Take a look at the lineup for the 2010 Coachella Festival , which was revealed Tuesday to much fanfare and some actual praise from the usually venomous Greek chorus that is the blogosphere. And while that in and of itself is probably worth a column (that or the more lunkheaded “Jay-Z WTF?!” angle), the more pressing issue is one of punctuation. And why Thom Yorke is magical.
Check out the official Coachella poster, which is up on the fest’s official site and gets all big-like when you click on it. See there on Sunday, where Thom is listed with a bunch of question marks next to his name? That’s not a typo, according to the folks who do publicity for the fest. It’s specifically how Yorke wanted to be billed — with four question marks following his name. That was not negotiable.
Now, apparently, this is how he was also billed when he played a spate of solo shows last year, either because he never got around to deciding on a name for his backing band (which included Flea and producer Nigel Godrich), or because he simply did not want to. According to his publicist, that’s also the case with Coachella — Yorke will once again play with a band and, once again, they will not have a name. Or, more specifically, they will be called “????”
And this is why Thom Yorke is magical. He has never let something like punctuation stand in his way. Most times, he never even acknowledges its existence, but when he does, it’s usually only to wantonly abuse it. There is no AP Stylebook that can hold him. He is the most lethal thing to happen to copy editors since the release of the Breeders’ Title TK album. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Stodgy commas? Where we’re going, we don’t need stodgy commas.”
Ever since I was a kid in a smoke-filled, tapestry-laden college dorm room, I’ve thrilled to his poorly-punctuated misadventures. He filled the old Radiohead Web site (the creepy white one) with stuff like “not sleeping okay/drinking too much.trapped in hyperspace.?.the girl disappeared, smiling and blowing kisses” and “we go to a restaurant there is meat in the bread there is not enough seats for everyone there is meat in everything jellylikefat pink slices pink/climbing up fire escapes/very poisoned.” I had no idea what it all meant back then (and I still don’t today), but it seemed pretty deep. Thom was on some next-level stuff back then.
He famously cut up all the lyrics to the songs on Kid A, then rearranged them at random, in a nod to Tristan Tzara’s Dadaist poetry. He named a song on Amnesiac “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors,” for reasons clear only to him. He gave all the tunes on Hail to the Thief “alternate titles” (“It Girl. Rag Doll.”) because he felt like it. There was no rational explanation for any of it but he did it anyway, and I loved it all. I still do today.
Because, unlike anything else (except maybe his hair sometimes), these hijinx gave Yorke the air of a very unstable man. I have never met him, and maybe he really is, but in general he seems to be a very nice, if not slightly serious, dude. He has two kids. He is a vegan. He is upset about things like global warming. None of that made him any different than my next-door neighbor (I live in Brooklyn). But when he really got going, alone in some hermetically sealed chamber somewhere, pounding out missives without giving pause to punctuation, he became a mad monk, a jazz musician, a lunatic.
And really, we want our rock stars to be unhinged. We want them to be obsessed with all things post-millennial, about the melding of man and machine, and we want them to write accordingly. We want them to fire away without commas, or with 15 exclamation points if the situation demands it. Missives and lyrics should mirror binary code. This is what we pay good money to see. Sadly, in recent years, Yorke has mellowed out some (though no one can explain why In Rainbows has a song called “Faust ARP” on it) and, to be honest, it has made him slightly less interesting to me. He became little more than the frontman of a really good band. Sort of like Craig Finn.
But now, thanks to four question marks, I’m interested once again. This is probably pretty shallow (and stupid), but I’ve never been one to shy away from declaratory statements when Radiohead are involved. The mad man has returned, and this time, he’s brought his pals “????” along with him. I have no idea who “????” will actually be (though it would be rad if it were Question Mark & the Mysterians), but I am compelled to find out — even if it means plunking down the $269 (plus service fees) for a three-day Coachella pass. That’s the magic of Thom Yorke. He makes the seemingly mundane incredibly interesting. He plays by his own rules. He makes punctuation his bitch. He is insane, and I love him for it.
I hope he never changes. I hope he names Radiohead’s next album w, only he puts a tilde over it for no particular reason. I hope all the lyrics are just one long run-on sentence, with abrupt periods and em-dashes tossed in by a blindfolded Jonny Greenwood. I hope he has another child and calls him “A.nd/y.” All of this is back in play now, all of it is possible, just because one man refused to bend to the rules of punctuation. Crazy Thom is back. The revolution begins again and it does so with four question marks. Why not????
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.