…friday, I’m in love #02 – radiohead

Friday, I’m in Love aims to tell the stories of how I came to find some of my favourite music. Usually – more often than not – they come on a Friday. Some of these bands have been with me forever, others are very, very new to me, my iPod and my world. Whether they’ll stick around, I couldn’t tell you, but for now they seem to make some kind of sense.

For part two, we’re going to jump to somewhere around the middle. Hope you enjoy.

The who: Radiohead
The what:
Specifically, The Bends & O.K. Computer
Sounds like:
Radiohead. No other words have been invented yet, or if they have, I don’t know them.
The when:
First in ’95, then the follow-up in ’97, and everything ever since.

The how: My first Radiohead memory was probably much the same as everyone elses’ – or, is at least likely to have featured the same song. “Creep” was released as a single in late 1992, which means it probably filtered its way down to my end of the world sometime around mid to late 1993. I would’ve been in grade nine at the time, and to be honest, it didn’t leave a very big impact. I remember liking the loud bits, but the rest just seemed kind of dull. I actually preferred the single, “Anyone Can Play Guitar”, but I never went out of my way to pick up Pablo Honey.

My main memory of the song goes something like – A friday or saturday night. Suburbia. A small gathering you could barely call a party over at a friend’s house. “Creep” somehow finds its way into the cassette player. My friend -we shall call him D – looks visibly upset. He sits alone in an overly large shed that was never used for anything more than hanging out in [1]. His girlfriend having recently broken up with him, calling him – amongst other things – a creep. It all seemed a little bit too grown-up to for my liking, and I remember the night ended up being a bit of a downer. The same girl wound up being girlfriend to most of the guys in our group – including, previous to this, myself – and eventually I believe she and D got back together, before breaking up again shortly after. I don’t have a song for that break-up though.

Anyway, for a good long while, that was Radiohead for me – the band who wrote that song with the same name as what D’s ex-girlfriend called him.

Skip ahead to sometime around 1995. I’m sitting in the lounge-room, flicking through recently recorded episodes of Rage while tinkering on my family’s Mac Plus. Faith No More’s “Digging a Grave” begins. Again. I may have listened to it perhaps more than several times that day. Knowing this, I also know that the next clip up is by that Radiohead band, which I’m not all that into. So by the time the first few notes of “My Iron Lung” start, I’m usually not that far away from the rewind button. Except, on this particular play through, I’m not. I leave the room, and when I come back Faith No More have finished, and that Radiohead band are on. It seems this song has a loud bit in the middle too, except this loud bit is far more interesting than their last song with a loud bit- even though Thom admits that this song is in fact, “just like the last one.” And while he seems to agree with my assessment of the last, in that was “a total waste of time,” I don’t share his outlook here.  I rewind, start from the top, and take the rest in.

It plays out, and I’m enthralled. All of a sudden, “Digging the Grave” seems almost pedestrian.

And with that, Radiohead were on my radar. A weekend not long after this, I find myself on a trip up to Perth, armed with a Brashes voucher my parents won at a quiz night, scouring the shelves for this Radiohead band. I pick up “The Bends” for myself, and Björk’s “Post” for my sister [2] with the remaining credit.

Time passes. “The Bends” cements itself as one of my favourite albums of the time. I don’t ever feel the need to go back and try “Pablo Honey”, as from all accounts “The Bends” is where it’s at, and quite a departure from their earlier work.

Which, now that I think about it, seems to be the watch-word when it comes to Radiohead.

1997 was my first year of univeristy, as well as being away from home. It was also the year “OK Computer” was released upon the world, and if you were to believe the hype, Radiohead were about to become the future of music.  Triple J had “Paranoid Android” playing in fifteen minute rotations – a pretty amazing feet for a six-or-so minute song. Media outlets who had never even talked about music before we reporting of Radiohead’s imenent world domination. It was all very gigantic. As if you could feel history being written all around you.

