There’s been a few things happen in the past month, a couple of which have made me cry for entirely different reasons.
Firstly the tears were from the heartache of Girls Aloud announcing their departure from music. The fact I Can’t Speak French has been the slogan to which I have been living my life over the past couple of years might lend some bias to this, but anyone doubting the quality of their back catalogue will either be; boring, old, deaf (and oh, obviously blind too).
My next tears were shed from joy at the sight of Noely G joining Damon and Graham onstage for a rendition of Blur’s Tender, a sight that anyone living in the UK between 95-98 would have deemed as likely as the proverbial Elvis riding Shergar (now Elvis eating Shergar in 2012, I’ll have a £10 on that).
Away from music I’ve been reading two books-Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis and David Foster Wallis’ posthumous Pale King.
What link did I draw between these three events? Rivalries.
Let us not forget that Girls Aloud were formed out of a television series that created an all female and all male band (no I’ve no idea what they were called and I suspect Google would even be left scratching its head too). When they went head to head though, the majority of people suspected it would be the boys that would triumph since, sadly, that’s how the market has usually gone. This is why Girls Aloud didn’t have to be just slightly superior, but totally outclass their competitors- cue Sound of the Underground and No Good Advice. They were that brilliant they didn’t even release the best song on their first album- All I Need (All I Don’t) as a single.
This is what rivalry, what competition should do. It should make those around up their game and become harder, faster and stronger. It should work for the benefit of the public, the quality should increase, as competitors in the same market fight tooth and nail to deliver the most outstanding goods. This is why we went for capitalism and not communism.
Think about George Michael’s Outside, spurred on by his dubious arrest at the hands of the LA police. It was the kick up the arse (muffled chortling) that he needed and in this instance it didn’t come at the expense of the buying public, because surely only the insane sided with his opponents.
You see herein lies the problem with rivalries and feuds. It’s all very amusing and entertaining, but you end up taking sides and missing out. I didn’t buy a Blur record for 7 years, would walk off the dance floor when Song 2 burst through the speakers like a kick to the groin. You were either Oasis or Blur back in the 90’s, the line was drawn. It was closer to a sporting rivalry. You have your club and you stick by them, through thick and thin. No one supports Manchester United and Liverpool, it’s one or the other. You don’t start assessing their merits, you don’t openly appreciate an arch enemy (just think of how many Real Madrid fans spurn the chance to enjoy Barcelona’s aesthetics and at times vice versa). But this is art, not sport. There is no finish line or trophy at the end of a season, which is why I wish I could go back to 1996, give myself a slap, order myself to grow up and do away with the centre parted curtains while I was at it.
This zealous, partisan attitude affected my hip-hop and rap choices too. I missed out on Sky’s The Limit, a song that contains a grown man rapping about chocolate milk, alongside the seminal beauty of Juicy, all because I’d sided with Tupac and his fury at his fat former friend- listen to Hit ’em Up for proof that a feud brings out the best in an artist.
But it’s not just music that brings about gang mentality, it’s literature too. Wallace critiqued American Psycho a little unfairly in my, and certainly Ellis’ estimation, during an interview, which led to the pair deriding each other’s work, one as tacky, the other boring. You can see both their points, but actually their finest work is up in the highest echelons of world fiction. American Psycho is a dark comic masterpiece, while Infinite Jest pushes boundaries and imposes itself on the doorstep of those so called Great American Novels.
Maybe now I’m an adult I’m able to agree to disagree with the pair of them and don’t feel like being forced into picking sides, or maybe it’s because I never developed a true affinity for either of them the way I did with Oasis.
What is certain is that Ellis and Wallace will never have the chance to heal their rift; like Noel and Damon, Nas and Jay-Z, Le Carre and Rushdie, because of Wallace’s suicide, which is maybe a little sad, but on the other hand you don’t want everyone to become friends, because where’s the fun in that? Think of all the humour and banter that would we would have missed out on if Blur and Oasis had been pals in the same vein as The Beatles and The Stones. Although I guess even if everyone in the arts world does decide to embrace each other and form a huge circle of love, there’ll always be Alex Ferguson to stoke those competitive fires and who would, I imagine, if I approached in my Liverpool shirt, borrow a phrase from his fellow countryman Groundskeeper Willy and mutter- “You just made an enemy for life.”