Noel & Liam Gallagher - Rolling Stone - 18th May 1995
Oasis begin every show they play with a baldfaced declaration: "Tonight, I'm a rock & roll star." Tonight, in front of a capacity audience at New Jersey's legendary Stone Pony, in Asbury Park, they aren't exactly getting star treatment. Before the band starts playing, a sodden cry rises up from the back of the sold-out room: "F*** Great Britain! England sucks! USA!" Then after just a single song, Oasis are rudely interrupted by a beer can.
The wobbly aluminum missile lands squarely on guitarist Noel Gallagher's chest with a thud, drizzling his Les Paul with sticky suds. "Wankers, wankers, wankers," declares frontman Liam Gallagher, Noel's brother. "Where are ya? Let's see your f***ing face."
Liam's the one with the miracle eyebrows and the icy, static demeanor, but right now the 22-year-old is ready to jump out and get better acquainted. Only the wooden barricades at the foot of the stage keep him from attacking. "We don't play to gorillas," adds Noel. He's not in the mood for this kind of thing, nor is the rest of the band, which includes second guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan and drummer Tony McCarroll. Tonight the members of Oasis are restless, jet lagged and, it's safe to assume, drunk. The complimentary Budweiser must be tame stuff compared with Oasis' customary libations of liquor and strong lager, but they appear to be compensating by putting the emphasis on quantity over quality.
If Noel Gallagher were following his gut instincts, he would probably march right off the stage, never to return and with no offer of a refund, either. In the past, Oasis have abandoned shows when faced with this kind of behavior. Perhaps they know there are plenty of people here tonight who actually want to see them. Oasis' brand of aggressive, snappy Anglo pop is starting to catch on in America, largely because of the burgeoning hit "Live Forever." This dreamy midtempo rock anthem seems predestined for top-volume sing-alongs by both big unified crowds and solo car-radio listeners.
So, Oasis soldier on. For Liam Gallagher, soldiering on consists of the following activities: brandishing the five points of his star-shaped tambourine like a weapon; pointing to his chest as if to say, "Come and get me, ya tossers"; shaking his fist repeatedly at various body surfers; and delivering entire verses with one hand held up to his face in a permanent two-fingered salute, the British version of flipping the bird. A portion of the audience responds with the traditional American middle finger.
While Liam rages and postures, his 27-year-old older brother just seethes. "You don't deserve us," Noel says with a snarl. His exit lines this evening, delivered in one quick breath of absolute nonchalance, are "Thank you. F*** you." There is no encore.
Oasis' reputation as rock & roll bad boys with a penchant for drink, drugs and destruction of property, not to mention the occasional brotherly punch-up, entered the realm of Brit-pop legend almost instantaneously. Before the band released Definitely Maybe, its debut album, it had been forcibly removed from both a Dutch ferryboat (after a quick tour of Holland) and the hallowed ground of Stonehenge. On the occasion of Oasis' first New Musical Express cover story, the band trashed a hotel bar, leaving behind a room littered with broken bottles and a swimming pool full of furniture. "Those plate-glass windows are just saying, 'Throw a chair through me!' '' Noel exclaimed in the middle of that particular frenzy. Perhaps there's also something about Oasis that just says, "Toss a can at me!"
All that, however, was nearly a year ago. Now, Noel Gallagher calmly sits in an empty corner of the lounge at New York's swank Hotel Macklowe. It's noon on the dot, the first drink of the day is in hand, and Noel is downplaying his band's high-jinks-ridden past, although he's not refuting anything, either. "Everything that's ever written in the press is 90 percent facts and 10 percent exaggeration," he says. "It's easier for them to write that you had red socks on or you take drugs."
Still, Oasis willingly play along with the media myth-making. "It's interesting for the kids to read," Noel says. "As long as you realize there's great songs. Our attitude and 'rock & rollness' doesn't sell records - it might initially, but it won't keep it going. It's like the Rolling Stones were seen to be very rock & roll when they started - they were always getting arrested. But the reason why they were a great band is not because Mick and Keith got nicked, it's because they wrote 'Jumpin' Jack Flash.' It's the music that lasts."
