I said my good-byes to Oasis in the lobby of a posh hotel in San Francisco. Elevators ascended to the skies in clear glass tubes and businessmen in dark suits marched in and out while the boys lay around on the overstuffed couches, profoundly hung over, trying to rouse themselves for the sound check for that night’s show, the second of two nights opening for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum. Only Liam showed signs of a pulse. He stood at the far end of the lobby in a denim jacket and blue jeans, and screamed at Noel, with whom I was talking. “Come on! Come on! Come on!” he said.
Noel’s face was pink. He was on his second cup of black coffee, but it had yet to show any noticeable signs of taking effect. He stared at Liam with a mixture of incredulity and exasperation, like he was staring at an alarm clock whose “Off” switch he was forever trying to find, but never could.
I looked at Liam and thought, “You idiot, shut up.” But then I noticed a change in the lobby’s population of bankers and businessman; they were clutching their briefcases with a little extra vigor, their confidant clear eyes were lowered to the floor, and I realized that for a brief second Liam was taking them out of their context, and for a moment I admired him.
One of the unpleasant aspects to my time with Oasis was that whenever the band members was surrounded by their entourage of handlers, which was most of the time, the atmosphere took on the smug, euphoric, but also cautious atmosphere of what I imagine a Microsoft share holder’s meeting to be: Our stock is going up up up! Let’s not do anything stupid!
The catch is that while a computer chip will not spontaneously combust, Liam Gallagher might do so at any time of the day or night. At the very least, he might do something stupid.
Liam kept yelling, however, and eventually my admiration dissipated and I went back to thinking he was an idiot. His prodding yielded results, though: Everyone – the band, the manager, the body guards – staggered to their feet, cast a forlorn glance at the half eaten hamburgers that lay before them, and sauntered off.
There go Oasis, I thought, good-bye. I still had my article to write for Spin magazine, but I considered this the end of my Oasis era; writing a profile is like having guests over for the weekend–they require attention, time, and energy, but then they depart and you have your house to yourself
But Oasis turned out to the guests that would never leave. I went through all sorts of contortions writing my piece. I felt weirdly sullied, or invaded, by the week I had spent in the presence of their persons, their music, their entourage, and their publicists. I paced around my apartment in tight anxious circles while their music blasted away, exalting me to be myself, to make it happen, to kick up a storm, to say what I had to say.
A month later the Spin article was written, but Oasis was still me. The guests had still not left the house. I didn’t really grasp this until one hot night at a friend’s party when I found myself smashing a man into a wall, throwing him out the door, and flinging him into the elevator head first. (I pressed “Lobby,” and then stepped out as the door closed on his flustered, red face.) The man’s insult had been minor – he had been drunkenly leaning into my girlfriend, and when I asked him to back off, he wouldn’t. I had applied my new, Oasis influenced diplomatic strategy, and it worked very well.
My time with the band began with a prolonged session of interviews which were a miserable experience, primarily because of the location: Sony’s studio’s on West 54th Street– a ghastly piece of windowless prison architecture full of record company employees who sat glumly in their dim cubicles or wandered the halls like inmates with no hope of parole. Posters of Michael Bolton greeted you at every turn. I had been placed in some kind of VIP room. Oasis had arrived in New York on the same day as a heat wave, and to compensate for this the VIP room had been air conditioned to a point just above that of freezing. The room featured three large video games, all involving some kind of mutilation. They emitted a constant drone of kicks and thuds and cries of pain, so that the room sounded like a torture chamber.
To compensate for the cold I opened the room’s one window. Several enormous black stretch limo’s sat by the curb, signifying a royal presence. Across the street an old bald man leaned out his tenement window, looking down at the limo’s with an expression of distaste, and then at me. He wore a white tank top T-shirt, and the sun beat down mercilessly on his bald, shiny, non-air-conditioned head. He stared right into my eyes with a very particular look that is more or less unmistakable, even from across the street. His expression said: I don’t like you.