And, I just didn’t get it. “OK Computer” sounded good, but was it really all that amazing? Sure, “Paranoid Android” was interesting enough, but the album as a whole didn’t seem all that engaging. A feeling that only myself and my girlfriend seemed to share at the time.

But sometimes it takes more than just hearing a song or an album for it to make sense. Sometimes a sound doesn’t click into place until it has something else to link to. Perhaps a visual queue. Or an event. Or an experience. For us, it was a party. Not an amazing party by any means. One of those nights made up of a series of events that just didn’t seem to make any sense. To try and capture the entire experience would be a futile endeavor. My best attempt at explaining the experience would go something like – imagine if Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused was directed by David Lynch, and all set in the confines of a single house party.

Specifics are hazy, but there was something about that night that just felt unreal. Nothing about it made any sense, and yet, everything seemed to fit. People came and left – some we knew, others complete strangers. People we’d not seen since leaving school. People from uni. Overseas students. Random locals. Drunken stumbling and fumbling and a strange feeling in the air that something – anything – could, and possibly would, happen. And in the middle of it all, someone decided to put on “OK Computer”, and as the opening notes of “Airbag” roared to life and filled the air, it all clicked into place.

At that point “OK Computer” had me.

It’s the epilogue to the tale that still seems the strangest part though. A day or so later, while staying over at my girlfriend’s place, I went outside to check the mail and found, crammed in the brick letterbox, “OK Computer”. The CD case smashed to bits – shards of plastic scattered over the pavement below – and the liner notes missing, but the CD in one piece, albeit it with a few scratches. At a loss as to where it had come from, we called a friend [3] to see if he knew anything about it. He didn’t, commenting “If I had it, I would’ve kept it.”

We put it on, and it was as if the events of that night had translated what the band were trying to say into something we could finally understand. And now, as if to drive the point home, it had been delivered directly to us. Following on from the David Lynch reference, I can’t help but imagine Bill Pullman pulling up to the house in the early hours of the morning, cramming the CD in the letterbox, whispering “Johnny Greenwood is dead”, before speeding off in a fast car.

I’ve ridden the Radiohead-Rollarcoaster ever since this, and I imagine I’ll continue doing it well into the future. Every new album they throw me for a loop, and every time I come away from my first or second listen thinking it’s over between us. That I’ll never love  another Radiohead album like I did the last. And yet, every time, without fail, I find myself coming back. At first, simply out of curiosity. Then, eventually, because I need to. The sequence of events go something like this:

Kid APlayed in full on Triple J one lazy Sunday afternoon, a week or so before release. Richard Kingsmill adds his own commentary between tracks. I’m sitting on the floor of a different lounge room, fingers hovering over play-record on my tape deck, waiting patiently for it to start. Just over forty minutes later, it reaches the end, and I go back to the start. I’m confused. It doesn’t make sense. What have they done? Why does it sound so… different? Where did the guitars go? Another play through, a few key moments start to seep in. Slowly. Another, and I’m trying to obtain the tracks I like from Napster over dial-up – starting with “Idioteque” and working out from there. Some time (and frustration) later,  I seem to have aquired the whole thing. And it’s great. The actual, physical CD coming to me for my next birthday.

AmnesiacPurchased from K-Mart Booragoon on a 15% off everything day. And what did I find? “Kid A” cast-offs. Why is “Morning Bell” on here again? What is this? Some kind of Use Your Illusion type cash in? Is “Morning Bell” the new “Don’t Cry”? But “Pyramid Song” is hauntingly beautiful. “You and Whose Army?” sounds like an “OK Computer” protaganist crawling out from under the wreckage of its doomed world view, ready to take hold and fight back.  “Dollars and Cents” creeps up on you in the dark and takes over. Each track, on its own and in its own way comes out and finds me. Not long after, “Amnesiac” finds its way onto a playlist entitled kid Amesiac. “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” playing back to back, on a loop. “Life in a Glass House” blending wonderfully back into “Everything in It’s Right Place”.

