Music

A Bad Boy Faces Middle Age

Liam Gallagher performs at the Glastonbury Music Festival in 2013. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)
Oasis front man Liam Gallagher won’t look back in anger. Well, maybe a little.

Liam Gallagher lived his twenties and thirties as rock’s maximum jackass, greeting the world middle fingers first as the front man of the 1990s-defining band Oasis. He wasn’t just a bad boy; he was out to be the worst boy. Scarcely a month went by without him producing yet another outrage to delight tabloid editors. You can’t be a bad boy at 46, though, so by now Liam Gallagher really ought to be dead.

Liam gets this; he figures the newspapers have stories queued up to go about how he finally destroyed himself with drugs or a bullet. “I know how f***ing great I am and what a royal s*** I am,” he says in the doc Liam Gallagher: As It Was, adding, “I’m proud of staying alive . . . not becoming a f***ing casualty.” Remembering the atrocious behavior, both personal and professional, leads very nearly to a hint of contrition: “Sometimes when you’re in a band,” he says, “you’re in a bit of a bubble . . . there’s a real life sort of going on around you but you’re not connected to it. This time the bubble had burst and I’d landed in the f***ing reality and the reality was not that good.”

Gallagher’s childlike inability to dissemble has always been one of his most appealing qualities. To their immense credit, Oasis didn’t traffic in peace-and-love twaddle but reveled in their roles as snarling pub louts who became kings of the pop world. (The documentary Oasis: Supersonic, which is streaming on Netflix, is a glorious romp through their whole sordid story.) The band ended Hiroshima-style, with a ten-megaton rage detonation just before a Paris gig in 2009. Noel, the smaller, older brother who wrote virtually all of the hits and also played lead guitar, smashed one of Liam’s guitars, or so says Liam. Naturally Liam smashed one of Noel’s in reply. The band stormed out of the gig, then the tour, then ceased to exist when Noel announced he could not work with his brother. The two haven’t spoken in ten years. Liam remains slightly miffed about all this. “People go oh, Noel’s grown up and he’s changed,” he says. “Whatever, he’s changed into a massive c***. I’m just still a c***. I’m not a massive c***.”

Liam’s follow-up band, Beady Eye, didn’t catch on, and in a Spinal Tap–like series of humiliations documented in this amusing film, he found his new gang booked in tiny clubs and himself so desperate for income that he became a fashion brand. Ladies’ department stores such as the one in which he is shown hawking his new line of merch are not very rock and roll.

Yet Liam rebounded in a 2017 record, As You Were, that hit number one on the U.K. charts. (In the U.S., Oasis never caught on; I used to see them at New York City clubs like Roseland at a time when they were filling stadiums in Britain.) Liam Gallagher: As It Was is essentially a promotional video meant to push that album and a follow-up, Why Me? Why Not., which arrives next week, so it is reticent about his many bad choices, dismissed in a brief montage as “personal problems.” The movie also feels like an extended plea to an audience of one: Perhaps Noel will see it, and notice that Liam has mended his ways? Their bad blood does go back a bit, though. Liam recalls fondly the time he peed on his older brother’s stereo when the two were sharing a tiny bedroom in Manchester, in the house where their Mum Peggy still lives. “That’s when I think the grudge started,” Liam reflects.

These days, Liam looks alert and healthy, and makes a reasonable effort to sound humble as he rebuilds his career. He is lean, wears his hair short, goes running a lot. He got hit with a mighty slap of changing-times symbolism when, while jogging one early morning, he ran into 200 kids still carrying on with a full-on rave from the night before. “When you’re this age, this is what it’s about, man,” he says, after another run, this one across the Golden Gate Bridge. “That’s why I wanna live forever. I don’t want to f***ing die.” Who knew “Live Forever” was a cardio anthem? Gallagher is so serious about his health that he swears, “I only do two grams before I go on stage now. Whereas I used to do eight.” Progress! (I think he is kidding here, but I really don’t know. I respect either his forbearance or his endurance.)

If the doc is to be believed, Gallagher has reached stability thanks in large part to his girlfriend and manager, Debbie Gwyther, who calls him a “massive softy,” albeit not without peccadilloes. “Yeah, he drinks too much probably from time to time,” she says, “he gets in scrapes, he’s impulsive, he says stupid things, he swears a lot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be soft at the same time.” He brings his two teenage sons on tour and seems grateful for them, and much else. “Considering all the s*** that I’ve drunk and all the other stuff, you know what I mean, that people have put up my nose for me, I think my voice is half-decent,” he says.

All he wanted to be was “a rock and roll singer with a bit of f***ing attitude and that is it,” he says. So that worked out pretty well. While he may never get over being Noel’s brother, a friend says he should let that go. After all, the friend says, “Kids don’t want to be Noel, they want to be Liam.”

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