It wasn’t the last of these looks I was to get that day. After the interviews we agreed to meet at a bar. For weeks leading up to meeting with Oasis, my friend, The Gangster, had been pestering me about meeting the band and I had fended him off. He was a modern gangster who worked on Wall Street and wore a suit. The violence was usually implicit with him, yet he once shot someone in the leg with a rifle to make a point. I did not need this additional headache.
Yet as soon as I emerged from Sony studios I went to a pay phone, dialed his number, and told him the time and place of our meeting. I had not expected Oasis to posses such weird physical menace; suddenly the Gangster seemed like a good idea.
In fact, some were more menacing than others. Noel was reasonable, Allan was actually quite sweet, and Bonehead, for all his bravado, didn’t seem too dangerous.
Guigs, on the other hand, sort of freaked me out. He sat there smoking and staring at me with big baleful eyes, refusing to answer any questions. There was a kind, calm aura about him that also, for some reason, suggested its opposite, a maniac on a rampage.
Most of all, though, there had been the terrible misunderstanding at the end of the day, quickly resolved, between Liam and I, which resulted in a brief threat of fisticuffs. Needles to say, the threat was not mine. In order to resolve this misunderstanding I had to say the following sentence: “What I meant to say was that I thought your new record was absolutely great.”
To hear this line on tape – and to recall Liam’s neck tendons bulging out with rage, and to recall Danny stumbling to his feet, unsure of what was happening, but instinctively aware that whatever it was, he ought not to be buried three feet deep in a horrible black leather couch – was a low point.
Liam had told me they would be meeting later at an Irish pub, and when I mentioned that every other bar in New York could be described as an Irish pub, he clarified with an address on 54th street and said, “there’s a shamrock in the window, and a Budweiser sign.”
I showed up with my girlfriend, expecting to have to hunt around for the place, but there on fifty fourth and seventh was a big sign that said: IRISH PUB. One should never underestimate the straightforwardness of Liam Gallagher. It was a dark narrow place; way in the back there was a particularly dense cluster of men who seemed to be very drunk and also a bit menacing. Oasis. And company.
Liam was drunk. His face had been smooth, unblemished, and clean shaven earlier, but now it was extremely red and puffy around the eyes. He looked as if someone had just beaten him up. He was laughing when I entered.
I moved towards the bunch holding my girlfriend’s arm, and just as I was in front of them I heard my name called out. I turned to see the gangster moving towards me at great speed with some alarmingly looking company. On one elbow was a bright blonde gun moll who I would later overhear, remarking to one of the band members: “It’s my natural color!”
On his elbow was a man who I met once before, Mr. Wonka, a Wall Street lawyer the Gangster liked to socialize with. He was still in his suit, and there was something about the way his tie was knotted, some incredible scientific precision about it, that I felt spelled trouble.
I had no time to react to this, though, as the Oasis boys were onto me, and had begun calling me a Scouser. Upon meeting Noel, and Bonehead Guigs and Allan, and then finally Liam, they had all, independent of one another, called me a Scouser.
As a native New Yorker, I had no idea if this was a good or a bad thing.
I had asked Liam if it was a good thing. “It’s a good thing,” he had said.
I had asked Noel if it was a good thing. “It’s a bad thing,” he replied.
A chorus of “Scouser!” rose up from the gang. I shook hands, and introduced my girlfriend, who, besides being pretty, is capable of genuine enthusiasm and excitement about little things like meeting celebrities, a quality I at once like and which worries me. Like Oasis, she has no great faith in irony. And they all seemed to get along right away. Her presence seemed, once they had momentarily blinked away the Guinness haze, to have a somewhat civilizing effect on band.
None more so than Liam. He shook her hand, arranged for a bar stool next to him to be cleared off and in general behaved like a gentleman. I remember noting this and thinking with pleasure: Liam likes her!
I felt a pang of pride.
