Liam Gallagher wants to smash his brothers head in with a guitar

Friday, 01 April 2011 17:26

The Guardian

31st August 1996

Liam Gallagher wants
to smash his brother's head in with a guitar

When Liam Gallagher stormed out of the passenger lounge at Heathrow 15 minutes before his flight to America he was doing what all brothers do - fight. And he was doing it in the way that families do - in the most public place, causing the most embarrassment and inconvenience to his nearest and dearest. Family fights usually erupt at wedding, christenings and funerals.

Liam hadn't hidden his feelings towards brother Noel. He's reported as saying of his brother and guitars, "I ***ing hate that tw*t there, I ***ing hate him. And one day I hope I can smash **** out of him with a ****ing Rickenbacker right on his head."

Liam is 23 and Noel? . In fifteen years time will they be giving interviews and talking about past misunderstandings but now they're older and wiser and the best of friends? Or will the hatred deepen and the rift widen?

Liam and Noel will find that if they don't patch up their differences and at least appear to get along they'll be criticised by those people who believe that families should stick together. The media praise a family when they call it "close", and make no mention of the fact that in a close family the knives go in deep, much more deeply than in those families where self sufficiency is the rule.

I've always thought that the old adage "Blood is thicker than water" is stupid. Certainly there's a never ending responsibility for those people we choose to create, our children, but parents and siblings we acquire by chance. If these people cause us pain and problems which, through our best efforts we cannot ameliorate, why stay around?

Reason might dictate this, but the messages we carry from childhood are deep inside us and very strong. You can put space between you and your sibs, but, wherever you go, they go too.

This mightn't apply if your sibs were adult when you were a child or for some reason were not physically present. However, if you grew up with your sibs you have many memories which aren't in words but in touch, taste, sound and smell, memories of being little in a world of giants. All your memories, whether describable or indescribable, have implications which are neither good nor bad but both. That's the problems of sibs. You love them and you hate them.

If you're the first born you begin life as an only child. People speak of lonely onlies, but the great advantage is, as my son, an only, said, "You don't have to share." When you're an only all that you're given is yours, and you can feel secure. When your sib is born, that security is gone. The rivalry between the sister Olivia de Haviland and Joan Fontaine started the moment Joan was born. Olivia's father wasn't interested in her so for 18 months she enjoyed the undivided attention of her mother. Then Joan arrived. According to their biographer, Charles Higham, this was when Olivia developed her technique, later used to great advantage in films, of creating heroic crying fits which got her all the attention of the adults around her.

The snapshots of A.S. Byatt in the first two years of her life are of a smiling, cheerful child. Then her sister, Margaret Drabble, arrived and little Antonia did not smile again. She recognised the rivalry she had with her sister and in later life said that she had seen such rivalry in every family she knew.

I've watched my friends, wise in the ways of children, trying to deal with this situation as it arose for their children and seen that, no matter how wise, careful and prepared the parents are, they cannot protect the older child from the shock of discovering that they are no longer the centre of their parents' attention and that life does not stay the same.

We're all born wanting everything. In the womb we get everything, so why shouldn't this continue? Learning that life doesn't give us everything and doesn't owe us anything is a lesson many people refuse to learn. They make their life a misery, but they prefer that to giving up the illusion that they can have everything.

Small children are nowhere near coming to terms with the fact that they can't have everything they want, and so they greet the arrival of another baby with rage and jealousy. This rage and jealousy can extend to things which the child knows intellectually, but not emotionally, could never possibly be his. One five year old boy I know told his mother how angry he was because his baby sister would one day have breasts like their mother and he never would. I do hope he has now abandoned this idea, otherwise he might one day be a rich and famous pop singer and be able to afford to have breasts grafted on. Michael Jackson has expended much money, effort and pain in getting to look like his sisters. One of them, LaToya, is angry that he "stole her face", yet, even though she has publicly criticised him, she hasn't tried to change her appearance so that she doesn't look like him. He still has something which she wants.

This rage and jealousy can last a life time and be provoked by the most extraordinary things. I was born on my sister's sixth birthday which, I can say with great feeling, was not a good career move for me. My sister has never forgiven me, and there is nothing I have ever possessed or chanced upon about which she cannot be jealous. A few years ago she was staying with me and discovered that my post arrived at 7.30 in the morning. "I have to wait till the afternoon for mine!" she cried in that familiar tone of "It's not fair!", and I had the equally familiar feeling of anxiety and helplessness. As ever she expected me to make amends. What could I do? Tell the postman not to call?

Having to share whatever is on offer, sibs learn to compete. Many people describe this competition as extremely helpful to them. They say it made them stronger, pushed them in directions which proved to be successful. In saying this they tend to overlook just how painful the competition was at the time. In competing for a space of your own, or for the parents' attention and goods, children can be vicious with one another.

