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Ruling Asses: Oasis

Oasis have conquered America, and they won't shut up about it

May 2, 1996
Oasis on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Oasis on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Nathaniel Goldberg

"Women have had me over. It's happened twice in the last month. After I've bopped 'em, they've gone and sold it to the papers and made money out of it. Fair play. But I've just come in their gob (mouth) and gone off, so therefore I've had them over. Tied 1 – all, baby." – Liam Gallagher

Liam Gallagher does not make a terrific ambassador for Great Britain – or his gender, for that matter. Granted, he loves to hear himself talk. It's just that the 23-year-old lead singer of Oasis is happiest when he's doing or saying something obnoxious and stupid. Which means he swaggers through life in a state of almost constant euphoria.

Like now, for instance. The setting is the Brit Awards, England's equivalent to the Grammys, and Gallagher is onstage, bent over and pretending to receive an enema from the Best Album statue he and his band have just won for their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? After a few moments, he strolls back to the podium for an announcement: "Fuck."

Then, Gallagher stuffs his hands deep into the pockets of the winter coat he's wearing despite the balmy indoor conditions. "Anyone tough enough to take us off this stage can come up now," he says. And although the room is a pasty sea of other British bands with one-word monikers – Blur, Radiohead, Supergrass, Pulp – no one takes him up on his offer. At this moment it's official: These five working-class kids from Manchester, England, are the kings of the English hill. There is no band bigger or more loutish in all the land.

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Gallagher and the other members of Oasis relinquish the stage and saunter back to their table for more celebrating. Carrying a pint of lager and directing the charge is Liam Gallagher's 28-year-old brother, Noel, the band's lead guitarist and songwriter. Behind Noel straggle guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan and drummer Alan White, who replaced the band's original drummer, Tony McCarroll, just before the recording of Morning Glory last year.

It is Morning Glory that is the focus of the night, and with the help of the single "Wonderwall," the album has captured the rapt attention of the rest of the world. But it is the band's attitude – personified by the Gallagher brothers' enthusiastic drug use, fighting and self-consciously outrageous rants to the press – that has made Oasis their own traveling sideshow.

"We like annoying people," says Noel matter-of-factly. "It's a Manchester thing. It's a trait. We just like pissing people off."

Almost lost in the maelstrom are Oasis' two albums of undeniably catchy British Invasion-inspired pop. Horribly derivative, yes, but also incredibly addictive. What's more, the group has expanded on the pure bluster of its 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe, adding a softer, more layered sound for Morning Glory. While the first record was relentless rock & roll, the second gently winds its way through the songs. While Liam used to adopt a Johnny Rotten-style sneer, he now sings.

"I had no idea, even after the first album, that Liam could sing like he did on 'Wonderwall,'" says Noel. "I had no idea that any of us could play as well as we did on Morning Glory. I hoped we could, but I didn't know. The whole of the first album is about escape. It's about getting away from the shitty, boring life of Manchester. The first album is about dreaming of being a pop star in a band. The second album is about actually being a pop star in a band."

What being a rock star means most to the brothers Gallagher is freedom. Freedom, for the first time in their lives, to purchase what they want when they want it. Also the freedom to make complete and utter asses of themselves in any way they see fit.

"We've got this reputation as being hard-drinking, groupie-shagging, drug-snorting geezers," says Noel, who recently made the ultimate rock-star move by hiring a bodyguard. "There's always people who want to test you."

Are Oasis in fact hard-drinking, groupie-shagging, drug-snorting geezers? Noel leans back in his chair and smiles contentedly.

"Yeah."

To the members of Oasis, everything comes down to class. Not social graces and manners, mind you, but class. As in working, middle and upper class. They are from Manchester, and they are working class. Period. It's as much a part of their identities as their surnames.

"I ain't got no chip on my shoulder because I'm working class, I just know who I am," says Liam. "I don't look down on no one. If I was middle class and my ma gave me everything, I'd admit it. I've got money now, so if I have kids, I'm gonna give my kids everything."

As children, Liam and Noel shared a bedroom. It is a grievance Noel still brings up because their brother, Paul, 18 months Noel's senior, had his own room. For the most part, their daily life was fairly routine. The brothers played soccer, fought, listened to music and skipped school in order to fight, listen to music and play more soccer.

"It's funny, because I don't really remember much about that time," says Noel. "I wouldn't say it was a happy upbringing, but it was normal. The only thing that separates us from people in Manchester now is that I'm sitting here, and all those people are still doing heroin and still on the dole. But we were no different. We've got no qualifications between the five of us. We're not academically qualified to do anything."

Schoolwork was particularly tough on Noel because he suffers from dyslexia. "I didn't know what it was at the time," he says. "When I write, I'll give it to someone else to read, and they'll say, 'This doesn't make any sense.' And then I'll read it back to them, and they'll say, 'Half the words are missing.' But to me they're there."

At 13, just as Noel was beginning to develop an interest in playing guitar, he was thrown out of his music class at school. To make matters worse, the following year the Gallaghers' father – a construction worker by day and occasional country-music DJ by night – abandoned the family.

"I haven't seen him since I was 18; I'm 28 now," says Noel. "I only started to be in a group when I was 24, so from 18 to 24, I had no inclination to talk to him. I don't see why that should change just because I've made a lot of money. He's still a twat and always will be a twat. I don't care if he's living on his own or on the dole. He was always a cunt. He was never there. He was always at the pub. When he finally left, we were glad to be rid of him."

Liam is even more succinct: "If I saw the cunt, I'd kick his ass."

In retrospect, Noel realizes that life for his mother could not have been easy – "Me mum's stronger than all of us," he says – but he still views the entire situation as "inevitable." It happens, he says. Families break up, fathers flee, and sometimes mothers are left alone to raise their kids. In the Gallaghers' case, it was 9-year-old Liam and two teenagers, Noel and Paul, who never adopted a paternal role toward their youngest sibling.

"This might seem very cold and hard, but when you come from Manchester, I wouldn't say it's a brutal upbringing, but it's a very down-to-earth, working-class upbringing," says Noel. "You've got more things to think about than your little brother's emotional stability. You've got to make a fucking living to make ends meet."

Toward that end, Noel tried his hand at crime. At 18, he got caught burgling a house. Soon after, he escaped Manchester as a roadie for the band Inspiral Carpets.

That left Liam back at home, age 15, about to be kicked out of school for a fight that ended with his getting cracked in the skull with a hammer. Not that Liam was upset – he quickly landed a job building fences.

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