But to give both the Rolling Stones and Oasis their due, attitude is part of what makes a band great. Talent and execution will only take you so far, vision and chemistry somewhat further, but rock & rollness makes a difference, not as something that exists apart from the music but as the very thing that gives the music life - unfettered snottiness and swollen-hearted bigness, an untamable spirit that bursts and dreams and spits in the face of drudgery. More than a few of Noel Gallagher's lyrics dwell on fantasy, escape and endless possibilities: "I'd like to be somebody else"; "tonight I'm a rock & roll star"; "we'll find a way of chasing the sun"; and, of course, "you and I are gonna live forever."
"I think it's good being a bit dangerous," Liam Gallagher says. "There's a few more kids going out going, 'F*** it, I can have what I want out of life,' and that means literally anything."
Like his brother, Liam drinks Jack Daniels and Coke ("It's medicine"), and he's parked at the same table. It's several hours later that same afternoon, however, as the brothers Gallagher don't do interviews together. They used to, but too often in the course of disagreeing with each other orally they would end up writhing on the floor, fists flying, while the interviewer continued to take notes. Now the boys try to stay out of each other's way - so much so that over the next two days, they barely say a word to each other.
Flare-ups do occur. Chuck Cleaver of Ass Ponys witnessed one when his band played with Oasis in Memphis, Tenn. "They were signing a poster for a fan," Cleaver recounts, "and Liam signed it, 'From the star of the stage.' So then his brother wrote, 'From the owner of the star of the stage.' " Next thing Cleaver knew, he was taking cover: "Liam got ticked and tossed a chair at [Noel]; he was yelling, 'Wanker!' and 'Cheeky bastard!'"
Liam gets all the sex-symbol pop-star attention in the band and little credit as a musician; Noel is hailed as the artist and visionary. But both brothers swear it's really not a big deal. "It's just me and me brother having arguments in a band," Liam says. "If we weren't in a band, we'd be havin' it in the house. If we had a greengrocers, Gallagher's Greengrocers, we'd argue over which way we set out the apples or the f***in' pears."
For Noel Gallagher, it can all be traced back to the Beatles. He was 13 when his father, a country & western DJ by vocation, bought him his first guitar. "Ticket to Ride" was the first song Noel figured out - "Still don't know the words," he jests. From that point on there was nothing else in his life. Certainly not school. "As soon as I learned to read and write," says Noel, "I didn't even bother turning up half the time. I can't even spell, but who needs to spell? There was just nothing there for the musician in me."
For more than 10 years, however, Noel's musical gifts were presented only to himself. He would sit around the house writing songs or run around Manchester, England, getting into trouble like sniffing glue or committing petty crimes. "He always wrote good songs, but he didn't have a band," Liam Gallagher says. Liam had a similarly restless youth: He played some football (which is to say, soccer) and cut school a lot, too. Around 1985 their parents got divorced, and the boys have not had any real contact with their father since. "He's a dick," Liam says. "The last time I seen him was in a dole queue when I was signing on, and he was [in line] before me."
Unlike Noel, Liam never had any interest in making music. That changed in 1989 when Manchester, led by the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, became Madchester, the U.K.'s hottest musical city, with a scene that was just as crazy, prolific and important in that country as Seattle was here a few years later. Both brothers were out at the Hacienda, the rock, dance and ecstasy-driven hub of the scene, every night. Then Noel took his first step toward rock & roll, though it wasn't much of one: He became a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets and lived the touring life for several years.
In Noel's absence, Liam found himself re-enacting the oldest rock & roll story there is. As Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs puts it, "We had f*** all else to do." Bonehead is the name Arthurs answers to, a tag acquired as a well-shorn Irish Catholic among hippie mophead children in the '70s. "It was either get in a band," he says, "or get drunk every night." Or both.
The only problem was the band wasn't any good. When Noel got back from an American tour, he thought Oasis were crap, too. But he was stunned to discover that his pain-in-the-ass brother had an exhilarating little set of vocal chords. He agreed to join the band as lead guitarist and songwriter, basically telling them, Noel recalls, "I can only do this one way: with me in complete control of it."
Though Oasis appear to be your basic overnight success story, they actually spent a good two years woodshedding - until everything about the band was on a par with Noel's long-developed songwriting chops. Then came the overnight success. The story supposedly goes something like this: The gang motored up to a Glasgow, Scotland, club, where they forced their way onto a bill with a couple of the lesser-known bands signed to British superindie Creation Records - by threatening to torch the venue. In the middle of their now-standard cover of "I Am the Walrus," Creation's peripatetic Scottish founder Alan McGee bum-rushed the stage midsong and insisted on signing them.
