Friday, March 19, 2010

COLUMN: a-ha

I'm a child of the 80's. Well, kinda.

Technically, I was born in 1971, which by definition makes me a child of the 70's. But I've never really claimed that decade, nor am I in any real hurry to. Platform shoes, bellbottoms, and KC & the Sunshine Band? No thanks.

I recall embarassingly little of my first nine years of existence. I remember Barry Manilow and ABBA. The hostages in Iran. My mom taking me to my first R-rated movie: "Saturday Night Fever." The blizzard of 1978. Riding my Big Wheel. But mostly, I just remember spilling the Kool-Aid.

Why the Kool-Aid memory sticks with me, I don't know. I didn't even get in trouble for it. I accidentally spilled some Kool Aid, I felt bad about it, and my mom cleaned it up. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where my autobiography starts. It is my first discernable memory -- and honestly, the highlight of the 1970's as far as I'm concerned.

Instead, my formative years were spent squarely in the nurturing bosom of the 1980's, and I couldn't be happier about it. Come on, was there EVER a better decade? Well, okay, the Sixties were pretty rockin' and perhaps the focal point of 20th century creativity. But it seems like a prerequisite to that creativity was growing your hair out long and smelling kinda funky and walking through mud in bare feet. Besides, the Grateful Dead sucked - it's just that their songs were so long you forgot how much they sucked by the eighteenth minute. And the 60's had their share of war and death and upheaval and I'm kind of okay that I missed out on all that.

No, I'm perfectly fine with the 1980's, thanks much. We didn't have to worry about Vietnam or dodging the draft. We just had to worry about dodging those pesky barrels that Donkey Kong kept throwing at us. Think about it - what WASN'T awesome about the 80's? The fashion was so bad it was magical. The TV gave us talking cars and Mr. T, J.R. Ewing and Boss Hogg. The movies gave us E.T. and Indiana Jones and Porky's and, well, let's just say that BEING a teenager when John Hughes was making movies ABOUT teenagers was most fortuitous indeed. Before the 1980's, culture was just culture. It was MY decade that added the POP to culture.

But above all else, the 80's gave us music. I was in junior high when MTV suddenly appeared on the airwaves and pop music suddenly became the most important thing in my life. I would RACE home from school just to turn on MTV and let Martha Quinn tell me what was cool. The 60's can have their Hendrix and the 70's could keep their Zeppelin. I had important bands. Bands that knew how to whip it and whip it good. Bands that walked like Egyptians and woke us up before we go-go'd. Bands that relaxed and didn't do it, whatever the mythical "it" was in my 12-year-old brain. I might have been a nerdy kid, but in my heart, I knew I was cool, because I knew exactly what it sounded like when the doves cry.

The music of the 80's was a perfect slice of what it was like to live in that era. Most of the music doesn't translate well now, nor do I really want it to. A few years ago, I saw a reformed Flock of Seagulls play a tiny club in Rock Island -- and to see the essence of 80's cool as chubby, middle-aged, balding dudes now doing sub-par rock music was a bit disheartening (we stayed for a few songs and promptly ran, ran so far away.)

But for me, one band stood atop all others when it came to fantastic 80's music. They stormed the MTV charts with one video, one song, and one chorus that no one from my era will ever forget:

Taaaake ooooon meeeee (Take! On! Me!)
Taaaake meeeee onnnnn (Take! On! Me!)
I'll beeee gonnnne,

Okay, I might not have that last line right. Wait, lemme look it up. Ahh. It's "in a day or two." Still, he could have been singing "I've got to poo" and I'd still scream along.

a-ha (and yes, you're always supposed to spell it in all lower case) arrived in 1985 with synth flourishes, a singer with a glass-shattering falsetto, totally sweet animated videos, and awesome names like Magne Furuholmen and Pal Waaktaar. But as quick as they arrived in the States, their flame burned out almost immediately.

Why? Simple. a-ha had the misfortune of being pretty-boys. And before you could say "Pal Waaktaar" (however one says "Pal Waaktaar,") the band was plastered all over the covers of TigerBeat and marketed almost exclusively to 15-year-old girls. And, well, me.

But here's where I defend both my masculinity and my musical tastes: a-ha were a really good band. A band way ahead of the trend, ahead of the 80's, and way too extreme for the likes of the TigerBeat crowd. Thus, when their challenging and weird second album showed up in stores, no one bought it. Instead of "Take On Me," there were dark songs loosely involving a murder storyline. Not exactly what the teen scene wanted, so they moved on to the next flash-in-the-pan.

a-ha's second album, "Scoundrel Days," was my soundtrack to high school. Their third, "Stay On These Roads," saw me through the summer before college. Their fourth and fifth were vital additions to my growing CD library. After that, they got dropped by their American label, but it didn't stop them from releasing records to a still-vigilant European audience. I bet you didn't even know a-ha were still together today.

And this year, after releasing their NINTH studio album, they've decided to call it a day. A final tour, aptly named "Ending On A High Note," begins this week in South America and winds across the globe to a 3-day December finale in their native Norway.

This weekend, I scored tickets to their Chicago farewell show in May. To say I'm excited is putting it mildly. It will be the first time they've taken an American stage since 1986. With me will be my girlfriend (to prove that I have testosterone,) my friend Stuart (to prove that I'm not the last remaining male a-ha fan on the planet,) and a sea of whatever former 15-year-old TigerBeat readers have evolved into.

In all honesty, a-ha were only one-hit wonder prettyboys in the States. In Europe, they were (and are) a critically-acclaimed band. Contemporary artists like Radiohead and Coldplay cite a-ha among their major influences.

As for me, what can I say? I'm just a child of the 80's. Inn-stay-ah QUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

1 comment:

Mel said...

Shane, This post really moved me -- I'm not going to lie. Whenever I think of you and our GHS days, I think of a-ha and your review of Scoundrel Days for the Budget. And you're right -- 80's music was the bomb . . . but 70's toys were better. :)