It has been a difficult and stressful few weeks on the personal front. My 91-year-old dad has been in poor health, so I have spent many hours on the train, going to the hospital and back, or waiting for a phone call and hoping not to get one in the middle of the night.
I have needed some kind of solace, but clearly I’m not alone in this, as every time I pick up a paper I read about our current obsession with hygge, the Danish word that loosely translates as “comfort”, or things that are comforting. There’s much discussion as to what kind of things constitute hygge, but it seems mostly to revolve around log fires, candles and bed socks.
It’s a fairly elastic concept, and I had my own experience this week of how, in the right circumstances, almost anything can qualify. Somewhat unexpectedly, the most comforting thing that I did was seeing the Oasis documentary Supersonic.
The film tells of how they went in three short years from being signed by Alan McGee of Creation Records to selling out two shows at Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire, playing to a quarter of a million people. The film avoids the pitfalls and repetitions of the story – there was no mention of Britpop, or Blur, or Blair – and is all the better for it. Instead, it focuses tightly on the heart-warming story of two brothers overcoming the odds to make it in show business. And even though they may not want to hear this, it soothed me enormously. I had the thought that, in many ways, Oasis were a very comforting band. A hygge band, if you like.
Yes, they made a thundering, blistering kind of noise, but there was an ease and a cosiness about the familiarity of those tunes that sounded, even on a first listen, like you’d known them for years. In the studio, Noel would play a newly written song for the first time to Liam, who would absorb it by osmosis, sing it back once, and then go into the vocal booth to record it. We see Liam clutching a notepad bearing the lyrics to “Champagne Supernova”, which he proceeds to sing flawlessly.
So many Oasis songs are about enjoying yourself. Noel’s writing is almost always upbeat and positive: “I’m feeling supersonic/Give me gin and tonic”. Or “when you’re happy and you’re feeling fine . . .” Not for Noel the savagery of “Hope I die before I get old”, the nihilism of “I wanna destroy passers-by”, or the self-disgust of “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo”. He’s all for looking on the bright side – “See you and I/we’re gonna live forever!”
There’s not much doubt, or rage, or anything to unsettle you, and nothing musically complicated, or varied. This was no deconstruction of rock’n’roll, it was a rollicking enjoyment of it – proper tunes with proper choruses, four-square rhythms, conventional song structures. Reassuring in their conventionality.
And the records and the gigs had a unifying, ecstatic quality. Knebworth looked like a giant rave, everyone sorted for Es and whizz, while also seeming to prefigure the grand-scale communal euphoria that you see at Glastonbury nowadays. Noel said that he didn’t really get electronic dance music, but Oasis were a post-Madchester idea of a rock band. There was something very smiley-face about them, dressed down in their trackie tops, kicking giant footballs from the stage.
Was the band a source of comfort for both of them, too? Neither is a great soul searcher or seems prone to introspection, but their father hovered, a presence looming in the background of the film. Liam escaped but Noel apparently bore the brunt of many beatings, and he says at one point that the violence turned him in on himself – he retreated to his bedroom with a guitar and disappeared into the sound coming out of his amp.
As he puts it with a certain wry bitterness, his dad “beat the talent” into him. Writing songs to console himself, he steered clear of self-pity, opting for celebratory escapism. “I’m free to be whatever I choose.”
It’s easy to sneer at the simplicity of this sort of sentiment, but I was in the mood to warm to it. I needed comforting, and I came out of the cinema feeling better.
This article appears in the 10 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump apocalypse