“It was wild initially, ticking off another ambition, another dream, every day, it seemed. Realising things you’d nurtured for years. But I started to lose the ability to take it seriously. I started to feel detached from what we were doing. We’d become very much a pop group and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with that. That big arena tour at the end of ‘94 was disturbing. The noise as we went on stage – kids screaming – was unbelievable. The sound of screaming is pretty frightening plus it ruins the soundcheck. It felt like a freak show. I’d be trying to make them hate us. I think Damon was loving it and getting his needs met. But you see little kids being crushed and it’s not nice. It was freaking me out. We were leaving shows and getting our hair pulled as we tried to board the bus and I’m thinking, ‘This shouldn’t be happening to us. This is someone else’s thing.’ It wasn’t me. It was before the coming of the boy band and I think they were making the best of what was available, the little bastards. Reasonable-looking lads making reasonably poppy music. Even then, I kind of thought, I don’t really wanna do this any more.” - 3862 Days, Graham Coxon
What would you say to your 16-year-old self if you could go back in time? Every week we ask a well-known name to offer their younger self words of wisdom.
At 16 I was fairly innocent. I spent most of my time in my bedroom, practising my guitar, listening to music and drawing. I’d met Damon Albarn a few years before. We would get together at his house, jam around, listen to music. His parents opened the other side of the mystery for me. My family educated me about The Beatles, The Kinks. At Damon’s house there were art books, encyclopaedias, sculptures – I became fascinated by them. I learned about Picasso, African art, primitive art.
If I met the teenage Graham now we’d have a lot in common. He was mute with shyness but I do envy his enthusiasm. I was very uncynical. I’m not particularly cynical now but my enthusiasm can wane. As you go through life, enthusiasm gets knocked out of you. When you become a young adult, it gets quite heavy and it doesn’t let up. It just gets more heavy and complicated.
Damon and I always said if either of us got anywhere in music we’d bring the other one with us. Even when we started to get good, the idea that people were coming to watch us was exciting but I still didn’t think ahead much. But Damon was so driven. He brought us that early success, which I totally embraced. But once we signed a contract I was a bit overwhelmed with all the work, all the touring. That wore thin with me pretty quickly and that’s when I started drinking heavily.
I wish I’d known my own worth. One thing someone once told me was, when you’re at your darkest and you feel there’s no end, you have to tell yourself that it’s temporary – everyone has a right to be happy no matter who they are. It’s easy for me to say now but it’s true. I liked alcohol because I found it made my social inadequacy retreat. I could communicate better, it made my brain smile. I wish I hadn’t been so mardy – I was in my 20s, in one of the biggest bands in Britain. It should be a criminal act for a young guy like me to feel as lonely as I did.
I think it was right that I left Blur when I did. I needed to re-evaluate my life. It was important for me to be on my own for a bit, though I was quite lonely for a few years. It was me and cups of tea and my guitar roaming around Camden writing songs. Then I became a dad and I had to keep the darkness away from my daughter, Pepper. I was light around her. But that itself changes you – she made me calmer.
There were a lot of strong personalities in Blur. The tension, the bloody-mindedness we all had, that made for some great music. I was this seething over-boiling kettle trying to be in Wire, Alex was this snakey, semi-groovy boy wanting to be in Duran Duran. And there has to be a bastard, a fascist, in the group, and that was Damon – we wouldn’t have got where we did without his drive. We played better than ever when we got back together in 2008 and it was a real pleasure. Going forward is a different thing though. As people, we’re a long way apart.