At the bar, I was accosted by the Gangster, who in the presence of his idols had become star struck and, for the first time in my long acquaintance with him, shy.
“Listen,” he said. “This is great, but, you don’t have to introduce me or anything, I mean, I’ll just sit nearby, you know, and watch. But take this.” He shoved a vial a coke into my hand. “And give some of it to them!”
“Why don’t you give some of it to them yourself?” I said.
“It’s yours man, it’s yours to do with as you with as you please.” He lifted his hands in the air as if to be rid of it once and for all, and went and sat with his two friends.
I returned with the drinks. Liam was really liking my girlfriend. I actually heard the following words come out of his mouth: “Are you a model?”
I was flattered on her behalf. And, in defense of Liam, he did not say this in an utterly lascivious manner. There was something genuinely sweet about it. All of them, in fact, seemed to be acting their new roles as family men who nevertheless went out with the boys.
Liam’s attention was then distracted by what, for him, must have been a very familiar sound: Roll With It had come on the juke box. Yet it was as though it was a tune he had been living without for years, and only now had the long drought been broken. He jumped to his feet and, for some reason, turned to Danny, whose hulking presence, leaned up against the wall, became tense with Liam’s gaze. But it was not just a gaze. In a flash Liam was in his face, singing along with himself at top volume and smashing his open palm into Danny’s chest in time to the beat.
I went and talked to Guigs. He told me, in that calm, slightly solemn way of his, about various brawls the band had gotten into. An aircraft carrier had just docked in New York, and the town was awash with young men walking around in ridiculously crisp white uniforms and perfectly shined black patent leather shoes, looking for something approximating fun. A few of them were in the bar.
“Those guys over there,” said Guigs, gesturing to a table full of ensigns. “Once, in Tokyo, we got into a fight with them.”
We? I tried to imagine Noel pounding on a navy guy with a buzz cut and carefully gym enhanced muscles. “There were about thirty five of us, you see,” explained Guigs. “We were in a bar. One of them fucked with one us, but they didn’t know how many we were. And then we all stood up at once.”
And what happened?
“We kicked the shit out of ’em,” he said, and took a calm thoughtful sip of his beer, with just a quick dart of the eyes at the navy men, as though to reconfirm that yes, it was men just as clean and spiffy and clean shaven and muscular as they who had been pounded in Tokyo.
At this point Liam went to the bathroom. I had been turning that vial of coke over in my pocket, wondering how I might impart its presence to Liam. This seemed like an ideal moment. The bathroom at the Irish pub is down a flight of stairs just around the corner from where Liam had been sitting. He disappeared around the corner. I moved to follow him. Just as I was about to go around the corner too, I paused, and looked behind me, and the eyes of what seemed like the whole bar were upon me: Marcus Russell, the manager, sipping his Irish Coffee in a clear glass cup, and the two body guards (their eyes glared with particular intensity) and a woman from the record company who had been lurking around in some vague capacity. Liam Gallagher does not slip out of a room unnoticed.
I sat down and was greeted by a frightening sight: Mr. Wonka had gone over to Guigs and sat beside him. I arrived in time to hear him say, with real pride: “And I just graduated from law school!”
Guigs, to his credit, responded without hesitation: “Well fuck you then!”
Mr. Wonka’s irrepressible smile and dimpled apple cheeks – Mr. Wonka looks like he is dying to say good morning to you at any time of day or night – fell into a flat pale moon shape.
“I… Why,” he said, sort of poetically.
Liam returned from the bathroom into the brief gap of silence that Guigs had created with his outburst. He surveyed the group and his eyes settled on my girlfriend. He lifted his beer in a toast, drank it, put it down and looked at me, now standing behind her. “Ya done good, Tom,” he called out, and gave me a vehement thumbs up sign. “Ya done good!”
When I left, some hours later, Liam and Guigs and Allan were still going strong.
