Of course I loved her.
I was 23 and she was a little older. She was the very definition of cool. She was intelligent, passionate, knowledgable, articulate, talented…and she had a good haircut. I hadn’t ever felt this way before. Not really. I mean, sure, there was the Emma Clark thing but that wasn’t love, that was just infatuation.
Louise was different.
It all started when she said “We should both go to bed ’til we make each other sore.” I didnt know what to think, or where to look. All I did know was that even though I wasn’t exactly an experienced love maker and I didnt really know what exactly one could do under the covers to make each other sore…I wanted to find out.
The course of true love never runs smooth of course. There are always little obstacles to be overcome, hurdles to leap, before things reach that nirvana state of boyfriend/girlfriend. Just look at the ITV documentary “Love Island”… totally normal people in a totally normal situation but true love is always just out of their reach. In our case it wasn’t anything trivial like different tastes in music that had to be overcome, no; it was something much more serious.
You see, Louise was the singer and lyricist for one of the best bands in the country and I was, to put it mildly, a nobody. Additionally we hadn’t ever met. Oh, it’s also reasonable to assume that given the fact I was a bit dim, a bit unattractive and a lot of an idiot that even if we did meet true love was unlikely.
What you don’t understand is quite how “other” Louise Wener was in 1993. This isn’t the tired and trite cliché of boy with a crush on a pretty girl in a pop group. It really isn’t. Louise Wener was like a tsunami hitting the world of rock, pop and indie at that point. A genuine force. Blasting things like sexism, industry expectations and labels out of her path with wit, verve, guts, guile and style that made her a bona fide icon to thousands of young women and men across the country.
When she spoke we listened. Forget the dull whimper of Spice Girls “girl power” which amounted to calling yourself “baby” and simpering in a saucy outfit on Top of the Pops, here was someone with things to say about things that mattered and who said them loudly and unapologetically. What wasn’t to love?
Sleeper were the vehicle that Wener used to drive herself right into the heart of the pop culture of 1990’s Britain. From the slightly grungey blast of “Alice in Vain” with its tale of self harm and sisters not doin’ it for themselves (“Girls don’t hurt each other, hey, don’t kid yourself”) through to any of the 8 top 40 singles that followed Sleeper did things and said things that the mucho macho lad culture of Loaded favourites like Oasis didn’t and, frankly, couldn’t. That was because of Louise. Where Blur and Oasis eventually put music and lyrics behind coke and fame Wener never stopped caring about the music because, and this is the heart of the matter; she was just as big a fan of pop music as her audience were. She was one of us…the kind of kid who had obsessed about the bands she loved, who never missed Top of the Pops, who sang into a hairbrush in front of the mirror and who had practiced what she would say in interviews over and over again in her head.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the fact that Louise Wener is beautiful. I know, I know, I’m objectifying her, who decides what beauty is, why does it matter, I’m a sexist pig. That, frankly, is nonsense. When Sleeper burst onto the music scene I was a young man, a young straight man who had a bit of a thing for what could be described as “indie girls”. Louise Wener was, regardless of the politics of it, a “pin-up”. That wasn’t what propelled them to 3 top ten albums and the aforementioned 8 top ten singles. That was purely down to the music…man.
“Swallow” and “Delicious” followed the “Alice” EP in 1994. I remember being thrilled by one of the b-sides to “Delicious”; “Lady Love Your Countryside” (a playful nod to the Germaine Greer essay “Lady Love Your Cunt” which was also remembered by S*M*A*S*H in their single of the same name) with its desire to see someone “…boxing naked to the death”. It was a strange little song, playful, naughty and erotic but I couldn’t tell you why. At this point Sleeper were just another female fronted band (ahem) and I don’t think anyone really saw what came next coming.
A run of 8 consecutive top 40 singles elevated Sleeper into the Britpop A-list. They were everywhere. On the radio. On the television. On the covers of magazines. Headlining tours. They were, to put it mildly, a big deal. The first of those hits was “Inbetweener” which was full of small town misery and unfulfilled dreams. A young girl “…shopping for kicks…smiles at the waiter”, she goes to the Dream Boys and vows to leave “him” on Monday. This was funny, real, poignant songwriting all driven along by a genuinely catchy tune. It may not have had the existential angst of Ian Curtis or the desolate desperation of Morrissey but the truth of the matter is that Wener had done something neither of those two sacred cows couldn’t better…and you could dance to it.
The album that followed was “The It Girl” which could reasonably lay claim to being a better and more successful album than the likes of “Be Here Now” which is still pored over and written about by music critics despite the fact that, I’m afraid to say because I do like them, it’s a dreadful, cocaine soaked, self-centred, awful piece of shit. “The It Girl” had more catchy tunes than a catchy tune festival, better lyrics than Damon Albarn could muster for “The Great Escape” and was possessed of a genuine sense of joy. Just listen to “Statuesque” and tell me that this isn’t what pop music should be.
“Pleased to Meet You” was the final album from Sleeper before they disappeared. It contained the glorious “She’s a Good Girl” and “Romeo Me” as singles and then they were gone. 4 years of recording, touring, mouthing off, inspiring, irritating (the right people) and being brilliant and then…nothing. Louise forged a hugely successful career as a novelist and wrote a memoir “Different for Girls; My True Life Adventures in Pop”. Two successful careers in two very difficult creative fields/industries and all achieved without ever being anything other than herself.
I wish I’d understood all of this backstage at the Blur show at the Queens Hall all those years ago when I was within touching distance of Louise. I would have told her how brilliant I thought she was, how thankful I was for her songs, how much I wished I could be more like her…but I didn’t, instead I just lurked in the background feeling nervous and awkward. Idiot. Well, maybe one day she will read this and know. I’ve got a daughter now and the biggest compliment I can pay Louise Wener is to say that I hope she turns out to be just as confident, just as determined and just as brilliant in her own way as her.