Being there then
August 26, 1997. Oasis had just released Be Here Now, the long-awaited follow-up to the multi-plaltinum jaugernaut What's The Story (Morning Glory)? and me and four of my closest high school friends were about to get our first listen. Driving back from our annual summer sojourn to Wildwood, N.J., we popped the cassette -- yes, the cassette -- into Bob's 1989 Buick LeSabre. In a car full of 17-year-old fans of the British rockers, this was a momentous occassion (excluding Brian, the resident Oasis-hater of the group who preferred the company of headphones and the new Mustard Plug record). The five days prior had been about concealing wine coolers in 32-ounce Mountain Dew bottles and trying to get lucky on the boardwalk. But now on our long ride back to New York, the priorities had changed. As the opening coda to "D'You Know What I Mean?" filled the inside of the cavernous LeSabre, we all felt like we were part of something. Our Sgt. Pepper had finally arrived.
I cannot understate this enough. This record was a big deal. Earlier that spring, U2 had released the techno-fueled Pop, a veteran band trying so hard to re-invent themselves that they had forgotten who they were in the first place. Elsewhere, the rock landscape was littered by bands without the pedigree to remain relevant beyond an album or two. Dozens of pretenders ruled the airwaves while the Sarah McLaughlin-led Lilith Fair explosion was threatening to wipe the electric guitar off the pop landscape. Rock needed the next "biggest band in the world." And Oasis were counted on to be just that.
As the LeSabre lumbered north, we sat silently through 12 songs and nearly 72 minutes of what seemed like the greatest album ever recorded. With the volume turned up so high that it left ears ringing for a day afterward, Be Here Now was everything we could have hoped for. Overblown? Maybe. Indulgent? Probably. But it was rawk. It was defiant ("My Big Mouth"), anthemic ("Stand By Me") , gorgeous ("Don't Go Away"), even majestic ("All Around The World"). Sometimes it was all those things at once. Noel Gallagher had done it, and his working-class band from Manchester was about to have the world in the palm of its hand.
Or so we thought. Being 17 is funny on so may levels in retrospect, you're either too naive or too stupid to understand just about everything. Be Here Now turned out to be a prime example. While What's The Story ... and debut album Definitely Maybe were crammed with catchy songs that seemed to have purpose, the music on Be Here Now didn't say much at all. It was the sound of rich rock stars with too much money, too much time, and too many drugs. Any lyrical and melodic shortcomings were simply remedied with a wall of sound that'd make Phil Spector shoot someone. Um, again. This was noise on top of noise. Swirling orchestral arrangements and mountains of guitar overdubs -- "My Big Mouth" was said to have 30 alone -- dominated throughout. Johnny Depp provided slide guitar on a song ("Fade In-Out"). There was even a reprise. A reprise for fuck's sake! Despite glowing initial reviews, critical and commercial response to the record cooled at a remarkable rate, setting in action a backlash that the band never truly recovered from. Less than two years later, Liam and Noel Gallagher were the only original members left in the band -- in-fighting and drug and alcohol abuse pushing founding members Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan and Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs by the wayside. And despite eight million units sold, Be Here Now had earned its boneyard description as a drug- and ego-fueled disaster. Cocaine -- it turns out -- is a hell of a drug.
So you probably think I'm one of the thousands of people who pawned off their copy of Be Here Now -- Melody Maker famously reported in 1999 that it was the album most sold to second-hand record stores. But you'd be wrong. Over the last 10 years, it has remained a consistent soldier in my record collection. For all its pomp, and beneath all the layers, and the Johnny Depp, and the fucking reprise, there remains an album with melodies that deposit themselves in your head for days, and hooks big enough to make Sandy Koufax jealous. And it's all powered by Liam Gallagher, the then-24-year-old lead singer whose signature snarl simply plowed over anything that stood in the way. A powerhouse vocal performance that remains transcedent to this day.
So yeah, a lot of things have changed since I was 17. And while I've had some regrets in the 10 years since -- living off a credit card, dating idiots, buying the Zwan album -- loving Be Here Now, warts and all, will never be one of them. I can turn it on and instantly remember being in the backseat of that beat-up LeSabre hearing a collection of songs that changed my life.
Hmm ... maybe it was my Sgt. Pepper after all.