, pay the bills and try and get through a day without somebody bringing up the fact that he had the same name as the guy from a-ha.

I’m guessing I posted these on the very popular Cold as Stone website back in 2007 as part of their “song of the week” threads. These scenes were written as a mechanism for delivering a “rating” for a particular a-ha song every week. To be honest I had virtually no recollection of writing these – I happened across them when going through some old files.

So without further ado, here is the first part of The Adventures of Morten Harket (not that one)

I’ve Been Losing You

“Good morning! Come in, Mr … ”
“Harket.”
“Mr Harket! Sit down, please.”

The office was large and spacious. The oak desk which seperated Mr Harket from the bespectacled gentleman looked like it would take a small town of Eastern European contract cleaners to keep it gleaming.

“I’m Ron McDonald. It’s lovely to meet you,” the gentleman said politely. “So, it’s Martin, is it?” Ron inquired, removing his spectacles temporarily to admire just how beautiful they were. Which they were.

“No, it’s Morten,” corrected Mr Harket.

“Oh! Like the singer from that Swedish band, Haha?”
“Yes, like the singer from that band…it’s a-ha actually and they’re from Norway.”
“Not Iceland?”
“No.”
“You’re not him though?” the gentleman asked, scrubbing furiously at a blackhead on his cheek.
“No, we just share a name,” smiled Morten Harket politely.

“Right, well, Morten,” he winked, “let’s get down to business. You’re interested in the branch manager job here at the Acme Bank Company.”

“Very much so,” Morten replied, adjusting his tie so that the knot was roughly the size of a large Japanese plum.

“Your CV is very impressive. You left out the bit about you being the singer in a rock band though!” laughed Ron grabbing at a nearby handkerchief for fear his sides would split and cause an unholy mess – intestines and the like.

Morten laughed politely and tried to turn the conversation to his achievements in life. “As you can see I have managed upwards of 30 people in my last job.”

“Was one of them Paul Waaktaar-Savoy?” laughed Ron, slapping his own thigh too hard and wincing slightly.

“Look, Mr McDonald, I’d really rather tell you what I can bring to your company,” Morten said. “I once project managed the installation of a foreign exchange system that processed multip…”

“Did Magne have a logon to that system?” Ron guffawed, the eyeglass in his spectacles cracking from his own sheer hilarity.

“Mr McDonald…” Morten began before Ron cut across him.

“What do you think of that ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ song, eh?” he enquired. God it’s bloody marvellous isn’t it?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” replied Morten, eager to recite the EU exchange rates that he had memorised.

“It’s just so moody and rocky – isn’t it?” Ron continued. “I especially love the lyrics, the desperate begging of lines like ‘please now, talk to me’ and ‘how can i stop now’. It’s such a gritty song but yet melodic too. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Morten stood up. “Mr McDonald, I’m not from that band,” he said sternly, extending his hand to Ron. “I’m beginning to think I wouldn’t be such a good fit here.”

Morten turned and walked out as Ron hummed “helpful…ahhhh” to himself, his eyes closed, his foot tapping.

“10/10,” he murmered. “10/10 for that live performane in Oslo too…”

Morten turned the key in his front door and was met by his expectant wife.

“So…?”

“No joy,” he said, turning his face to the cheap wooden floor that adorned their hallway. He slowly raised his eyes to her again, tears visible behind his lashes. “It was the a-ha curse again.”

“Never mind, love,” she said, embracing him. “Maybe next week you’ll find that perfect job.”

“I have lost my way,” he said to her in a pained voice.

“No,” she smiled warmly. “No, you haven’t.”

And they went, hand in hand, to the bedroom to have some adult time together. 

Poll: a-ha – the final song of the final show of the final tour

After 25 years in the industry, a-ha will sign off on December 4th 2010 with their final ever show.  The Oslo gig – which sold out within two hours – will be attended by fans from all over the world and promises to be a very emotional occasion for both fans and the band.

So, with that in mind, what song would you like to hear Morten, Magne and Paul sign off with?  Feel free to discuss further in the comments section below.

