Savannah Moon

This year’s Savannah Book Festival has a stacked line-up, what with Diana Gabaldon delivering the open address and Jodi Picoult closing things out. There’s a whole collection of writers in between those two slices of awesome (Victor LaValle! Tom Perotta!!), making one big, tasty, literary sandwich. There’s even a thin schmeer of ME in there.

At 1:40, on Saturday, February 17th, I’ll be reading a brand new, unpublished short story titled “You Are Released” at the Savannah Theater. I gave this one a test fly at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and at the time everyone seemed to enjoy it. They maybe liked it a little less the day after, when for a half an hour or so it looked as if Hawaii was the target of an incoming warhead, a case of real life being waaaaay too much like fiction for anyone to feel real good. Some scenarios you only ever want to experience via make-believe.

Come on and see me, I don’t get down Savannah way nearly enough.

Never Say Dubai

Spring is going to keep me moving. I’m sailing into Dubai on the weekend of March 2nd, to attend the Emirates Literary Festival… with my compadre and comic brother Gabriel Rodriguez at my side. It’ll be our first time seeing each other in a couple years (a couple years!!), and our first opportunity to dish to an audience about the Hulu production of Locke & Key.

We’ve got a few things on the schedule but here are the big hits:

March 2nd, 7:30 PM • Al Bahara 1 – Intercontinental: Gabriel and I will be sitting down together to talk about Locke & Key, past and future.

March 3rd, 6:00 PM • Al Majlis – Intercontinental: Gabriel Rodriguez will unlock his head and spill out the secrets of creating your own comic book. A workshop with the master.

March 3rd, 7:30 PM • Al Bahara 1 – Intercontinental: I’ll be chatting with International Horror sensation Yrsa SIguroardottir about the art and craft of trying to scare the shit out of people.

I’m looking forward to my first visit to the UAE and so grateful I was asked. I’ll see you there, huh?

I confess it’s faintly possible not everyone will be interested in this next bit.

As You Were • Liam Gallagher

I haven’t tried to hide it. My first novel might’ve been titled after a Nirvana song, and I may have hit the mosh pit at a Pearl Jam show (the pit hit back, knocking my glasses off my face while Mudhoney was still on stage). But I was always more of an Oasis man than a grunge guy. I didn’t hate myself and want to die; I wanted to live forever.

I thought then, and I think now, that the first two Oasis albums were monsters of rock, classics through and through. I also hold that the albums that followed were vastly underrated. Don’t Believe The Truth, in particular, came within breathing distance of their best, which also puts it in breathing distance of anyone’s best. I’ve continued to listen to the brothers Gallagher ever since the tumble and smash that flung them apart and put them at each other’s throats. The echoes of that great crash have, on occasion, produced some pretty great music.

Late last year Liam Gallagher released his “first” solo album (two earlier discs with a band called Beady Eye were, as far as I’m concerned, solo albums in all but name). As You Were hasn’t penetrated the modern rock radio stations over here, but in the U.K., it’s a fckin smash, mate, d’ya know whut I mean?

Over on Twitter, I asked if anyone would want to read my track-by-track review in the next newsletter, written in real time as I listen to it. The demand was overwhelming… almost 42% of you said you were up for it. Who am I to resist that kind of excitement??!

You may want to light up your favorite streaming service and listen along, so we can enjoy this thing together. Let’s rock.

Here in the early part of the 21st century, modern rock radio is overwhelmed with smooth inoffensive voices. I’m not going to pelt Chris Martin, who is one of the most literary songwriters of his generation, but the silky deliveries of his imitators don’t register with me. Polite rock is an oxymoron.

For me, part of the reason the brothers Gallagher were always my fix is Liam’s voice. It soars to a Lennon-esque falsetto, and sneers with all the malevolence of Johnny Rotten. There’s about forty years of Brit-Rock history in every angry, contemptuous line. Listening to Liam is like getting snared in thorns, and I seem to need that. I want my rock and roll to draw some blood. That’s “Wall of Glass” for you: a three minute bloodletting.

