Scene 1: I'm in the offices of a large New York indie record label, trying to interest them in one of my projects. Behind my interlocutor (I'll call him Saul) is a spectacular vertical view of Manhattan, with its water towers and roof gardens. Talk comes round to Oasis. Saul likes them, so I frame my comment as backhanded praise. 'The great thing about stupid music is that it's universal,' I say. 'It appeals to clever people and stupid people alike. Oasis can appeal to students who want to do a bit of intellectual slumming, work up a few working class credentials. If they really want depth, they can read a bit of irony in between the lines. And of course Oasis speak directly to the stupid people, no interpreter required.'
Saul says nothing, and I sense for the first time the empathy level drop a little.
The fact that Saul is Jewish, a Jewish person in the entertainment industry, is undoubtedly in the back of my mind. Just as I am a homosexual without having stuck my penis into a man, so I am also a jew despite the fact that I have a foreskin. Don't ask me why I am these things, I just am. I have suffered enough for the same reasons as jews and gays have suffered. I like to think of myself as an honorary member of their clubs. I have the illusion of being able to speak their secret languages, Palare and Yiddish.
We Jews are clever, we easily make money from the dull indigenous masses by locking onto their shabby dreams and selling them back slightly less shabby, and slightly less murderous. (When we can we give their dreams a jewish face, so the next pogrom is just that little bit more inconceivable).
So I had a sense that, with my description of Oasis as stupid music, I had said something that was blindingly obvious, yet dangerously divisive. That simple statement managed to portray at least three divided social structures, three general truths which it's taboo to spell out:
1. The music industry is divided between clever, calculating record labels ('us') and a dumb public ('them').
2. The music public is divided between slumming intellectuals and morons.
3. Implicitly and complictly, there's a division between 'we Jews' and the non-Jewish hoards whose dreams we steal and sell back to them.
By painting in this way a portrait of the success of Oasis which stressed divisions, I was smashing one of the great received ideas about Oasis, which is that, like the Beatles, they are uniting the world with their success.
Scene 2: A pub in Camden Town three weeks later. Dickon from Orlando is showing me round the London music scene. I've been out of touch since 1993, the year Oasis signed to Creation and Momus got dropped from Creation.
The air is hot and sweaty, the place is packed with music journalists, musicians and the new generation of TV comedians. A pop trivia quiz is going on. If a bomb went off here, there would be no more Q magazine, no more NME, no more Boo Radleys, no more Fist Of Fun, no more Pulp, no more Radio 1...
When my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see a journalist who has been one of the staunchest champions of my records. My press book bulges with good reviews he's given me, and he's probably suffered persecution as a result at the hands of editors, whose job it is to embody the fascism of the indigenous masses.
He is, in other words, a fellow jew.
For some reason I've never met him. I stride over. He seems completely stunned, but soon we're talking... about Oasis, whose faces glower down at us from wall posters on all sides.
I tell Steven (as we'll call him) that I've been amazed at how ubiquitous Oasis are in England. They're not just in the tabloids and the music press. In bookshop windows in Covent Garden all other books are muscled out by the latest Oasis biographies. On Radio 4 a middle aged novelist belonging to the 'chattering classes' (let's call her Penelope Mortimer, Antonia Lively, Veronica Brookner or Anita Pendlebury-Snooks) defines her relationship with her philosopher sister in terms of the sibling rivalry of... the Gallagher brothers.
This alarms me, because I am a pluralist. I don't believe in 'one nation under a groove'. When I hear the word consensus, I reach for my Luger. But Steven says that's exactly what he likes about Oasis. For the first time since The Beatles, he tells me, one common reference point dominates pop music and is bringing Britain together.
I leave Britain the next day to its unenviable unity.
Scene 3: It's a couple of weeks later. I'm at the magazine rack in W.H. Smith on the Rue De Rivoli. Here, like all the other customers, I rifle through (but never buy) the British press (in about ten minutes I will head to the counter, as usual, with a copy of The Village Voice and Liberation).
In Vox magazine I read an interview with Noel Gallagher. Asked about the difference between Northern and Southern groups (by which the interviewer really means working class and middle class groups, or, if you like, stupid and clever groups), Noel says that southern groups are all middle class art students who quote H.G.Wells 'and crap like that' in their interviews.
This makes me think of Johnny Rotten on the Grundy show being coaxed into saying 'fuck', to confirm in one terrible word all the most reassuringly scary cliches about punk rock, about yobs, about the working class. These were not the main facts about punk, which was also a situationist art student movement. But it was what the indigenous mass wanted to believe about punk rock, and Grundy coaxed Lydon into living up to the fantasies of the lynch mob.
Gallagher's situation is a different one. He's not got the whole of Britain against him. He has the attention and admiration of Penelope Mortimer-Lively-Snooks, his brother is about to marry Patsy Kensit, there is a nation of slumming students behind him. H.G. Wells is not around to complain, and he has nothing to fear from art students.
He is launching an attack on imagination, intelligence, innovation, self-doubt... values which no-one seems to want to defend.
The triumph of Oasism, along with the football virus and the lad virus, is all about a crisis in Britain around the credibility of bourgeois art, which is subtle, intelligent, above all an art which is divided against itself.
Let's call it Split Art. It's an art which, like science, puts doubt at the heart of its methodology, yet which believes in progress (with the notion of the avant garde).
Being split means being able to see many different points of view at the same time. (It's Cubist, it's Pirandellian). It means you're just, polite and considerate, because you see someone else's point of view. It makes you more intelligent, because you step outside your own hopes and interests and look dispassionately at a more complex picture.
Eno is Split Art in excelsis, right from his song titles ('What Actually Happened'... he seems to be saying we will NEVER know) to his theory of Axis Thinking, in which he demonstrates how you situate, say, a haircut in a 3D space between an unlimited number of axes, continuums between extreme binary poles: the continuum between Natural and Contrived, between Masculine and Feminine, between Neat and Shaggy, Wild and Civilised, Businesslike and Bohemian, and so on. Like playing the game of Spills, you can insert extra straws and invent things 'that people never thought of not doing', like asking for a haircut somewhere on the continuum 'clean-dirty'.
On the new Tricky album 'Pre-Millennium Tension' there are tracks that whack you in the face with 'things that people never thought of not doing': a track that has the drums completely out of time and right up at the front of the mix, for instance.
There are signs that even Noel Gallagher may be developing an extra-curricular interest in Split Art. The record he made with the Chemical Brothers is amazing. Seen from one point of view it's just his take on 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. Seen from another, it takes the Beatles' late-period avant gardism even further. Maybe Noel wants to remind us that Oasis take some of their inspiration from a period in which The Beatles really were approaching Split Art thanks to LSD, Fluxus and their own approaching Split.
(And, talking of Fluxus, Noel is currently remixing Beck, the grandson of Fluxus artist Al Hansen. Maybe there's hope after all that Oasis really will Split, and that Britain will return to the state of tribal warfare we know and love.)
Maybe what we're seeing is Oasis evolving from the simple to the complex, slowly and painfully climbing the evolutionary ladder from the rung marked 'Definately' to the rung marked 'Maybe'. In which case, one of two things will happen. A new, stupider Oasis will come along and replace the 'art school' Gallaghers in the same way that Boyzone replaced Take That. Or Britain will hoist itself up by its own bootstraps and evolve too.
Momus, Paris, November 1996
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