Words and Music

The Rilke post from earlier got me thinking about the first poem I ever memorized.

Obviously, nursery rhymes were first, and then songs like Jesus Loves Me. Then, when I started school, My Country Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, The Star-Spangled Banner, Simple Gifts.

In fourth grade we had to memorize and recite poems, so of course we all asked if we could do Top 40. Someone beat me to We Didn’t Start the Fire (I memorized it anyway…we all did), so I did Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. The song really affected me. Years later, I’d find myself working street-level with the homeless populations of the Lehigh Valley. What had seemed like a very 80s problem has gotten so much worse.

The first sort of classic poem I ever memorized was To Althea From Prison by Lovelace, the cavalier. It’s very famous, especially for this line:

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;

but the ones that really got me were

When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
Know no such Liberty.

and especially:

When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.

I was 15, so yeah. Killed me. Still does.

It strikes me now that “Slide Away” by Oasis, which I also discovered around that time, is a cavalier poem from the Council Estates. I love it so much.

Liam in London

But as a Mancunian whose teens were set to a soundtrack of Oasis, Liam could have come out and played Wonderwall on his iPhone and I’d still think he was the coolest man alive. 

That’s a great line from Stefan Kyriazis.

As a Pennsylvanian whose teens were set to the same three albums, I know what he means.

There’s no real American analogue to Oasis. By convention, I should have been listening to Nirvana for a few years already when Oasis got to American top 40. And, I mean, I was, because it was impossible not to. But I’ll just be honest. Nirvana always seemed too privileged.

Oasis was swaggering, life-affirming, sneeringly ironic but also really, truly earnest. Liam packed about a million miles into what he did with the simplest of things (namely, vowels). Show me another frontman who, standing still with his hands clasped behind his back, could electrify hundreds of thousands of people.

90s B-Side: I Will Believe

Noel Gallagher had a habit of writing great songs that most people (at least in the US) never really got a chance to hear.

This one’s called “I Will Believe.” It’s not on Definitely Maybe (I listened to that album about 100,000 times) but it’s on the recent deluxe release. I love how you can hear the exact moment it becomes an Oasis song (as 00:23 becomes 00:24). And Liam’s voice! Some of the stuff they cut leading up to Definitely Maybe but never properly released could chart right now.

Chuck Klosterman on Noel Gallagher; Me and “Be Here Now”

Cover of "Be Here Now"

I somehow missed this Klosterman/Gallagher Grantland interview from last fall but Noel’s in great form as usual.  Timely for our purposes in the context of my recent suggestion, prompted by a Klosterman quote, that Axl Rose and Noel Gallagher cut some tracks together. A.V. Club’s Steven Hyden explores the place of Be Here Now in the Gallagher cannon given Noel’s suggestion that we play his career in reverse for an alternate narrative of artistic expectation.

Hyden gets close to saying what I’ve been saying for a while:  Be Here Now is going to be one of those albums that people come back to and say, it’s not the first two Oasis albums, but it’s pretty great.  It’s who they were then, and it’s who we, the people who loved it, were, too.  Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory were almost perfect.  Be Here Now was a victory lap that may have misfired, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, and it made sense that the biggest band in the world (“the first post-grunge band to be massive in every way,” as Klosterman says) act the part.  And they did.  And that record got me through my senior year of high school.  I’ll always love it.

Noel Gallagher Wants to Be President, Google Thinks He’s Roger Daltry

Noel Gallagher playing live in 2008
I still dress like you, Sonny Jim.

I am huge Oasis fan and an even bigger fan of Noel Gallagher, creative force.  He’s been great on American late night TV this year promoting Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, his first solo album since leaving Oasis amid great tumult in 2009.

While it’s true that Oasis never topped their first two albums critically or commercially in the US,  there’s a lot to like in the catalog that came after (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, starting with the 1998 b-side album The Master Plan.  Ten years, a handful of great singles and some okay albums later, 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul came forth as the best Oasis album since 10th-grade English.  (That said, I remain an unabashed, un-ironic fan of 1997’s Be Here Now.)

Earlier today, my best friend and Oasis-loving partner in all manner of existential creativity for the past 20 years (let’s call him Ramon) sent me a new piece from CNN.com: Noel Gallagher: ‘If Obama loses, I’ll run for president myself’.  As Noel himself might say, “bloody brilliant.”

When I was a kid, the honesty and swagger Oasis presented felt like inside information.  “We’re great and we know it.  That’s all the really matters.”  One of the best things about that attitude in the early days was that it was totally untested and undefended.  There would have been no point.  It’s an existential conviction, an ontological statement that resonated with the entire youngish population of the UK and a good chunk of us here.  It came to us in the wake of Nirvana, in direct, deliberate contrast to sentiments like “I Hate Myself and Want To Die.”   When I spent a few weeks in England the summer before Oasis released Morning Glory Stateside, Oasis’ grip on British culture was as inescapable as it was brazen, and it was something to behold.  That fall, it took root in bits and pieces here, never reaching monoculture status for reasons the piece above gets into.

Still, all these years later, I find myself watching recent Noel interviews on YouTube when I can’t sleep or when I need a special kind of affirmation.  I can’t bear to watch the old ones…I’ll get too nostalgic.  The thing about Noel in his 40s is that the pomp and confidence is tempered (never dampened) by the facts of his successes.  The brazen upstart is now a winsome statesman of the same old plucky mettle.  It’s wonderful to see.

Also, this:

The thumbnail looks like Paul McCartney, but it’s Roger Daltry.  In any case, it isn’t Noel.