The rap on Liam is he can’t write songs… that he’s just a set of pipes who rode his brother’s songwriting gift to the top of the charts. Both brothers squeeze good publicity out of hating on each other in the press, and Noel has relished mocking his brother’s inability to craft a tune. More recently, though, reality seems to have caught up with him, and Noel’s new attitude is that, yeah, all right, little brother has written a couple songs, but he only knows how to do two things: “Instant Karma” and “Imagine.”

We’ll talk more about The Feud later on. For now, let me just note that as disses go, that one sounds dangerously like a back-handed compliment. Every creator, in every field, is trying to recapture the feel of one or two masterworks that electrified him. For myself, every book I ever write is pretty much trying to be The Terminator, Firestarter, or True Grit. The Beatles were trying to do the Detroit girl bands they loved, and Buddy Holly. Spielberg spent the first third of his career trying to do Hitchcock. I never met an artist of any worth who wasn’t a fan first.

And anyway, here’s “Bold,” a Liam Gallagher solo composition (one of several on the LP). “Bold” isn’t “Instant Karma” or “Imagine,” but both, and neither at the same time. It’s one of the very best things here — soulful, vulnerable, but tough — and to dislike it seems to me almost perverse.

Another solo Liam composition: a nasty, hard whirl. Listening to it is like being drunk on a merry-go-round running out of control. To what degree are these songs shaped by the studio pros Liam works with? Don’t know, and don’t really care. Your nerve-endings don’t give a fuck how many takes they needed in the studio, how many overdubs they used, or how the engineer decided to mix the thing.

My favorite song on the album, and the one I would urge any Liam doubter to listen to. The falsetto in that soaring chorus gives me goosebumps. There’s some shades of Lennon in this tune, and a little bit of Cat Stevens… but it’s an injustice to suggest it’s just a throwback track drafting off the slipstream of fifty year old classics. This is smart, literate, moving modern rock.

Aaand we go from best to worst. This one is trying too hard to be a slow grind radio single, something for the kids to dance to at the prom — team Liam was really begging for a hit with this one. Critics have griped “For What It’s Worth” sounds too much like older, better Oasis anthems (which themselves were trying awfully hard to sound like older, better Beatles anthems). Worse, though, for me, is the way it brings to mind mid-90s Aerosmith soundtrack staples like “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.”

Even at the album’s weakest, though, Liam shows flashes of steel, in particular when he sings that “the first bird to fly gets all the arrows.” A rocker don’t just deliver the hits, he takes ’em too.

A mid-tempo hypnotrack, stacked with shimmering harmonies. “When I’m In Need” could’ve come right off one of the first couple Crowded House albums, and that IS a compliment. Ever listen to Woodface? No? Better put that on your listening queue.

A stomper in the T. Rex mold — only Mark Bolan never sounded so eager for a bare-knuckled brawl in the dirt.

It’s also another Liam solo composition, which raises the question of when and how he learned to write them as good as his brother (yep, I just said it). The answer is: well before Oasis broke up. “Songbird” and “Born on A Different Cloud” off Oasis’s Heathen Chemistry were among the very best things on that record, and they were both Liam’s tunes. Noel obviously knows that, which makes his dismissal of Liam’s craft weirdly false, which suggests an intriguing possibility:

The Feud is bullshit.

Look, it wouldn’t be the first time the Gallagher brothers have done this — kept themselves in the public eye by picking fights. In the 90s, you were either a Blur fan or an Oasis fan, but you couldn’t be both. The bands famously hated each other and shat on each other in the press every chance they got. You had to choose your side. You can’t root for the Red Sox AND The Yankees.

