Are You A Lesbian, Miss?

Oasis — Columbia (Live at Knebworth)

1996 was my year. The previous year may have been the ‘official’ start of Britpop, in as much as conventional history has decreed, but it wasn’t until the year after that I got bitten completely by the bug. The Evening Session, Chris Evans in the morning, Radcliffe at night, Mayo during days off, and John Peel at the weekend.

Was it euphoria? The giggling optimism of a nation? We knew that as soon as the Tories stepped in front of a polling booth they’d be annilated; we laughed at them. Britain was going to be okay. A hollow, desperate last puff of greatness; deep down we knew that it would never last, that we could never conquer the world again, that all we had were pale imitators, reliving past glories by watching Anthology on a Sunday night and dreaming, as one, of a Britain that mattered. Or an England. For Cool Britannia meant Camden Town. And maybe Manchester if you were lucky. We were strong again, we were culturally significant; one of our stars heaped scorn and contempt on Michael Jackson and by extension America. Rule Britannia. Or something like that. Radio 1 even turned over a whole week to playing nothing but music from the British Isles, at least during daylight hours.

It was an interesting year. I remember screaming “LO-FI MUST DIE!” as I entered the common room one particular morning, buying a Dubstar cassette in Cambridge and having terrible dreams. Complex numbers, J. Alfred Prufrock and his love song, holding fear in a handful of dust, playing cards instead of studying, Dani asking the question in the title, running around in circles, and falling down the stairs.

The last one didn’t happen, except in a dream I had one night. I woke up shivering, and spent the next six weeks with an odd illness that left me unable to enter school for any length of time. And yes, I know how that sounds. But I would feel physically sick whenever I entered the building. I remember Ms. Lancaster taking a look at me one afternoon and telling me to go straight home, I looked so bad. I got better. Just in time for the end of the school year. But I had August to look forward to.

There was no Glastonbury in 1996, so Knebworth filled something of a hole in the festival schedule, even though it lacked the camping experience (but I’d get that in 1997, during the Reign of Mud). It was the apex of a year of success for Oasis. Number 1s a-gogo, a plethora of Brit Awards, headlines in all the papers, rock’n’roll stars just like they always wanted. The weekend would be the biggest ticketed concert that the country had seen, and tickets sold out within hours.

I don’t remember a huge amount about the day itself, oddly. The Bootleg Beatles were on first, and were rather poor. Then The Chemical Brothers, losing a lot of their appeal at three in the afternoon. Ocean Colour Scene. Ah. Yes, we knew back then. But it was sunny. And we were a little too far away to throw things at the stage. Our mistake.

The Manics always seemed a little out-of-place at Knebworth. But they were there, coming back to the fore after the loss of Richey Edwards. Less eyeliner from Nicky Wire, possibly in a show of deference to the rather robust Oasis crowd. “Libraries gave us power…

The Prodigy, who suffered the same fate as Oasis, really, in that they never managed to climb out from where The Fat of The Land placed them. This, along with their 1997 Glastonbury performance, was their last hurrah, the final time that Keith Flint and Maxim appeared as anything but a cartoon. You could feel the bass all the way to the middle of the park.

We got closer. Liam never looked more like John Lennon. This one goes out to The Cat In The Hat. Speeding up, faster and faster. Columbia, Supersonic, Noel singing The Masterplan, Don’t Look Back In Anger and Cast No Shadow. The two NEW! NEW! songs, My Big Mouth and It’s Getting Better Man!, which, then, at that time, sounded good. On a digital platter a year later, they were revealed as half-assed nothingness, but then, they kept us going. The end, Live Forever. Champagne Supernova and I Am The Walrus with fireworks going off. The end. The end of a night. Johnny Cigarettes reviewed them in the NME the next Wednesday, saying that it represented the high point of their career and perversely, the last time they would ever matter. At the time, I was disgusted. But he was right.

Oasis — Champagne Supernova (live at Knebworth)

It was their high watermark. But not mine. I went back to sixth form in September, as you’d expect, making a week’s detour at Villiers Park, my most Rory-at-Chilton moment, living with a group of kids destined for Oxbridge, working hard and tossing around ideas about literature and life. Fabulous.

Discovering music past Oasis, and the beginnings of the exit, of Lauren Laverne, Marie Du Santiago, Emmy-Kate Montrose, and Johnny X. Of staying up all night on May 4th, coming in on Monday morning into English, cheering with Ms. Brooks, fist raised in the air. We’d got them out. Eighteen years of Tory Arse, they called it. We were free. We were also rather gullible.

Britpop, showing signs of serious wear and tear already, promptly imploded on August 21st 1997, when Be Here Now became the fastest-selling record of all-time in the UK, selling 650,000 copies in three days. And then we listened. And it was rubbish. Some of us tried, myself included, to live in denial, until we completed the escape. But it was rubbish. It wasn’t until the release of Stand By Me and its atrocious b-sides that I started playing them less and less, and nothing they ever did after that rekindled the feeling of when I first heard Wonderwall on the radio.

And so here we are. The Britpop era is a little strange. With other pop culture movements like the ‘60s, punk, rave, and the like, you get a hardcore cluster of people who insist that their era was the greatest. And I don’t think that really exists with my era. I bear affection for some of the songs of the period, but I have no nostalgia for the period itself. In the main, it was a terrible blight on British music which buried interesting bands like Disco Inferno, screwed up many independent labels, and left a nasty, hollow taste in the mouth. It was our time. But it wasn’t really a good one.

Come back in a few months when I explain how Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, and In Your Car saved me…

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