First to declare an interest: My wife has sung with Noel Gallagher. The choir she sings with backed him on a tour recently. She said he was the consummate professional. He did the gig then got into his car and drove home. So just as she was, rather belatedly, getting into the rock’n’roll lifestyle, it seemed that Noel was putting it behind him.
Anyhow, last week Noel Gallagher made a statement to the effect that he has no time for reading fiction. What he actually said was ‘novels are just a waste of fucking time.’ This has provoked some advocates of fiction to attack him in fairly unliterary language. A veritable twitterstorm among the literati.
My own reaction to Noel’s outburst is: fair enough. He was just being honest. Virtually everything either of the Gallaghers say is laced with ‘fuckings’, so it doesn’t imply that he was particularly angry about the issue, or that it was an ‘outburst’ at all as I just misleadingly labelled it. He was asked a question in an interview and he gave his honest answer. It wasn’t an attack on novelists.
A lot of people don’t read novels and there’s no reason why they should. My dad never read novels, for pretty much the same reason that Gallagher cites. He was unable to suspend disbelief. He could never get beyond the fact that what he was reading is made up. If we sat down to watch a film on telly, the first thing my dad would say was something like: ‘Is this true?’ Or ‘Did this actually happen?’ If the answer was no, he would lose interest. (We’ll leave aside the bigger question of what is ‘true’ in this context.)
It’s maybe odd that I decided to be a novelist, a maker up of tales. Perhaps a psychologist would have an explanation for this – or a field day. But I’ve always loved stories. Listening to them. Reading them. Telling them. Writing them down. I don’t think there’s anything Oedipal in my career choice.
Returning to Noel Gallagher, there is also the issue of class. Although there are exceptions, I have often worried that reading and writing and reviewing books are predominantly (not exclusively) middle-class occupations. If this is behind what Noel is saying, then I think he may be onto something.
However, I don’t think he’s right that the people who engage in those activities see themselves as above ‘the rest of us who fucking make records and write pathetic little songs for a living.’ (Hmm, don’t think ‘the rest of us’ make a living from writing songs, but again, let’s not get bogged down in that.) In my experience, many of the writers and editors I’ve met are very much in awe of songwriters and musicians. Typically, for them, Bob Dylan is a God.
I find Noel’s statement sad but understandable. It saddens me that he thinks writers of books see themselves as above other people. I don’t think this is universally true though it may be true in some instances.
It also saddens me that Noel Gallagher, as a creative artist, has closed himself off to one branch of human expression – a particularly rich and rewarding branch, in my opinion. His songs aren’t factual, though they might aspire to express human truths, to be true in that sense. I don’t think a novel, a good novel, is any different.