Hail to the TheifInitially purchased based on the ‘limited edition’ packaging, that – frustratingly – doesn’t fit in any standard CD rack. To add to this, new fangled DRM means iTunes won’t rip it to my Mac easily. Why must they make it so hard? Why?! But, back were the guitars – sort of – and the urgancy of tracks like “Myxomatosis” and “2+2=5” come to remind me that Radiohead are still, first and foremost, a rock band.

In Rainbows – They asked the audience to name their price. I called it somewhere around the regular cost of an album from iTunes, and a facebook status update from around forty-three minutes after the download is complete suggests I considered this too much. The only song to reach out and grab me being “Videotape”, which is the album closer. A few weeks later I read somewhere that “In Rainbows” works better backwards, and while I’m not convinced this was what the band ever intended, I find out pretty quickly it’s right. Some time after this, for reasons I don’t fully understand, “Videotape” finds me in – of all places – Cape Town. Taking hold and becoming the soundtrack to my final days there. And the rest of “In Rainbows” has hung around ever since.

The why: I’ve learned from this entry that writing about Radiohead is not an easy task. As I dove into this – all typing and very little planning – I started to realise how difficult an assignment I’d set myself for only my second FiiL. For some reason, I was reminded of Monty Python’s All-England Summarise Proust Competition” sketch, in which contestants have to sumarise Proust’s fifteen part À la recherche du temps perdu in fifteen seconds. It should be noted, I haven’t ever read Proust. Nor do I really have much idea of what the sketch is on about. I think I first saw it when I was ten or eleven, but it’s obviously stuck with me. And to this day, on occaision, you might find me walking around my house humming “Proust in his first book wrote, wrote about, Proust in his first book wrote about Swann”.

Which is to say – in less words – that trying to explain why I like Radiohead is much like trying to summarise Proust in fifteen seconds. While it may be possible, the longer story – or perhaps, just the attempt – is far more interesting. Or at the very least, hopefully more entertaining.

While I couldn’t say that I listen to Radiohead absolutely every day, they’re always there, sitting and waiting for that mood to take hold. And when it does strike, and the need to listen to “The Bends” or “Kid A” comes, there isn’t much else that can quench the thirst besides a Radiohead bender. They can come on at a moment’s notice, and they have a habit of lasting for days. Sometimes even weeks.

While I hate talking in generalities, most people who have some sort of opinion on moderm music have probably already made up their mind about Radiohead. And from my experience, it’s not even a simple case of people either loving or hating them. There seems to be a surprising amount of indifference towards Radiohead these days – people preferring to discount them as either another band that got too big for their own good, or perhaps a band too wrapped up in the idea of themselves than putting out anything enjoyable or accessible. It’s well documented that the band never really became comfortable with the attention “OK Computer” brought them, and after watching the tour documentary “Meeting People is Easy” it’s not hard to see why they might’ve felt the need to go away and start again. It’s only now that I sit down and compile my own Radiohead history that I’m reminded of how much frustration the band have caused me. How many times that they’ve almost lost me because of their need to try something new. I’ve always been of the opinion that, if I’m to like something, it shouldn’t require effort on my part. Surely I shouldn’t have to try to like something – if it’s for me, then I’ll like it. If not, I shall move on to the next thing. And I don’t think this history does anything to change that opinion. Whether “OK Computer” or “Kid A” or “In Rainbows” grabbed me or not on the first run through isn’t really important. The genius of Radiohead – to me – is that they didn’t grab me. They didn’t knock me back like a song you love should. But there was something in there that drew me back – that keeps drawing me back. Every time.

——-

Disclaimer: I feel I should point out at this stage that, my decision to write about Radiohead for this fortnight’s FiiL had or has nothing to do with the recent re-issues of “Pablo Honey”, “The Bends” and “OK Computer”. In fact, in all honesty I forgot they were coming out until a day or so ago when I saw them in JB- and this has taken me far longer than that to compile. It’s pretty clear that the Radiohead re-issues are driven by their old label’s want to keep making money off the band, which is … we’ll it’s business really. In any case, if you’re interested – or perhaps if you lost your copy of “OK Computer” in a strange, late night letterbox incident, you’ll be able to find the re-issues in most good (and probably many of the bad) CD stores near you.