A week later I was in San Francisco. I’d had a week to think about the events in New York. My thoughts took place against a near constant backdrop of Oasis music, both the old records and the new one. I had to sign an incredibly extensive form promising to give away all my worldly possessions should I play this advance tape to anyone. Apparently there were radio stations in Europe that would shell out thousands of dollars for an advance of the record. I vaguely contemplated making a few queries to some German rock stations, while their music blasted away.
It was, I felt, beggining to have an effect on me. I had liked them before, but my enthusiasm was taking on a different form. My time with the band had left me feeling vaguely aggrieved and pissed off. And this seemed like the ideal mental condition in which to listen to their music.
The more pissed of and annoyed and belligerent I became, the better Oasis sounded, and the more fun I had listening to them. It was amazing how cheerful they were, how encouraging the lyrics, how upbeat, how singalongable. There was some genuine alchemy between the super catchy riffs, the hard crunching guitar, the upbeat lyrics, and all the weird nasty energy that seemed to surround Oasis like a force field, a Wagnerian Will To Power that could admit no wrong.
Perhaps the least discussed technological aspect of the recent U2 tour was the security. The backstage area of the Oakland coliseum, a vast prairie of concrete, was dotted everywhere by men in black, wearing little headsets and examining people’s various backstage passes with great concern. I was lead through the various checkpoints to the Oasis dressing room by their American publicist, who had flown in that day as I had; a mildly fatigued expression came over her face at the very mention of Oasis.
The band milled around the dressing room, talking to various record company people and each other about the show and various random things. The body guard contingent had been beefed up to three with the arrival of (tk), Liam’s regular body guard, a looming man with a goatee and a pot belly. It was very much like a boy’s locker room, with the exceptional of a kind faced woman with a camera around her neck who announced, amidst a litter of beer bottles, “Would anyone like a cup of tea?”
Her voice was soothing and civilized, the sort of voice that could read to you before you go to sleep, and hearing it amidst all the Oasis voices I realized how belligerent and caustic much of what the boys said was, just by virtue of the way the said it. Furmanovsky made herself a Styrofoam cup of tea and sipped it carefully for a while before picking up her camera and commencing to snap pictures of Liam and Noel talking with each other. Her camera was mechanical; its click was solid, familiar, and in some way unthreatening. Its click was like a hand clap recorded in a studio, a world away from the mechanized insect like buzz of a paparazzo’s auto forward. Her presence was completely unobtrusive in part because she was so unabashedly there, standing right in the middle of the room, and she snapped pictures in a leisurely unrushed manner while the boys went about their lives, hardly registering her presence.
At one point she came over to me. I was leaning against the wall, trying to be unobtrusive; “So you’re doing a fly on the wall sort of piece?’ she said. I nodded. The problem was I was a very big fly. There was just no way for me to be small. And I was worried. Surely something important was happening before me, some key bit of character revelation about Liam and Noel, but I couldn’t see it; there was within me the encroaching panic of having to explain to Spin that I’d gone all the way out to San Francisco and hadn’t really seen anything other than an army of high tech security and after the Oasis show.
My only hope seemed to rest with the vial in my pocket. I felt it was a matter of rock and roll principal to introduce the Gallagher’s and the vial. The moment was slipping away, however. And then I galvanized myself, grabbed Noel, and took him aside. Onto the expanse of my pink backstage laminate I poured out a white pile. Noel looked down at it and cocked one of his prodigious eyebrows. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said.
And he did. And I did. It was quite decorous, as though we were having that cup of tea that Jill Furmanovsky had offered.
“Now I remember what it’s like to do drugs,” he said. “It’s tops!”
We returned to the dressing room and, emboldened, I approached Liam who was wearing that electrically blank faced expression of someone about to commit a crime. I blathered some meaningless small talk; he was about to move away, as though from a panhandler, when I mentioned that it was nice that he and my girlfriend had gotten along.
“Marry her!” he blurted out, suddenly very animated. “Before someone else does!”