The fights, the pain, the suffering can be over small things and sound petty in the telling. But these small things can represent what matters most to all of us. All of us, every moment of our lives, are engaged in defending our sense of identity. If we don't do this other people will trample over us and, perhaps not physically killing us, annihilate our sense of being a person. As small children our sense of being a person is constantly under threat because we know so little of the world, we make so many mistakes, and other, older people can bamboozle us and us their power over us to humiliate and hurt us. Having your big brother steal and destroy the little shells you were treasuring can be more devastating than having your opera bomb or the critics slate your acting. Sibs are very good at knowing just what matters to you most. Olivia de Haviland as a child tried to ignore her sister's existence, something Joan resented very much. "To Olivia's fury, Joan would lash back by exercising a junior sister's prerogative in imitating her elder sibling: a wispy shadow, she would trail behind her, mimicking her."

Children, thus attacked, fight back. When the adults ban physical fighting the children fight in other ways, competing wherever competition is possible. The only way to avoid such competition is to withdraw from that particular activity. Thus many sibs grow up with greatly different abilities and interests. The three Attenborough brothers avoided a great deal of competition by becoming interested in different things. David took to biology, geology and climbing, Richard to acting, and John, the youngest, to aeroplanes. When during the war David had gone into the Navy and Richard into the RAF John felt that, despite his interest in flying, only the Army had been left for him.

Competing can become an ingrained habit which persists even when the need is well outgrown. When Lyn Barber interviewed John Selwyn Gummer, Minister for the Environment, and his younger brother Peter, now a Lord and Chairman of the Opera House, she noticed how John did most of the talking, often butted in when she was asking Peter questions, and, no matter what anecdote Peter told, John capped it with one of his own. John apparently still feels the need to keep his young brother in his place.

Many first borns feel that the compensation for losing the heaven of being the only child is that they have life long domination over their younger sibs. No doubt this is one of the causes of Liam's anger with his brother. Yet, by storming out as he did, Liam showed himself to be one of those younger sibs who might rage against the older sib's domination, but, at the same time, wants the older sib to carry the responsibility that he himself is not prepared to shoulder. Liam has left Noel with the responsibility of making the Oasis tour a success.

Even when the younger sib is prepared to give up the protection of the older sib relationships will still have their strains when they both enter the same field and, in the nature of the game, have to compete. The older sib can have a head start, but what happens when the younger starts to catch up?

Biographies of successful sibs usually show an ambitious parent who pushed the children and, in many cases, used the rivalry between the children as a way of spurring them to greater effort. This was certainly the case for the Drabble girls. Mrs Drabble planned that they should go to Cambridge and so they did. Antonia was a hard act to follow, getting a scholarship to Cambridge and then a First. Margaret got a scholarship too, but then a starred First. Margaret was first to write a novel and her novels have outshone Antonia's until fairly recently when the weight and depth of Antonia's work has been properly appreciated.

For some sibs the only connection between them is their competition, but for others there is a more complex closeness. Interviewers of Julian and Andrew Lloyd-Webber come up with different theories about the degree of jealousy Julian feels towards Andrew and about the degree of help Andrew has given Julian, but one thing comes through clearly, the feeling of loss Julian experienced when at school they went their separate ways. They both attended Westminster Prep where Andrew was known as Lloyd-Webber One and Julian Lloyd-Webber Two, something certain to keep the younger boy in his place. Yet when Andrew went to board at Westminster Great School on a scholarship and Julian, not so academically inclined, did not go on to join him Julian felt deserted. Thirty five years later he could say, "I was ten and I missed him terribly."

Getting the right balance between independence and closeness is a dilemma we each have to deal with every day. Independence can be lonely, but dependence can inhibit and stunt. L.P.Hartley in his novel Eustace and Hilda showed how a younger brother can become so dependent on his older sister that he cannot operate without her. Such dependence usually grows out of necessity but can continue after the need has gone.

The tragedy of a closeness that becomes a symbiosis is seen in the lives of Richard and Karen Carpenter. They too had pushy, perfectionist parents, but Karen looked for her support and guidance to Richard to such an extent that she could not conceive of living without him. After her death Richard described her as being "unnaturally possessive" of him, but actually he maintained the conditions whereby she could be possessive of him. He believed that "Karen and I were put here to make music." If being with your sister is God's purpose for your life, how can you insist that you both be independent?

Notions about God's purposes usually derive from parents, but it is hard to disentangle the effects parents have on children from the effects children have on one another. Parents often claim that they have brought up each child in the same way, but this is never the case. Parents often impose a different role on each child. This is the pretty one. This is the brainy one. That one's artistic. Once a role is imposed it's hard to shake it off. Our nearest and dearest don't like us to change because that means they have to change in the way they see us. Parents take their feelings out differently on each child. Murry Wilson, father of the Beach Boys Brian, Dennis and Carl, "beat the hell out" of Brian, and Dennis even more, but Carl hardly at all.

How do sibs over the years manage to put aside their differences and become friends? By talking. Antonia Byatt has described how she and her sister Margaret spend time together talking about the past, about their lives and the lives of their parents and grandparents. They see and accept that each has her own version of their shared history and how, as the years pass, their versions of their history develop and change. There must have been many occasions when each of them, knowing that the other would accept it, said, "Sorry." I envy them this. My sister is one of those rare people, someone who has never, in her whole life, done anything which warrants this word "sorry", and if I try to say that she has hurt me she flies into a rage. I find this sad. It must be nice to have a sibling who is also a best friend.

Perhaps Liam and Noel will ponder these two possible outcomes and take Bob Hoskins advice, "It's good to talk."