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When You Were Young aims to reclaim the music of our misremembered youths from the scratched mix-CDs underneath our car seats. Each edition will cover music the writer loved as a teenager before moving on to “cooler” music, whatever that means. This edition covers Oasis, and their album Definitely Maybe.
Several years ago, I got the chance to see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds co-headline with Snow Patrol one dreary Edmonton night. Seeing Snow Patrol is not something I would recommend. I spent over eighty bucks because I missed out on seeing Oasis play Edmonton in 2008 on the Dig Out Your Soul tour, something I’m likely to regret to my dying day, so this was in part repentance and making up for lost time.
Gallagher was touring behind his first solo album and it’s a fantastic one. Yet it was a bit milquetoast to hear in a live setting. It wasn’t until his final song, when he busted out “Don’t Look Back In Anger” where we were suddenly at a rock show. It was loud. It was kinetic. Gallagher played a guitar solo to end all guitar solos, never mind this was a song that ripped its intro from “Imagine.” It was fucking awesome.
Yet it wasn’t Oasis.
I was 15 or 16 when I properly heard that band. I had listened to “Wonderwall” years before then and had written it off as tepid. At my age, I hadn’t really paid much attention to music whatsoever, a stark contrast to classmates and friends who grew up to the sound of parents’ record blaring off in the distance. My parents were conservative and not fond of modern music, Michael Jackson being one of the few exceptions. My musical education started at year zero: the tail end of the ninth grade and it started in a very bad place. ‘90s pop-punk, Canadian alternative rock and modern dance music were all sounds I embraced with the religious fervor of a first-timer. With the exception of a few landmark albums that will stay with me forever, I have strange memories of the first, have been incredibly harsh on myself for the second and I barely remember the last.
I was awkward in high school. I was lanky and had yet to figure out exactly how to grow into it. I wanted to be talkative but bad experiences in junior high left me yearning to be quiet instead so I made do with stuffing the pockets in my oversized hoodies with CDs, blasting through them during the breaks. Yet I latched onto good shit when I knew I had it, and Oasis, whose influence loomed like a lighthouse in my life, were that good shit. They had the songs. They had the attitude. They were characters.
They quickly attained “band can save your life” status in my life, one of the few acts from which I can recite the following from memory: pivotal interviews, sales certifications, total number of feuds, and Beatles references and lifts found in their music (for that matter, a low number).
My friends in high school adored bands like Zeppelin, My Chemical Romance or worse, Travis. Why couldn’t I have been cool and gotten into an eternally cool act like Black Sabbath instead? Oasis were not a band you can discuss, or one whose shirt you could wear in public without getting some scorn. For all the cultural cool they had and dispersed over the course of their first two albums, they became such a deeply uncool act. For all the goodwill Noel Gallagher has received for transforming himself into a witty elder statesman of rock who can be counted on to say wild things about Arcade Fire, that does not seem to have extended to the band retrospectively.
In high school, I tried to write an essay on Definitely Maybe for fun. Emphasis on “tried to.” My thesis was meant to show just exactly how the album was a loose concept album on escape, whether it be escaping from an awful situation or from yourself for the thrill of a night. That escapism is all over Definitely Maybe right from the opening roar of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” to the blaring guitar tracks that are layered all over the record and to how Liam yelps every fucking line he has like it’s the last set of lines he was ever going to sing.
For all their bad (both supposed and actual), Oasis introduced me to a world of music I likely would not have had the knowledge to pursue if it wasn’t filtered through the Gallaghers’ musical vision. For a few years, I followed their inspirations down a series of rabbit holes, finding more and more to discover. Their early, all-consuming love for everything under the sun was something that I was grateful to absorb.
The prevailing story you get when people discuss bands that changed their lives as a youth always touches upon that twilight period when you’ve moved on to bigger and better things. Bands fall into “nostalgia” listening playlists, you shove aside your teeming knowledge of their discography unless prompted at a karaoke night or a radio contest. They stop mattering to you, so you move on. But sometimes you don’t want to move on. Sometimes that band becomes a guidepost that beckons like a welcoming light. For several defining years in my life, Definitely Maybe was an album that served as a guidepost. It may not be the central guidepost now, but it’s one that will always feel familiar and comforting, as the best ones should.
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