The truth is only slightly less fairy tale. Noel sets the record straight a bit: "[McGee] didn't jump onstage. We didn't threaten to burn the place down. He pulled me as soon as we came offstage and asked if we wanted a record deal, and we said, 'Who with?' and he said, 'Creation,' so we said yes. It was agreed that we were going to sign that night, but we didn't sign until two or three months later."
The resulting album, 1994's "Definitely Maybe," became the fastest-selling debut record in U.K. history. After joining America in celebrating grunge during Nirvana's 1992 heyday, the British rock & roll audience has once again embraced acts with distinctly British-bred sounds and styles. Compared with their contemporaries like the pure-pop miniaturists in Blur or the grand art rockers in Suede, Oasis are rock & roll classicists. They're imaginative postmodernist chefs, boiling up a caldron that includes traces of the Small Faces, Mott the Hoople, Badfinger, the Clash, T. Rex and the Jam, as well as the Beatles and the Stones. It's all seasoned with more recent strains of punk, Madchester groove and Noel Gallagher's own personally skewed vision. There's deliberate mischief involved, too. "Shakermaker" quotes the New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" (a k a "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke"), "Cigarettes and Alcohol" liberally borrows its guitar riff from "Bang a Gong," and "Fadeaway" (one of the band's better non-album tracks) recasts Wham!'s "Freedom" as a punk-rock anthem.
But the band that Oasis really conjure is the Who. "Pete Townshend's the only guy that I can relate to," Noel says, "because he wrote all the songs and all the words and sang backing vocals, and he gave 'em to somebody else to sing 'em, and that's exactly what I do. And we particularly don't get on with our lead singers."
Onstage, the Who were over-the-top rock & roll entertainers, whereas Oasis' live persona is beyond lackadaisical. Liam stands in front of his mike stand, usually with his hands behind his back, and that's about it. The rest of the band is even less animated, and this visual effect is completely at odds with the uplifting punch of the band's white-hot wall of noise.
The funny thing is that Liam Gallagher is everything a hyped-up frontman should be - as long as he's not actually performing. Offstage he's loose, mischievous and downright jumpy, dancing around to songs in his head. He's endlessly enthusiastic - just a kid really, constantly moving and always saying things like "I'm mad for it" and (since he saw The Mask) "Smokin'!"
When Liam gets back to Manchester, he's finally going to move out of his mum's house; whenever the press writes about the drugs or the fighting, she always gives the boys a good talking to. It's enough to keep a rock star down-to-earth, although he's not having any of that. "It keeps me down- to-earth being me," Liam says. "Being Liam Gallagher keeps me down-to-earth."
So far, anyway. Oasis could be the first British band in ages to have a real impact on the former colonies. (Bush doesn't count because no one has heard of them in England.) "Live Forever" is all over MTV, the album is climbing Billboard's Top 200, and rumors of a Lollapalooza slot are buzzing. Let's paraphrase a couplet from Noel Gallagher's own songbook ("Supersonic") and apply it to Oasis' current situation: You can have it all, but how much do you want it?
"Yeah, yeah, I know, it keeps getting thrown back at me," Noel says resignedly. "Wish I'd never f***in' written it. But we want it - if it's there for us, and we can take it, we'll take it, and if it's there for us, and we have to work at it a bit, then we'll work at it. But we're not going to come here and sell our souls just for the sake of having a hit record in America. Financially, yeah, I want to be big in America, because that means I'll never have to work again. But it's not that important to me to be a big star. It's more important for me to be big in England, because that's where I live, that's where I come from."
Either way, Noel doesn't expect to spend the rest of his life in Oasis. "There's other things I want to do," he says. "I'll probably run out of ideas, and I wouldn't just carry on forever, go through the motions for the next 10 years. I'd rather be special than become just another band who carried on. Time will tell. I'll probably be sussed out in 15, 20 years, saying the same thing."
Hope I die before I get old or words to that effect?
"No," Noel Gallagher says. "I wanna live forever. Absolutely. Yeah."