On The Record: Radiohead As A Metaphor For My Withering Youth
It is October 1995. Altamonte Springs, Florida. I am making a left turn from state Route 436 onto Interstate 4. In the CD player of my brown Oldsmobile is Radiohead’s The Bends. “My Iron Lung” is playing. Suddenly — before I almost T-bone some dude merging in front of me — I have a thought: “This record would sound great in a room with black-light posters!”
It is July 1997. Orlando, Florida. I am lying on the shag-carpeted floor of my friend Mark’s apartment. The lights are off and candles are lit. About an hour ago, we bought OK Computer at a Blockbuster Music midnight sale. About 30 minutes ago the air got all foggy and is now about to be punctured by Jonny Greenwood’s opening guitar stabs on “Airbag.” Over the next 72-odd minutes, I have a series of thoughts, including “The ceiling in here is amazing” and “I’m hungry.” Also: “This is the best album I’ve ever heard.”
Over the next three years, I am obsessed with Radiohead. I buy “7 Television Commercials,” “Meeting People Is Easy” and several “Fitter Happier” posters for my college apartment. I snap up both the Airbag/How Am I Driving? and No Surprises/Running From Demons EPs, despite the fact that they have essentially the same track listing. (I even call the infamous “011-44-1426-148550″ number on the front of Airbag and leave Thom Yorke several incoherent, rambling voice messages.) I play the sh– out of Zero 7’s “Climbing Up the Walls” remix and spend hours weaving my way through the terrifying cavern of whitespace that was Radiohead’s Web site, printing out Yorke’s scribblings (“If you don’t ask me out to dinner, I don’t eat,” “What a clean city/ I’m kinda sleep ee/ Call an ambulance/ I feel icky”) and sticking them on my walls.
Finally, in 2000, things start happening. There are rumors of a new album … of nine-minute songs and Yorke pulling lyrics out of a hat. Then there are song titles — “Treefingers,” “The National Anthem” — to search out on Kazaa and then wait 24 minutes while they download (they are totally not the correct songs either), and iBlips of smoldering mountains to watch. There are demonic bear heads and paintings of glaciers and even more bizarro babbling from Yorke. I am terrified with excitement.
It is October 2, 2000. Los Angeles, California. I am sitting on my friend’s couch. The radio is tuned to KROQ, which is about three minutes away from playing Kid A in its entirety. Every morning for the past three months, I have driven past the Capitol Records building and felt a white-hot mix of envy and rage fill up my gut. “They have Kid A in there,” I think. “They are the luckiest people on earth.”
Then, at precisely midnight, KROQ goes silent. There is the radio-guy voice: “And now … (And now! And now!) … Kid A.” Then there are the pulsing opening chords of “Everything in Its Right Place” — and we’re off. I am covered in goosebumps. No one speaks for the next 50 minutes, the silence of minds completely splattered over the living-room walls.
It is entirely possible that I will never be as excited for an album as I was at that exact moment. When Capitol reps brought Hail to the Thief to the offices of Spin magazine (where I worked in 2003), I remember listening through the closed door of the editor in chief’s office. There were no goosebumps or bong-addled declarations. It was just like any other record being toured around by promotion reps: a big deal, certainly — but, well, nothing that I could claim as my own.
This is the peril of working as a music journalist. You lose that sense of excitement. You are sent albums three months before they hit stores, you listen to them on your computer at work ad nauseam, and by the time they’re released, you’re done with them. You might hear things first, but you no longer get to hear them best.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I am 29. Married. I like Wilco and Okkervil River records now, which makes me sort of an old man. Albums don’t excite me anymore, because I am jaded. I’ve always heard something better … something that reminds me of something else. Nothing is new anymore. This is all sort of a bummer.
But then … it is September 30, 2007. Brooklyn, New York. I am on the phone with a friend who tells me to check Radiohead.com. They have finished their new album — and it’s coming out in 10 days! I hang up the phone and have the following conversation with my wife:
We bounce around our apartment for about an hour. Order the deluxe Discbox version of In Rainbows. It costs us about $81, which strangely doesn’t seem all that bad. The following day at MTV, people are genuinely buzzing about the band’s decision to release the album on their own — and to allow fans to name their price for the download . There is a palpable thrill in springing the news on people (“Dude, you haven’t heard?!?”) and I cannot tell you how much time I’ve spent over the past few days talking about just what the album will sound like.
And the thing is, everyone is like this, because no one has heard the record. Blogs have taken to collecting live clips of songs on Rainbows because the thing hasn’t leaked yet — and actually might not before it’s available for download on October 10. It’s a pretty amazing time. A bunch of unflappable pros suddenly becoming, well, flappable superfans.
It’s testament enough to Radiohead that they’ve chosen to turn the industry on its ear by releasing In Rainbows on their own. It’s a ballsy gamble that might just change the way established bands do business from here on out. But perhaps an even bigger compliment is that with one move, they’ve managed to make me — and the majority of music journalists I know — excited again.
I’m fairly sure I won’t celebrate the release of Rainbows the way I used to welcome every new Radiohead album (there will be no black lights involved this time around), but I guarantee you that on October 10, my wife and I are gonna download it, geek out and then just listen.
It’s something that doesn’t happen often enough to me these days, which is a shame. I miss experiencing something like a real fan, at the exact same time other fans are experiencing it. Maybe people will invite their friends over, download it together, experience it all at once. And when was the last time you could say that about an album? Is In Rainbows gonna be any good? Probably. But that’s not important. The beauty of it all is that we’re all gonna get to find out together. Everything in its right place.
B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week.
That sickening thud you hear is me smashing my face into my keyboard. Repeatedly. Until blood comes out (see “Britney Spears, Bad Parent? Perez Hilton, ’Leave Britney Alone!’ Guy Weigh In” ).
It’s only a matter of time before actor/singer/loverman Jamie Foxx offers Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a sensual backrub (see “Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon Films Tackle America’s Bad Reputation” ).
Saigon’s oft-delayed album finally get’s release date: The sixth Tuesday of never (see “Saigon Finally Gets A Release Date To Tell His Greatest Story“ ).
Questions? Concerns? Foggy Radiohead memories? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.