The right time for a-ha to say goodbye

Morten and PaulDepending on which re-written press release you read today you’ll learn that a-ha were formed anywhere from 25 to 27 years ago, split up in the nineties for anywhere from five to seven years and got back together in 1998 – or is that 1999?  No, it was 2000 apparently.

What you will unanimously learn and can safely take as fact is that the Norwegians have decided to retire as a band in 2010, marking the 25th anniversary of the release of their first album “Hunting High and Low”.

There are a significant number of people raising their eyebrows pondering how it is that the day they find out a-ha are still together is the day they find out that they’re splitting up.

But for many who stuck with a-ha through the last 25 years this announcement will have come as a shock.  Didn’t they always reason that the band would split when they stopped selling records and people stopped coming to see them?  Why would a band who have just claimed their highest charting UK album in over two decades, a succession of #1 albums in Europe and a stream of long-overdue critical acclaim from the media and – more importantly – their peers, pack it in?

Well those achievements are exactly why this is the right time to say goodbye.

In the brilliant rockumentary, “The Making of Pump“, Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford says of the recording process: “You can record with 48 tracks, 96 tracks, you can start tying tape machines together.  You got to know when to stop.”

The music industry is full of acts that didn’t know when to stop.  A-ha made that mistake before, rendered irrelevant by the grunge explosion of the early nineties just at the same time they were growing their hair and growing up.  They endured dwindling sales, smaller live venues and bruised egos, and went one album too far with 1993’s (admittedly excellent) “Memorial Beach” before splitting to work on solo projects.

Their 2000 return was a huge success in mainland Europe and they scored their first UK top ten hit single for 18 years in 2005 with “Analogue“.  Yes, they recorded a big hit album this year but that accomplishment almost seems incidental compared to the reaction they received.

Looking at their positive demeanour in interviews and on stage it seems that the genuine warmth they’ve experienced from the media, the public and the many acts of today who have publicly heralded their influence, has completed the circle for the band.

What else is there to achieve?  Where else can they go?  If respect and appreciation was measured in record sales then a-ha have just had their biggest hit in 25 years.  And shouldn’t everyone quit when they’re on top?

Personal addendum

I opened the Google News email alert for “a-ha” that arrived in my inbox and kind of squinted at it.

a-ha to split

It didn’t make any sense to me initially.  And even after I clicked on it my mind was calculating that somehow I had received some old news story from the mid 90s.  Although I’ve no time for overt obsession with something as relatively meaningless as a musical act, I felt my chest tighten as the news started to sink in.

I grew up with a-ha; the soundtrack of my formative years.  I’ve probably mentioned it somewhere on the site – and I’m sure there are hundreds of similar stories out there somewhere – but when you’re 12 and unsure of yourself, songs like “Here I Stand and Face the Rain” articulate what you’re feeling when you are too young to understand.

The Blue Sky“, from their debut record, resonated with this insecurity: “I find it hard to breathe as life just eats away…The lady at my table doesn’t want me here/I just want to talk to her/But would she laugh at my accent and make fun of me?…Though i’m older than my looks and older than my years/I’m too young to take on my deepest fears“.

So here we are almost 25 years later and I’m not sure that I would have the level of understanding and self-awareness that I do if it wasn’t for a-ha’s influence (alongside John Hughes movies and Nirvana).  I’m trying to avoid being mawkish in closing but the fact that their music has endured with such meaning for so many people, means that Morten, Magne and Paul can stand in the doorway of the darkened studio for the final time, look around, smile and say “our work is done here”.

Edit: Please see Karen’s blog on the same subject.  Some very personal memories from their mid 80s touring.

A credibility issue

One hit wonders, apparently.
One hit wonders, apparently.

It must have seemed like déjà vu for Morten Harket and Magne Furuholmen, two-thirds of rock band a-ha, as they sat on the GMTV breakfast time couch in London on Friday morning.

The scene was set when presenter Emma Crosby – somewhat understandably given the universal reference point – started the interview with a “Take On Me” reference. She then proclaimed that the Norwegian “masterminds of pop” are back, introduced a video package which included the aforementioned 1985 hit single and three clips of the band performing newer hits on the very same breakfast show from 2000, 2002 and 2005.

