A “gruesome simplicity”: The Meaning of Noel Gallagher
(I suppose writing this is a melancholy act. Even though my love affair with the music of Oasis has been over for over a decade, their music is still the soundtrack for a point in my early high school days in the mid-to-late 1990’s when things looked really bright around me, and society seemed cheery and optimistic [even if we realise how naive this was, looking back]. My friend gave me a cassette in 1996 with their best-seller ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ taped onto it. It seemed to capture the essence of my then blissful excitment for the future, from a time when even the smell of Lynx Atlantis deodorant seemed to smell of good feeling. But it wasn’t just me, the 1990’s had fooled most into optimism for things to come; the ‘tracksuit’ wearing youth, who the band would later scorn, were walking around the ex-coal mining villages I spend my days in, playing Oasis, alongside Happy Hardcore tape’s on their portable tape players, and the name of the band was even sprayed onto many walls up and down. It Seemed like they had meaning for everyone, and it took me a while to realise that, to quote Morrissey, they said “nothing to me about my life” – Oasis truly were The Motorcycle Emptiness. But these illusions are gone now, and it’s time to brush away the cobwebs made by those dated-voices who still half-maintain them. Well, this is part of a tearing away of the remaining cobweb strands.)
Reading the sleeve booklet for The Stone Roses: Tenth Anniversary CD, when only 16 years old, reading about “the gruesome simplicity of Oasis”, to contrast them with The Stone Roses, I thought it was merely referring to their musical style. Little did I know, or like to admit back then (being a high school kid still very much in awe of the ‘Britpop’ icons), that this was also reflected in the Gallagher brothers’ attitudes. But this was ‘so-so’ in the period from 1995 to 2001, when the illusion of The End of History, allowed for people with nothing reasonable to say to be revered, because no threat was posed from their ‘give a shit’ and clumsy remarks. Now, in a time which might as well be a million years from the late 1990’s, these dated-voices are indeed gruesome.
There’s no doubt The Daily Mail had reason to tweak what Noel Gallagher said in the article featuring the songwriter’s most recent ‘views’ (so as to show that “it’s ok for so-called working class heroes to become part of the establishment as long as they can make it out of poverty”). But whether Noel’s comments did or didn’t praise Thatcher is of no real relevance: his “I couldn’t give a shit” attitude (which is as course and as dated as any of the Top Gear Crew’s), and his simplification of desperately complicated social issues, now he as the wealth to keep himself and his family well out of reach of society’s growing number of desperate people (according to the Mail he “vows to send his sons to private school”,); this attitude is as right wing as the Daily Mail and is itself a Thatcherite attitude.
I will return further on to the question asking whether we should be criticising Noel or criticising the reason why celebrity voices are projected over other more sensible voices. But, in the present context, there’s no getting away from a reality where celebrity voices such as Noel Gallagher’s do permeate the four walls of our homes with ease, and are revered by the many that do listen to those icons to which they associate their own identity with inside this star-system complex inside ‘the society of spectacle’. And one must take into account how damaging reckless well-heard opinions can be.
One needn’t look far to find those who are inspired by his so-called “No Nonsene” straight-talk. A blog post from 2007 pits Oasis against Radiohead, using quotations from a Guardian article on Noel. Using a faux-soft-but-really-quite-fierce sense of nationalist pride to state, in favour of Oasis over Radiohead, “Noel is of course exercising the right of every free-born Briton – the right to take this piss. In fact, it’s not a right but a duty. The average Brit would much rather be thought to be an ignorant no-nothing than a pretentious wanker”. Well, forgive me for not wanting to be an average ‘Brit’. But also forgive me for abstaining from using this myth of an eternal national identity to think of ourselves in this way, as it requires a blanking out of the cultural constructs that helped maintain state power during uncertain times such as the expansion of industrial capitalism and the second world war; also, if you haven’t noticed, the last 3 consecutive governments have been doing their very best to erase these ‘freedoms’ and ‘born-rights’ that ‘us Brit’s’ possess – can’t be that eternal can they then?
Perhaps Noel’s most damaging comments in the Daily Mail were his simplified views on young people and, in particular, on last summer’s riots here in the UK. He makes sweeping statements that, whilst containing face value truths, are intentionally discriminatory: “There was a work ethic – if you were unemployed, the obsession was to find work. Now, these kids brought up under the Labour party and whatever this coalition thing is, it’s like forget that, I’m not interested. I wanna be on TV”. He makes an easy diagnosis, and then does what is all so convenient for a cultural icon who now has the ability to separate himself from all that goes off below him; refusing to understand the causations, and the complexities that are rubbing together down on the streets with ever-increasingly ferocity, as he sits back in his stylish home absorbed in his dated, out-of-context-Mod-cultured world view (most likely).
