A few weeks ago at trivia, a question about Oasis came up. After the round one of my friends said, “Oasis were around a lot longer than I thought they’d be—and maybe longer than they should have been.” To which I replied, “No.” I didn’t elaborate because the game would be resuming shortly, bars aren’t the best place for any kind of lengthy conversation, and I felt certain no one wanted to hear it. But the thoughts his comment stirred continued coalescing in my mind. I think now it’s time for them to take shape. Originally I’d meant to write a post like this back in 2009 when the band’s break-up actually stuck. But time got away from me and when my life had settled enough to write on it in depth, the cultural moment had passed. While I’ve dithered in the past over writing on [sic] about untimely issues, I’ve decided—and need to occasionally remind myself—this is my journal. I should write about what’s important to me. And however much flak I get for it, Oasis is.
I still remember the first time I heard Oasis, though the memory grows hazy with age. It was sometime during eighth grade, late ’95 or early ’96. I was hanging out at a friend’s house. His dad was a DJ and had this unspeakably large music collection. We were up long into the night as my friend introduced me to songs and recorded them to cassette—burning CDs and digital files weren’t a thing yet in our world—when I found ones I liked. Then he put in another album and prefaced it with something like, “You’ve gotta listen to this.” It was “Champagne Supernova,” to this day one of my favorite songs. Fading from the distorted frenzy of the prior track into gently lapping water, it opened on a soothing note. Eased me in. Then Liam Gallagher’s voice, more melodic than usual (a later realization), asked, “How many special people change? How many lives are living strange? Where we you while we were getting high?”
As it progressed the song blossomed out; instruments came to life and the volume escalated up and up. Then that glorious crescendo of the middle eight as Liam wailed “Why?” over and over. If it turned meandering or surreal, I didn’t notice; I was entranced. Somehow, eventually, it—and I—came down from the heights it had mapped, concluding just as softly as it had started.
When I did go home, I had a copy of that song. In hindsight I probably should have asked for a dub of the whole album, but I wasn’t so forward-thinking.
On another occasion my friend played “Wonderwall” and, as if I needed any further convincing, I was an Oasis fan. I bought (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? as soon as I could (on cassette). I remember listening to it several times every day for the next few weeks. When I finally did get a CD player, the first purchase I made for my budding music collection was Definitely Maybe, which I also listened to repeatedly.
For as much as I listened to those two albums, my ears weren’t totally familiar with Oasis. When “D’You Know What I Mean?,” the first single from Be Here Now, debuted, I had no idea who the artist was. I did know that I absolutely loved it and looked forward to hearing it on the radio again. (When I knew it well enough, I sang it to my newborn brother when he got fussy, and it calmed him down. I thought that especially cool for a song that was decidedly not a lullaby.) When I discovered that it was Oasis’s latest and that a new album was a few short months away, I took it as a sign: I’d found a band that was distinctly mine.
Growing up, my family didn’t much listen to music. My mom occasionally turned on the radio, but that was rare. As far as I know, she didn’t own any albums in any format. My dad, meanwhile, was proving himself to be the world’s biggest Queen fan; if he listened to anything else, he kept it private. So I got into Queen, sure, but I knew virtually nothing of music until late in grade school when said friend-with-the-DJ-dad introduced me to the radio—Top 40 at first—and a vast range of sound I hadn’t even imagined. I had liked the stuff I heard at the time on Q102, my local Top 40 station, but I hadn’t loved any of it. Hadn’t felt some primal response from somewhere inside. When I heard Oasis, I did. They spoke to me in a way no band ever had (or has, frankly). They also provided the gateway into modern rock and alternative, genres that still make up the bulk of my listening preferences.
They also ignited a keen Anglophilia that started with seeking out every Britpop act I could and culminated in studying abroad in London while in college. I still haven’t lost my affinity for Britpop—and many of the bands that emerged from the trend—and my trip to London was, as you might expect, life-altering in a way no journal post can adequately express. And the primary force? Oasis.
