First off, and not to destroy any illusions you have about my journalistic integrity, but I'm definitely not writing this about a time I was at a Best Buy at 4:30 AM trying to find a good deal on a toaster oven, a PS4, or DVDs of season 3 of Lie To Me with Tim Roth.
I'm writing this, now, sitting in bed, where it is warm. I ate turkey and drank wine. And I'm definitely not getting up in eight hours to wait in line to get a pretty good deal on consumer goods.
It's not because I've got some huge political deal against consumerism. I like buying shit. When I can afford it, I like sneakers and clothes, I like music and movies, and I used to buy a whole lot of records. I also have no problem spending money on good food, which is the whole entire point of money, when you really think about it.
But if you ask me about Black Friday, I'll probably say I find the notion of a national holiday for spending ("saving") money to be kind of gross. And depending on when you ask, I could give a few different overlapping answers: Unexamined bourgeoise values instilled by class-conscious high school experience. The crassness of celebrating the culture of consumption in a country whose wealth is based in exploitation. A pointed opposition to the rituals of capitalism. A general sense that basing your identity around consumption is ultimately unfulfilling. Et cetera et cetera, on to the next one.
The real reason I think Black Friday is kind of gross is the same reason that, were I really standing in the cold watching my breath escape in frigid clouds on a dark November morning, I would listen to "Acquiesce" by Oasis. No, seriously.
But none of these are the real reason, although they rationalize the real reason. The real reason I think Black Friday is kind of gross is the same reason that, were I really standing in the cold watching my breath escape in frigid clouds on a dark November morning, I would listen to "Acquiesce" by Oasis. No, seriously.
Like most Americans, Oasis only really hit my radar in the early '90s, when Britpop was a thing we were told was happening and "Wonderwall" became one of the biggest and catchiest songs of the decade. I don't know a lot about Oasis, and a Wikipedia wormhole will no doubt open itself up to me in the future. But for our purposes all that matters is the following knowledge, which I obtained through osmosis. None of this has been fact-checked so proceed with caution:
Oasis were very British. The band was made up of two brothers, Liam and Noel Gallagher, plus a few other guys. They looked like rock stars. They lived like rock stars. They fought a lot, publicly and embarrassingly. They were not very self-aware. They were very self-important. They sometimes seemed like a real-world version of Spinal Tap for the early-'90s UK. They had beef with Blur, who were generally more self-conscious and respected artistically. Oasis were incredibly popular, though, which insulated them, until they collapsed dramatically. Oasis were reverent of The Beatles to a degree that they were also completely derivative of The Beatles (I never heard it, but I only knew Oasis's singles, and I definitely heard about it an awful lot). And as anyone who reads about music knows, being derivative means you're basically fucked.
But I do know some things about Oasis, because I have heard a few Oasis songs. I know that when I listen to more than a handful of Oasis songs, it starts to feel like there is not very much going on. Once you've got an idea of what they do, they aren't prone to surprising you. They have a pretty standard rock band set-up (guitar/bass/drums) with a few decorations (cello on "Wonderwall") thrown in for good measure. Their songs follow the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus structure. One gets the sense that they don't think very hard about process—that they might not have a very good idea of why it is their songs are resonating so deeply with so many people.
I'm willing to take this brave stand because so many of their songs are not very good on multiple levels, failing to live up to the breadth or originality of the music that inspired them. As an example, their lyrics range from completely inane to mildly banal. Platitudes or aphorisms, blandly poetic, vague in content. They were so vague that, although I promised not to fall down the Wiki wormhole, I decided to look up the inspiration behind the group's biggest American smash, "Wonderwall":
That must have been what he meant by "And all the roads we have to walk are winding." There's something hilarious about how the full story behind the song makes Noel Gallagher look like a bitter ex, just another unintentionally tragicomic extension to the group's bumpy landing. I'm still not convinced this isn't an elaborate post-modern Christopher Guest movie playing out in front of us: the pettiness, the lack of self-awareness, and how this story weaves in and out of their music.
