The wisdom of Noel Gallagher
Last night’s Brit Awards confirmed that the Oasis badboy has become a rare voice of reason in Britain’s preening and conformist pop scene.
At 39 years of age, Noel Gallagher of Oasis is worried about becoming just another rock dinosaur. In the run-up to last night’s Brit Awards, he declared: ‘We’re finally up there with the Eurythmics, Sting and Bob Geldof. So I’m not really sure that congratulations are in order….’
In fact, Gallagher did deserve the Brits’ Outstanding Contribution to Music Award – if only because in recent years the Oasis badboy and king of Nineties Britpop has become a rare voice of reason on the British music scene. They are sad times indeed when otherwise unremarkable statements of common sense become worthy of note. Yet Gallagher’s tirades against the ridiculous and famous are soundbites of rationality in a pop culture dominated by the bien-pensant and self-regarding.
Consider his recent outburst against the worthy and po-faced Radiohead. ‘Thom Yorke [singer of Radiohead] sat at a piano singing “This is fucked up” for half an hour. We all know that, Mr Yorke. Who wants to sing the news? No matter how much you sit their twiddling, going, “We’re all doomed”, at the end of the day people will always want to hear you play Creep. Get over it.’ In a few well-aimed lines, Gallagher demolishes the delusions of the new ‘progressive’ rock.
It isn’t only the more epicene types who get bashed by Gallagher for being un-rock’n’roll. The (supposedly) punk band Green Day doesn’t live up to his standards either: ‘They consider themselves to be – and I quote – “a kick-ass rock’n’roll band”. They could not be less kick-ass if they tried.’
Gallagher has also attacked that most saintly of rock stars, Bono. He recently dismissed Bono’s pretensions to be the saviour of the world’s poor: ‘Play One, shut the fuck up about Africa.’ The mass guilt-assuagement exercise that was Live 8, which took place in venues around the world in 2005, also fell foul of the Mancunian’s political instincts: ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing Sweet Dreams and thinks, “Fuck me, she might have a point there, you know?” And Keane doing Somewhere Only We Know and some Japanese businessman going, “Aw, look at him…we should really fucking drop that debt, you know.” It’s not going to happen, is it?’
Okay, it might come across as cynical, but Gallagher nails the ridiculousness of the idea that playing a few pop songs on a summer’s day could help to lift sections of the world out of poverty. To most people who don’t have a Messiah’s To-Do List, Gallagher’s criticisms of Live 8 probably come across as fairly reasonable statements of political realism, yet he is often denounced for being ‘bratty’. He can probably live with that, when the alternative is to become one of those ‘arseholes’ (his word), like Elton John and Robbie Williams whom Gallagher has chastised for ‘lock[ing] themselves off from humanity’ and being too scared to go out and buy a pint of milk by themselves. Nor does he have much sympathy with Williams for checking himself into a clinic to deal with drug problems: ‘If you take drugs, you end up in rehab unless you’re a fucking rock like me - and then you just give them up.’
George Michael gets similar treatment. In response to the ex-Wham man’s crude song and video Shoot the Dog, which satirised Bush and Blair, Gallagher said: ‘He’s… trying to make social comment, this is the guy who hid who he actually was from the public for 20 years. Now, all of a sudden, he’s got something to say about the way of the world. I find it laughable.’
Gallagher’s own anti-war position seems more credible. ‘Blair made an almighty cock-up about going to war in Iraq’, he says. Gallagher hardly possesses anything like a sophisticated political analysis (‘I only get political every five years and that’s when I get my ballot paper’, he has said, as well as declaring: ‘Labour is my team and even if you don’t like a striker you don’t give up supporting the whole team’.) Yet his take on the Iraq debacle was far better than that of anti-war singers who signed up with the Tony BLIAR and anti-‘EVIL BUSH’ brigade. ‘When people go on about [Iraq] it’s like they’re suggesting that if anybody else had been in power they wouldn’t have gone in with the Americans. After World War II we always have sided with the Americans…. Don’t think for one moment David Cameron wouldn’t have sent the troops in, or the other guy from the Liberals.’
Gallagher remains quite sober about his own flirtations with the New Labour elite. Of his 1997 visit to Downing Street, after which Oasis were described as ‘Labour’s in-house band’, Gallagher says: ‘I have no regrets about going. I was only in my twenties at the time, and I thought – “he wants to meet ME? Well, fucking bring it ON!”’ He adds: ‘We all got carried away in ’97. Once the veneer wore off – even taking the Iraq debacle out of the equation – we’ve all just given a massive shrug. I think the Labour Party’s crowning achievement is the death of politics. There’s nothing left to vote for.’
Gallagher may not win any Outstanding Contribution Awards for manning the barricades, but he has the foresight to see faux-radicalism for what it really is: ‘Greens are fucking hippies with no place in the world. They’ve been telling us for the last 50 years not to use aerosols or the sky’s going to fall in.’ He nails the miserabilism of today’s eco-movements: ‘How do you suggest we get 50million Chinese not to have a fridge? Or get 700million Americans to stop using their big stupid cars?’
Speaking to the Sun in November last year, Gallagher slated the green movement’s apocalyptic predictions: ‘[Our children] won’t be sitting there going: “Dad, you shouldn’t have brought me into this world.” Kids adapt.’ Simplistic, maybe, but surely preferable to the green whining of contemporary bands such as Razorlight.
Rock stars used to delight in riding roughshod over received wisdom; most of today’s bland bands parrot received wisdom and it’s been left pretty much to Noel Gallagher to say, not very sophisticatedly, ‘What the fuck…?’ It is a bit sad when you find yourself celebrating the wisdom of a man who has made a career out of plagiarising other people’s songs and being only a little bit less of a twat than his brother. But in a world where rebellion has become just another gimmick, Gallagher’s antagonistic streak is refreshing.
I mean, if we’re going to have celebrities, surely we would rather that they spouted nonsense and meant it rather than affecting to be whiter than white. As Gallagher put it himself, talking about his band’s reputation for bad behaviour: ‘What would you rather read? “The guy from Keane’s been to a rabbit sanctuary ’cos one of the rabbits needed a kidney implant, so he swapped his with it” – or “Liam Gallagher sets fire to a policeman in cocaine madness while his brother Noel runs down Oxford Street nude”?’
Alex Hochuli works at the Institute of Ideas.