In the new novel “Drømmer om Storhet” Paul Waaktaar of a-ha has been given a place in Norwegian literature. As a partly fictional character.
To call Pål H. Christiansen’s “Drømmer om Storhet” a novel about Paul Waaktaar would be an exaggeration. It’s first and foremost about Hobo Highbrow, a failed writer and proofreader who loses his grip on reality. Hobo also appeared in Christiansen’s first book, which was published in 1989. Paul Waaktaar is on of his few anchor points in life, at first through the songs and success of a-ha, and later more concrete as he sees Waaktaar walking through his neighbourhood as an ordinary man with wife and child.
The first meeting
Pål H. Christiansen and Paul Waaktaar met each other for the first time around five ‘o clock yesterday afternoon, at Vinderen, where Waaktaar is discovered by Hobo Highbrow in the book.
“Without having been a fan, I have been interested in a-ha, by what they have done and are doing. Now I have written a book about a man who feels disregarded in Norway and tries to run away from this life. A-ha fits well into his psyche”, Christiansen explains.
Paul Waaktaar first heard about the book when he was asked if he had any objections against being portrayed as an icon on the cover of the book. He only got to read it after he returned from touring with a-ha, ten days ago.
“He feels that Norway seems obstructive, he is not allowed to show what he can do, and therefore a-ha become an ideal. The title “Drømmer om Storhet” (“Dreams of Greatness”) says a lot. The book is about things I have experienced myself. About the talent you’ve been given, and how you use it. a-ha has been considered to be a bit cheesy and a bit cool. We were initially marketed as three half-wits and we have not managed to shake that off”, Waaktaar says.
Christiansen doesn’t agree, and sees no irony in how the book portrays Waaktaar as an ideal. “I haven’t thought like that at all”, Christiansen stresses. “Hobo looks at a-ha as three gifted, young men who have done things properly”.
A more scary aspect of stardom must be the idea of having a crazed fan who, at the end of the novel, is standing in Paul Waaktaar’s garden, looking in the window?
Paul: “We have met fans who take things a bit too far. So far that it’s not healthy anymore. People who study hard to learn Norwegian just because of us”.
– Isn’t that be a bit creepy?
Paul: “Yeah, we’ve had our share of real maniacs. Who stood outside of where we lived at four in the morning, waiting for us to come home. I feel that this book is more about the inspiration from the idols. Because I have had such idols myself, who have sent me in different directions. That I’ve sucked energy from. There was a period in the eighties when I got the idea that I shouldn’t listen to music because I wanted everything to come from my own mind. Now I’m no longer afraid to take in too much. I have met many stars myself, and they have rarely given me the impression of being something more than just very ordinary people. But it was special to meet George Harrison, and Paul McCartney…”
“When I saw you guys playing with McCartney at the Nobel-concert last year, it looked like you were back in your boyhood rooms, really glowing”, Christiansen says.
The main character Hobo wonders for a moment if Paul Waaktaar’s cultural reputation early in a-ha’s career was for real, or if it was created to build a mysterious image around him.
“Well, he is an intellectual snob, and has that thought, because it is the pop-industry he’s thinking of. But he believes in Paul”, Christiansen says.
Paul: “What shall I say? I wasn’t overly well-read. But I’d be sitting on the tram, reading, and got inspiration from Hamsun, Kafka, Dostojevskij and Gunvor Hofmo. I had this rush that you get just before you enter adulthood, where I thought that I was the only one who knew what they were writing about”.
“That must have had an impact on your lyrics”, Christiansen thinks.
“You mean, if I’ve nicked something? Yeah, probably have”, says Waaktaar, who tells that he was inspired the most by Hofmo on the first album that he did with the band Bridges.
Hobo has his own analysis of Paul Waaktaar’s songs: “And it struck me how there was a striking contrast between the lightness of Waaktaar’s music and the content of many of his lyrics. (…) That was what I respected him so deeply for. In all our human helplessness, we catch ourselves humming a cheerful melody”, it says in the book.
“I think it’s a good observation. I like both, I want to make something that hits you right on, and I also want make stuff that perhaps only 10 people appreciates. To be both accessible and hard to get. That’s why I have both a-ha and Savoy”, says Waaktaar, but he later backs off a little, and says that he doesn’t find the two bands to be that different.
A small part
Paul Waaktaar is after all only a small part of the story in “Drømmer om Storhet”. Isn’t there a danger of having his participation overshadow the content of the novel?
“That can be, but so far I think there have been focus on the content. This is a fictional book about Hobo Highbrow’s 40-year crisis”, says Pål H. Christiansen.
Without any hidden commercial agendas?
Christiansen: “I wanted to write something about a-ha. Then that melted together with further exploring the story of Hobo. I don’t mind if this helps in getting more attention”.
Paul Waaktaar will continue to work parallel with a-ha and Savoy, even though it doesn’t sound like we will be hearing more from either bands in the nearest future. But if the book should become a movie – would he play the role as himself?
“That depends. Isn’t it Brad Pitt everybody would like to see play themselves?”.
By Geir Rakvaag
Translation by Jacob Sekse