There was only one problem with the Blur vs Oasis rivalry: it was all a put on. Blur songwriter Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher cooked the whole thing up to sell records. None of those guys ever really hated each other or each other’s music.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the break-up of Oasis, after an ugly row in Paris in 2009, was the real deal: two brothers who had to get away from each other before they murdered one another. But when tempers cooled, I think two ace marketers (Liam and Noel can do more than write songs) saw how to play their division to mutual advantage, and that’s what they’ve been doing ever since. Also, remember that these are the two most obsessive Beatles fans to ever stride the earth. No one knew anything about George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music until Noel named a song after this all-but-forgotten late 60s soundtrack album. It would be perfectly unsurprising if the brothers felt the need to recreate the Lennon-McCartney split, in their attempt to retrace every step of the Beatles’ emotional journey.

There are arguments against my false Feud theory — good ones — but we don’t have time to consider them because another song has started.

Mmhm. I guess this one’s okay. If I was catching Liam in concert, I’d probably use this track to empty my bladder. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad tune. Mostly it means I can’t make it through a two hour show without running to take a piss.

Here is Liam solo at his best and worst in the same song. You got a lovely melody, a chorus of almost heart-breaking beauty, and some post-Brexit lyrics that place this track in the Vital Now (“What’s it to be free, man?/What’s a European?”).

You also got weirdly shallow shite lines like “God told me, live a life of luxury.” Really? Was that New Testament? I musta missed it. And why the hell are the cops taking over “while everyone’s in yoga”? That line isn’t just ordinary bad — it’s Train-Drops-of-Jupiter bad.

Liam himself has said this is him doing “I Am The Walrus” and it’s on the same wavelength… a relentless assault with lyrics that are shouted more than sang, broken by a satisfyingly big chorus. As You Were is full of those big choruses, which is, of course, what Oasis was famous for, and in a sense, explains the title of the album.

When J. J. Abrams jumpstarted the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens, he was knocked for recycling too many elements of the earlier pictures. His response, though, that “we needed to go back to go forward” worked for me, and works here too. One of the satisfactions of this LP is the way it reminds us how good we had it for a couple years there. You could actually turn on the radio and hear something you liked. Who doesn’t want to be As They Were?

Man, I love this song, with it’s big, wide open, spacey, searching feel. The Gallagher brothers have always made music the way I want my music to sound. None of their tracks ever do just one thing. They almost always do at least three things, and two of them are completely unexpected. Their inventiveness has the effect of making so many modern radio hits sound unimaginative by comparison… short on daring and ideas and, lethally, commitment. When was the last time you heard a song where you thought the singer was all the way in, one hundred percent; like he or she is feeling every word? You can feel something because he does.

The rip on these guys, these two brothers from Manchester, is that they aren’t doing anything new; it’s all been done before; they’re just rehashing the Kinks and the Stones, the Beatles and Bowie.

By now, you know what I think of that criticism. I think that sort of critique is, when turned sideways, really praise. There’s humility in admitting we are none of us so much as our fathers’ shadows at noontime. I don’t think the proper response to brilliant work is to slam the door on it, but to open yourself up to it. You approach your inspirations on your knees, as a supplicant, hoping to collect a dipperful of light from the source. And if you’re lucky, you come home with something all your own, something new. “All I Need” isn’t Lennon and it isn’t T. Rex, it’s just Liam, writing, playing, and singing the kind of rock no one else is making right now, or could make, because it’s unique to him. For me, on any given day, when I need something to get me going, to put me into motion? As You Were is all I need.

That’s my Brit-rock brain dump for the year. Come on back next month, when there’ll be another Pop Culture think piece. I have a mind to contrast Doctor Who: The Capaldi Years with Star Trek: The-Characters-Say-Fuck Era. Anyone up for that? Anything else I should blab about? Let me know on Twitter where my handle is: @joe_hill.

The mini-reviews/essays are all holding actions, of course. At some point, maybe this summer, I’m hoping to introduce a four-panel strip to Escape Hatch… at which point the newsletter will become a once-a-week concern, because you wanna keep the story moving, especially when you’re doling it out in such tiny nibbles. The comic is still in the early planning stages, although I admit I’ve got the first part of the story worked out.

Will you for God’s sake look after yourselves… and each other? I’m attached.