The release of The Masterplan fell close to my birthday in 1998, so it wasn’t long on the store shelf before it was on my own shelf. I don’t know why, but I listened to only two tracks per day, as if to draw out the experience. I guess it worked; it took a week to hear the album in full. I must have played it as many times as Morning Glory, maybe more. It was their meatiest release at fourteen tracks and nicely showed their stylistic range—not something the band is popularly known for but not for lack of material.
I got to see them in concert the following year, and while their set was short, it was transcendent. I couldn’t remember ever being surrounded by strangers and so blissfully happy at the same time. I’ve seen them twice more, and they were consistently incredible. The sound hits like a wave, engulfing, and the atmosphere is contagious. It’s a powerful thing to be in the company of thousands of others, excited and singing the same lines. (Sports are close to this, I suppose, but this is purer, without the specter of opposing sides.)
Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants arrived months before my high school graduation, an appropriate album for transitioning, as it represented a different direction from previous efforts. There was a subdued quality to the record, echoing my own ambivalence to leave high school just as it felt like everything had finally started to click, to make sense. But move on we did, the band and I.
Heathen Chemistry was, paradoxically, a more traditional Oasis album while also plotting a trajectory that marked a turning point away from the grandiosity of early Oasis. (They were still Oasis and so still had big ambitions. Just not as big.) I can still remember a friend walking in to class one day singing “The Hindu Times” and I joined in without a second thought. It was a small moment but a joyful one, and I think that joy is what permeates Oasis’s music for me. I listen to their songs, even the sad ones, and it’s like this automatic emotional shift. I feel better instantly. It may not last, but as long as I’m hearing their music, everything seems possible.
Don’t Believe The Truth is personally significant, so much so I won’t delve into it here. But it was—and is—a terrific album with some criminally underrated songs. By then I’d finished college and was months away from grad school wrapping up. Even with the looming uncertainty of the real world, I had Oasis as an anchor.
Dig Out Your Soul, the band’s last, never quite caught on with me or the world at large. It’s uneven, sheer brilliance paired alongside uninteresting pap. I won’t whine about how it wasn’t the same. Bands change. I won’t suggest the band and I were in two different places and so could no longer communicate. Those songs (half of them, anyway) just largely didn’t do it for me. Yet Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the solo outfit of the elder (and better songwriter) Gallagher, put out an excellent album just last year. The Oasis magic* is still floating around, just in a new configuration.**
This sounds like a lot of pseudo-Rolling Stone rambling without getting at the heart of why I started writing this: Why is Oasis so important to me? Clearly they were, and are, hence the outpouring of words. I think the major thing is they really became a presence in my life in high school when things were tough, as it can be for many. Oasis—with their bravado and indifference to anyone else’s opinion—were avatars of the confidence I so sorely lacked. I didn’t imitate them or anything. But simply listening to them gave me something to be happy about at a time when I didn’t feel like I had much reason to be. Listening to them now is a strange kind of nostalgia, then, not because I yearn for high-school days but because they were one of the good parts of that time. Even beyond adolescence, they’ve accompanied me though some significant life events. Before I found writing and books, I had Oasis. They were a bedrock of my identity before I even realized I’d begun assembling one.
More than any of this, though, their music—and forgive me for the vagueness—speaks to me. I’m not entirely sure why. I may just lack the vocabulary to articulate when it comes to music. Maybe it’s the attitude, which can be arrogant but is at bottom often optimistic. (There’s not enough of that right now, to my mind.) Maybe it’s the intensity of their sound, the way it takes on shape and weight. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re not popular anymore so they’re like a secret, just mine. Maybe it’s all of this and more. Maybe none of it.
I only know that when I hear those Gallaghers sing, whether about living forever or rock ’n’ roll or champagne supernovas, I believe.
* The keys to Oasis success, say the critics, have always been Liam’s voice and Noel’s songs. I’m not sure how much stock I put into this formula, but I can see glimmers of truth in it.
** We won’t even talk about Beady Eye.