“Does that bring back fond memories, looking at that?” she asked, as if it were an achievement for them to remember songs they recorded in the last decade.

The baffling statements continued. “I bet your fans are over the moon that you decided to come back together and do this album and the tour,” she said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this was their fourth album and tour of the decade and as recently as 2006 had achieved a top ten UK single.

“Was it a question of digging out the guitars and drum kits or have you been performing?” was next out as Magne just about managed to keep a straight face.

“What kind of reaction have you had from your fans that you are getting back together?” was a step too far for Morten. “Well, we have been doing this for 25 years so, uh…,” he laughed.

After an awkward exchange about what songs are their “favourites” (a redundant question in any interview which is akin to asking parents which of their children they prefer), co-presenter Andrew Castle then returned the topic to “Take On Me” to which Magne cordially explained is a song they’ve now made their peace with and joked about starting a gig with it some time.

“Will you enjoy it more this time around?” Emma asked, which is like asking U2 or any other band on the planet if they will enjoy their 2009 tour any more than their 2006, 2002 or 1999 tour.

The interview mercifully came to an end and they turned their attention to an online webcast to answer some mainly sensible questions from fans (part 1 and part 2).  The difference in demeanour between the two “interviews” was noticeable.  Maybe fans should always write the questions for inane interviewers.

But herein lies the problem for a-ha, a band still wrestling to find credibility in spite of spending half their lives as professional musicians. Unlike many other artists of their era, a-ha have never been dropped from a record deal and they clearly still make money for their employers – they have sold almost forty million albums worldwide.

But record sales are distinct from peer group respect and it has become customary for interviews of the last four or five years to try and rubber stamp a-ha’s credibility by wheeling out the names of contemporary acts like Coldplay, Keane, U2, Bloc Party and Robbie Williams, all of whom have cited admiration for the Norwegians.

In a 2005 interview with Metro, Magne addressed this very issued:

“It’s always tough to gauge your own history but it’s a good thing when people you yourself have respect for give you credit for what you’ve done. It means a lot more than some idiot critic saying something condescending about the group based on them not knowing much about us.”

Four years later Magne had to make similar points again in Metro in an article entitled “A-Ha: We’re more than cheekbones”.

“That’s part of the vindication on our part that we get credited for the music that we left behind these days. That’s the inheritance you want to leave behind, not the frustration of being an awkward pop star or a misplaced poster boy.”

You feel he’ll be making the same points again in 2013. No matter what the band achieve they will for ever attempt to become bigger than “Take On Me”.

Like many maligned pop stars, a-ha have no such credibility issues in Germany with their latest album hitting number one and the title track being their highest charting single since “Take On Me”. They are comfortable there, safe in the knowledge that interviewers and critics take them seriously. They command prime TV slots and have no need to defend their legacy.

The Scotsman sat down with the band and conducted one of the most honest interviews I’ve ever read. Journalist Paul Lester describes the band as a “Joy Division for anxious, adolescent girls” and as “doyens of exquisitely dolorous synthpop, sung with soaring yearning by Harket”.

The band may have been all that but they were marketed as pin-ups. Guitarist and chief-songwriter Paul Waaktaar-Savoy describes how their vision of being The Doors-meets-Soft Cell evaporated very quickly.

“When my wife saw the first album and the poster it came with, she went, ‘Uh-oh’.”

Three years after that debut album a-ha were still making bad decisions. The 1988 hit single “You Are the One” owed nothing to The Doors or Soft Cell and the accompanying video (complete with sailor suits) can only be explained away by an early mid-life crisis.

Maybe that was the nadir because the band got moody, grew their hair and sported bandanas for their 1990 record “East of the Sun”. As their fan base lost interest, so too did a-ha, moving further from their roots in the search for credibility on the gloomy “Memorial Beach” in 1993.

About this period, Harket tells The Scotsman:

“We were at the peak of denouncing ourselves and what we had been. When you’re at war with yourself you will go under. I don’t think we were focused. We were fighting too many demons, and trying to avoid things.”

Over fifteen years later a-ha still find themselves trying to change perceptions but at least now they seem comfortable in their own skin.

Read my review of the new a-ha album here.