A vintage 1996 moment: Somewhere in the middle of a cocktail party at the Cannes film festival, the reigning prince of British film meets the reigning prince of British rock. For a few minutes Ewan McGregor, the star of Trainspotting, drinks in the surrounding delirium with Noel Gallagher, the creative ringleader behind Oasis.
Months later, it’s the movie star who still sounds starstruck. ”I’m a real fan of Oasis — like I’ve never been about any band before,” McGregor gushes. ”I felt like a small schoolgirl when I met him.” He’s not the only one. Sneer at the hype, scoff at the latest tale of loutish misbehavior, block your ears to the umpteenth airing of ”Wonderwall,” but there’s still something about Oasis that can transform even the most lethargic listener into a blushing, knock-kneed teenybopper.
That sensation, once confined to the British Isles, finally swept the globe this year. As the United Kingdom’s fashion, film, and rock worlds buzzed with energy and style in 1996, a newly swingin’ London found its cocky emblem in Oasis. The quintet brazenly cribbed from the Beatles, churned out sumptuous slabs of ear candy like ”Don’t Look Back in Anger” and ”Champagne Supernova,” sold 4 million copies of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? in the States alone, and became the first British group since the heyday of new wave to mount a beachhead on Yankee shores.
Meanwhile, the five debauched blokes in the band — hit spinner Noel Gallagher, 29 (right), his firebrand brother and singer Liam, 24 (left), guitarist Paul ”Bonehead” Arthurs, 31, bass player Paul McGuigan, 25, and drummer Alan White, 24 — challenged the royal family as England’s kings of controversy. They flew to New York for MTV’s Video Music Awards; Liam gobbed at the camera. In September, the Gallagher brothers leapt into one of their infamous brawls with each other, canned the rest of their U.S. tour, and threw the tabloids into a tizzy by suggesting the band was kaput. Another time, Noel told the press he’d frittered away some of his wonder years as a petty thief in Manchester; members of the British parliament tried to make him give back whatever he’d stolen. (Fortunately for him, the Beatles issued no such edict.)
So it went, all year long. Even as Oasis slipped into the hallowed halls of Abbey Road Studios to cut a third album, they did everything in their power to undermine any great expectations. And frankly, that’s why we love them. American rock has sunk into a torpor ever since Kurt Cobain’s death, but Oasis spent every minute of 1996 teetering on the brink of detonation — the way rock stars are supposed to. In the end, being an Oasis fan is something akin to being a New York Jets fan: You cherish the disasters as much as the triumphs.