Over the past month I have been without a job (as my job almost mockingly gets the best out of the workers for 10 months, only to momentarily let us go, without pay, with little savings at the most dismal time of the year) and having been in the Jobcentre a few times of late, I can inform Noel Gallagher that there is “a work ethic” now; people are desperate to work, they are fed up with the lack of hope of any reasonable future for them, and they are angry about it – as the work just isn’t there. Both men who spoke to me today skillfully controlled their rage, but you could see the anger building, an anger that is building not just in the JobCentre, but all over the nation, and Noel Gallagher is so out of date with views that have had no bearing on reality since the 1990’s that he just cannot understand this. Yet we still hear from him (and see his daughter being groomed into a model to become another face in the star-complex at only 11 years of age, although that’s another matter, another Daily Mail matter that is!)
Whilst sitting and waiting, a man who looks fed up with life (you can genuinely see it in peoples’ faces) walks over to a Jobsearch machine (Jobsearch machines, noticeably, make the ‘job-searcher’ scrunch his face up – it’s a defensive mechanism saying “you lot don’t fool me, whoever you are” to the patronising act of having to search these machines for non-existing jobs, feeling that somebody’s taking the piss.) As this man turned to face the screen I noticed that the word money was sewn into the back of his branded jacket. It was a bitter juxtaposition; a social-control system held together by the domination of the necessity of individual social status and general attractiveness being based on acquisition, material wealth, and the act of making it public as glamour, and the poorest in society so desperately need the loudest of items to showcase what they so desperately need, in order to feel some self-respect and self-worth; hence the poorest wear the words of that which systemically makes them the lowest of the low. And this gap, between the riches and the poor, increases under right-wing governance: increased misery whilst surrounded by an increase of capitalism’s aspirationalism in society.
And now we have a rough-draft diagnosis for the summer riots! (in a sense the certainty of further riots is sown into the stitching in brand logos that seek our love.) Troubled events which Noel Gallagher ‘gruesomely’ simplified into a duality between what was going on in “Syria and Egypt” where “people were rioting for freedom. And these kids in England are rioting for tracksuits” to which he added “it’s embarrassing”. Embarrassing for whom? A proud ‘Brit’? He then went on to say, regarding the match thrown onto tinder sticks – the police shooting of Mark Duggan – “it’s all on Twitter and before you know it there’s a riot going on. It was mass robbery and I was embarrassed to be Mancunian”.
Usually finger-pointing is counter-productive, but because, as I said above, his words are heard well above more thoughtful words, I am going to make the point of the hypocrisy in this. Noel Gallagher scorning those who steal, when it is all-but empirical knowledge that Noel ,and his even simpler brother Liam, stole from cars and houses in Manchester to get enough money to pay for the musical equipment they needed in order to become the faces in the star-system complex which they have become. Noel Gallagher was stealing to fund something that gave meaning to him. Fair enough; poverty makes crime, and it’s becoming even harder for people from the lower working class backgrounds to have the opportunity to become musicians (read Owen Hatherley’s Uncommon for a more detailed account on why there were very few ‘Brit’ bands from the 1990’s who weren’t from affluent backgrounds.)
Inequality in society has increased more so since Noel was committing robbery in the 80’s/90’s, whilst consumerism and the publicity needed to fuel it has swallowed up even more of culture. Such a society both eradicates meaning, as commodification enters even more walks of life, whilst fuelling feelings of desperation through making us feel we can do nothing but try to boost our own status within this hall of mirrors. But many cannot afford to, and the future looks to be getting bleaker for many. Riots where people steal as many consumer items as they can carry don’t happen for the simplistic reasons you dispel from your mouth, Noel. That’s a very Thatcherite attitude you’ve got there ‘mate!’ (Make no bones about it; all the signs say these riots will reoccur. And when these are the comments that get heard in society, one can see that the causations haven’t only been unaddressed, but that these ‘tindersticks’ may be getting even drier.)
In an NME interview, following the one in The Daily Mail, where he tried to reproach the tinting to his words which made him sound like he liked Margaret Thatcher, Noel ended by saying “Also, for the record, on the day she [Thatcher] dies we will party like it’s 1989. Just so you know”. But it’s a defunct reply: holding up a collaged image of the working class heroes has no context whilst one uses Thatcherite dialectic to describe what’s happening to the lower working class now. Hating Thatcher the individual is far easier than opposing the social engineering she oversaw, the very social engineering that has taken 30 years to cook up these big problems in society, and is especially easy to do once you’ve finally benefitted from it (as is exemplified in comments made in The Daily Telegraph in 2008, where he blames Margaret Thatcher for the increase in knife crime in Britain, but explains the current situation saying “It’s horrible. It’s not just in London, I was up in Liverpool the other day and it’s the same there. The scumbags are taking over the streets”- but assuming Noel wasn’t threatened by someone with a knife, nor witnessed a stabbing, he’s obviously just making comments about people who he thinks are scumbags, which sounds like he’s also caught the disease of seeing large swathes of the population as ‘undeserving poor’ also commonly known by the awful term ‘Chavs’.)