And I don’t even get any commission for saying that.

—–

[1] Australian Music Trivia: the same shed was the home to the majority of a drum kit that once belonged to Australian band Indecent Obsession, which my friend Rowan had won from a competition on Saturday Disney. The kit never fully arrived – pieces had trickled in over time, some damaged in transit, and despite calls and letters to the powers that be, was never complete.

[2] Which was selected based on her love for Björk’s first album. Though, I never would’ve picked it if I’d had chance to hear “It’s So Quiet” first, or been given prior warning to the frequency and volume she would play it over the coming months. I love Björk, but I’ve never, ever ever, been able to listen to that song all the way through. The opening notes usually enough to send me running.

[3] Same friend was at the time – in one of those strange co-incidences that suggest your world never really gets much bigger than the people you went to school with -living with the girl who’d once called D a creep. And they were together for some time. I don’t have a song for when they broke up.

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Author: Mark Ampersand

Budding writer, connoisseur of fine popular culture and Batman fan.

3 thoughts on “…friday, I’m in love #02 – radiohead”

  1. I only recently really got into radiohead. Prior to now I’ve suffered from an overdeveloped “not wanting to do what everyone else is doing” malaise. They came in near the end of the grunge “era” and I had spent the past few years not liking it simply because everybody did. Then I kinda spotted them later and though they had changed in wonderful and interesting ways, everybody was loving them and listening to em (and I was addicted to Bjork[1]) so again I avoided any investment of affection or mild obsession.
    I always knew their music and would enjoy listening if they came on at a party or the radio/rage but never came close to really really listening to like I would with other bands I attempted to absorb (this normally involved playing an album on repeat while alone and reading/trolling NGs/forums and generally doing nothing).
    I’ve finally come to the realisation that I was being a dick and really started listening, I’m still in the process of being overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the task ahead and stupidly thought that a ‘Best Of’ would be the way to go. I think I need to back and listen to each album over and over to allow the obsessive part of my brain to really latch on.

    Talk about rambling, sorry.

    [1] Post being my only exception, I am a more than slightly obsessive fan but that album has never grabbed me the way the others have with the exception of Hyper-ballad, Isobel and I Miss You and of the last two the album versions are my least favorite.

  2. Phew! I know this will make it sound like you and I cannot speak unless we refer to popular culture (hmm, maybe I shouldn’t open up that can of worms at all).

    Reading this actually reminded me of the time you explained to me the attraction of the Pumpkins “1979”. I have a number of friends for whom music is truly the soundtrack of their lives and not just a radio station slogan. You are in the forefront of that group.

    Although I have a number of musical heroes, they all must be able to write a lyric as well as be kickarse musically. Which is why I’ve never rated a band like Oasis. To me they said nothing at all lyrically.

    However, I like your explanation of the music finding you and how complex that process can be. Although I’m all about the pop song and the 3 and half minute statement. Even these apparently simple things can take time sneak up on you.

    Every day that I’m in the car I tune in to 100.1 FM. It’s the Curtin University oldies station. Among their odd collection of 50s-80s pop, the singer songwriters of the 1970s get an excellent run. Wanna here the Jim Croce’s and Jimmy Webbs as well as their contemporaries? – you’ll probably find it there.

    And what I’ve found is similar to your discovery. A song that I might only know tangentially, because I first heard it as a kid on easy-listening radio – can come zooming into significance. Usually for me because the lyrics say something that I now recognise. The melody buried this thing in my psyche (in say, 1979) and then circumstance has lit the fuse all those years later.

    Great piece, Mark. Keep giving us the Big Picture. God and the Devil is in the details.

  3. I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologise for the incessant torture I inflicted upon you by playing “It’s Oh So Quiet” at full blast. I wasn’t aware my actions would have such a lasting affect. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t start listening to Tori until after you moved out.

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