Versatility, depth, self-awareness, character: these are qualities we respect in our artists. If the music is good, and the lyrics are tight, if the melody's hooky and the song is clever, it's original, it's following the rules laid out by past innovators while perhaps breaking with them ever-so-slightly, if you respect the performer—if it seems like someone worthy of your respect, if you met him and you felt it necessary to walk across the room and give him a firm handshake.
If art seems more important than product, if a true expression of the soul matters to him more than his bank account, if he's interested in being serious and wants to have a long career, if he's a craftsman. If it took him a long time, if it involved considered effort, copious editing, elaborate execution, nuance and complexity. If he paid his dues. If it was done for good reasons, with good intentions. If it broadened the path for new ways of expressing himself, if he was the first to do it, if he wasn't first but he perfected its execution. He is serious.
Oasis was few of these things, and yet "Acquiesce" and "Wonderwall" and "Don't Look Back In Anger" and the idea of Oasis have stuck with me anyway. Their art was very narrow and particular, and required peeling back layers of noise to find it, but it was art.
"Acquiesce" is the best example to prove this point because it wasn't a smash hit. It wasn't even released on an album, and only came out as a 12" single. Unlike "Wonderwall" or "Champagne Supernova" it never saturated American radio. I didn't even discover it until I was in college, six or seven years after their peak. There is no bias or nostalgic attachment, no memories of drunk sing-alongs with the, uh, "mates." Nonetheless, it was as eager-to-please in its hooky sincerity as their best material. And its uptempo grungey distortion was more in keeping with the group's core sound than even their biggest singles.
But it contains the DNA of what made the group so exciting, and that was a swaggering overconfidence, the audacity to think that they could capture a feeling well out of their range through pure force of will.
It's also as guilty as any of their songs of lazy lyrics ("There are many things that I would like to know/And there are many places that I wish to go"). But it contains the DNA of what made the group so exciting, and that was a swaggering overconfidence, the audacity to think that they could capture a feeling well out of their range through pure force of will. Their success had the feel of playing dress-up, from Noel's hair to the hook of one of their earliest songs ("In my mind my dreams are real/Are you concerned about the way I feel?/Toniiiight I'm a rock'n'roll star..."). They were fuckin' faking it. But they scraped by on two things: Those melodies, those generous glimmers of transcendence. And Liam's sneering vocals, which let him get away with lyrics like "I don't know what it is that makes me feel alive."
That attitude, the sneering indifference, that cocky arrogance, draws from a familiar well. I like it for the same reason I don't fuck with Black Friday. Underneath it all, it's an expression that is petty, selfish, and immature. It's the feeling I get around big-ass crowds and long-ass lines, a vituperative contempt for my fellow man, a self-involved certainty that I am almost definitely a more valuable human for being so far above it, even when I'm amidst it. It's not based in a rational, reasoned response. That's why I come up with rationalizations for this feeling ex post facto. There's gotta be a reason—something moral, political—to justify it. That there are good reasons to hate Black Friday is, at the end of the day, convenient evidence.
When I first heard Oasis I must have been in Junior High, which definitely explains why I thought Oasis was cool, because I was definitely faking it too, like 98% of my 7th grade class. (The other part of why I thought they were cool was because they had references to getting high in "Champagne Supernova," and in Junior High that shit is just essential to being cool.) Years later, I would find that they weren't very cool at all. But the heady cocktail of self-righteous attitude and a very eager-to-please yearning for acceptance? It was very real, very unstudied. Immediate. The giddy certainty of a crush, and the underlying fear that you're a fraud and will be found out, is ultimately a selfish feeling. Even if we're not very good at articulating it in words, sometimes attitude is enough.
Because behind all the rock star bluster, Oasis were very unselfconscious. Because sometimes that's what we need. Because more than great artists, we need great art, even if it doesn't necessarily reflect our best selves. Because we need each other. We believe in one another. And I know we're gonna uncover what's sleeping in our soul.