“Really?” I said. “You think so?”
For a moment I was seriously entertaining marital advice from Liam Gallagher, an act which even Liam seemed to think was daft, as he gave me a funny look, as though really taking me in for the first time and deciding I was a bit off center.
“I would,” he said with a shrug, and then he walked away.
This little outburst, combined with my activities with Noel, gave me what with hindsight I would describe as a false sense of intimacy with Liam. For some reason I convinced myself that when Liam sauntered off in the direction of the elevator with his body guard and some swank woman from the record company, I would be allowed to come along. Never mind that the men in black were interrogating and turning away the laminate bearings hordes sweeping through the vast backstage area of the Oakland Coliseum.
For a minute it seemed I was right. I sauntered past several check points, past a carnage of egos– the indignant faces of people attempting to explain that they are so and so’s brother/best friend/employer while the stoic men in black refused to let them pass. We entered an elevator, where we were all asked to show our laminates. Fortunately they asked Liam first, and he responded by shoving his in the woman’s face and saying, “I’m Liam John Paul Gallagher,” with so much vigor and noise that it more or less ended the question for everybody else.
I stood silently in the elevator, thinking I was finally getting the hang of this fly on the wall thing, and when the doors opened I sauntered along with my group into the teeth of an army of men in black. I was at the mouth of the U2 dressing room. Black velvet lined the walls. Fake shrubbery had been arranged to create a long runway to the door of the room, and out of the shrubbery sprung plastic pink flamingoes. Above a mirrored ball spun slowly, casting a galaxy of light on the black walls. We marched along. They waved our group through. I was past the gauntlet, but then there was a commotion, a flurry of “excuse me sirs,” which degenerated, in the course of about one second, to “Hey You!” and I was surrounded by the men in black.
“I’m with them,” I stated, rather unconvincingly. “No he is not!” boomed Liam’s body guard, an enormous man with a gut like a wrecking ball. Then Men in black converged upon me.
I looked up to see Liam saunter down that dark, velvety, hedgerow lined runway, pink flamingoes escorting him on either side, little stars dancing on his back as he disappeared into the doorway.
The Men in Black were very upset.I was placed under an absurd kind of house arrest by a fuming bohemian man with a beret under his high tech headset and a goatee, who kept muttering about me being in his section, and how nobody fucks with his section, like I had delivered some personal insult. I told him not be hostile.
“I’m not being hostile, man,” he shot back. “If you want to see me hostile, man, just try me, OK? ‘Cause this is not hostile, this is nothing.”
I’ve been beaten up twice in my life, both times by the police, and frankly, if I’m going to be under some kind of physical threat, I’d prefer it come from some nasty New York City cop, some gnarly Hell’s Angel, some Oasis body guard even, someone objectionably nasty from whom you could retreat wioth your pride intact. This guy, on the other hand, was rather small. In fact several people later took to accusing me of attacking a dwarf. He wasn’t that small, but was almost certainly in the throes of a Napoleon Complex attack. I’ve had to endure the ferocious hostility of men in the 5′ 5″- 5′ 8″ range most of my grown up life on account of being tall.
“Listen,” I wanted to say, “I’ve just been hanging around with Oasis, who makes you in your most nasty puffed up bullshit all black outfit sound like fucking Bambi in a good mood, so why don’t you shut the fuck up.”
But I didn’t say this. (What I said, for some reason, was: “I bet your name is Ronald,” which pissed him off even more). I had to be escorted out of the entire complex, all the way out the front gate of the stadium by this man, who first found and lectured the publicist as though her dog had gotten off its leash and peed in his garden. The evening ended on the absurd note of the publicist, who is rather small, waving her finger at me with sincere energy and anger and saying, “You did a very bad thing!”
If I had thrown her a bone of contrition he would have calmed down, but when in a Oasis kind of mind-set one does not throw diplomatic bones. Being a fan of Oasis means never having to say you’re sorry.