But if the pre-fame Gallagher’s were in a pre-fame position today they too might have been on the streets of Manchester rioting. The ‘Gangster’ music which he abhors might have seemed more appropriate to his life, with its talk about the harsh realism of being at the bottom yet being constantly shown images of superstars, than the loved-up psychedelia of his much beloved The Beatles; the Britain of the 1960’s, or (more accurately) the Britain of a small area of London which is now projected back to us as if it was the whole of Britain, is so irrelevant to the Britain that we now live in that going to Indie Disco’s which play 1960’s songs, and their 1990’s take-offs, feels like entering The Land That Time Forgot, even more than stereotypically-uncultured northern town centres are supposed to.
In fact Noel’s simplistic attitude is echoed by many of the always-had-a-silver-spoon rich in this country who wish to see changes brought in that would take back democratic right from the likes of the pre-fame Gallagher’s. His disregard for those at the bottom of society in 2012 resonates with the ideas being spouted by Ian Cowie in The Daily Telegraph, for example, who’s idea for an ‘alternate’ voting system where voting is restricted “to people who actually pay something into the system” barring anybody who pays less that £100 of tax a year sounds like a rolling back of democratic rights to the Victorian times to me. This was a blog brought to my attention by George Monbiot in The Guardian this week, in which Cowie also managed to find the space to praise the British Empire’s one time control of the world, where “property-based voting eligibility” (a denial of voting rights for anyone who doesn’t own a property) “worked quite well when the parliament administered not just Britain but the rest of the world”; and in a funny way this all seems to resonate back again to Noel Gallagher, when he used to wield a Union Jack-covered Epiphone guitar on stage, as he lifted riffs from 1960’s psychedelic bands, who had already heavily borrowed sounds from colonies Britain had only just then recently let go (albeit borrowed with much more respect and appreciation); namely India.
But the problem isn’t with Noel Gallagher. The problem is that Noel Gallagher’s words (like Jeremy Clarkson’s, and even, although I respect him infinitely more, Morrissey) are revered by many in society. Why do their views become so important? To be fair, Noel Gallagher would be the first to admit he’s no sociologist, no critical theorist of contemporary culture – he rarely speaks to a paper without slagging university off! Although one needn’t have been to university be thoughtful about the world, Noel clearly isn’t. He’s got nothing of real worth to say. But yet his words have been made into something more.
The words of a star must be seen to be of more worth than yours or mine; they must be able to command respect to provide legitimacy for the society of spectacle that plucks them up into the limelight at random, in order for it to maintain its dominance. Its star-complex halos over us, keeping us hooked on the dreams of the respect and adoration that fame provides, even if it is necessary at times to block out certain faces who fall from grace. Noel Gallagher’s presence, his words and cobbled-together version of British working class identity, appeals as meaningful for many, and it can help mould an whole section of personalities around a narrow image. Whilst he commands more cultural respect than the faces who cover gossip magazines, he essentially has the same function, for a different section of people, whose impetus on difference from the ‘lower’ cultural faces is nothing of a difference on comparison with what makes them the same.
This structure has been maintained in what are still called western democracies since before World War 2. But its dominance has increased, massively helped by the fall of a disastrous-example of communism near to the end of the last century (although it had its own kind of spectacle, essentially a state capitalist dictatorship one) allowing it to cover the globe. All that was once classed as counter-cultural to the spectacular machine has been absorbed and reconstituted, killing off artists who couldn’t deal with their commodification. Noel Gallagher was so far already past the point of being anything that the great reconstitutor of past sounds that he was, that this would never occur to the likes of him.
However, can we now find hope, in how out of date their voices are, possibly signifying that the whole structure of control cannot maintain itself anymore? Their almost “let them eat cake” understanding of the scale of the problems in the world almost eludes to a likelihood the capitalist system’s requirement of the society of the spectacle for social dominance isn’t functioning properly anymore. It’s only a faint hope (I feel it necessary to end thoughts on things with a positive tone these days, to keep my spirits up in the face of all the sad sights I see and hear of in town centres), but it seems to resonate with a questioning of where the hell capitalism can go from here to maintain itself. For good or bad, it is very unlikely that there will be new high points within British culture, under our current social system, to save people for ever-more desperately clinging to its past.
To paraphrase the last words in Richard Seymour’s ‘The Meaning of David Cameron’; What is the meaning of Noel Gallagher? He means it’s time to accept the world needs big changes, and also, to quite appropriately (in the context of Noels inability to grasp the meaning of Radiohead) use some Thom Yorke lyrics, there can be “No more talk about the old days; it’s time for something great”.