"On Radiohead"


My wife, Tara, told me to sit down and write a piece for Alt Revue. “Something about Radiohead or Thom Yorke,” she said.

Where do I begin? I thought. I just finished a short story collection based on their album, A Moon Shaped Pool, but that was fiction. Yes, I listened to the album many times, can argue about its greatness and the relevancy of the band, but plain and simple, I do not want to write about it.

What about the Radiohead show I recently went to? It was the first time I was in the pit, and when they played “Daydreaming” and “Desert Island Disk” I saw the light show from a new angle.

It was beautiful, perfect, the reason for my version; a soft, sweet, sad story of a man pining for a love he would never know. I am not afraid to admit I shed a couple of tears. Yes! Write about live Radiohead. But that is not as easy as it sounds. I love the band. I think they are extraordinary and continue to create albums that stretch their limits. However, I am also a Phish fan. Ok, make your jokes and mock me, but please keep reading. Phish is a touring band. Each show is different. They create set-lists based on moods, humor, settings, dates, and the scene; they combine rock, jazz improv, and performance art; and they live for the road. Radiohead is a concept band whose best work comes from the studio.

I felt stuck. What am I going to write?

Digging through memories of recent conversations and reflections, I came across a thought I had while driving to pick up my son, Cirus, from Camp. I was alone in the car, listening to The King of Limbs – Live from the Basement. The windows were rolled up, the volume slightly louder than my family would have approved, and I was enjoying the winding Hocking County roads. The moment was a perfect balance of excitement to see my son, a moment’s relief from worries, and some of my favorite music.

God I love this album, I thought.

“Wait,” you say, “I’m reading an article about The King of Limbs? I’ve already done that, and they all say the same thing, ‘TKOL is one of Radiohead’s worst albums, if not the worst.’”

“The toughest-to-love Radiohead record to date, Limbs is a tightly wound (if frustratingly diffuse) assemblage of looping drumbeats, spectral vocals, and lockstep guitars…and all with nary a decent hook to be found (believe us, we’re still looking). Devout ’head-heads will likely make the case that Limbs is best enjoyed as an atmospheric grower; the rest of us will have to settle for the small pleasures here (like the shuffling psychedelica of “Little By Little” and the jittering rhythms of “Morning Mr Magpie”), and leave the rest of King of Limbs at arm’s length.”

*Raftery, Brian. “Every Radiohead Album, Ranked in Its Right Place.”Wired

Fair enough. I have heard this sentiment since the release of “TKOL.” People don’t love it. I wouldn’t go so far to say people hate it, but I have heard, “There is no feeling. It’s cold and distant like a bad relationship.”

Hold on. Wait. What was that? “It’s cold and distant like a bad relationship?”

Pull up the album and start at the beginning with “Bloom.”

“Open your mouth wide/The universal sigh/And while the oceans bloom/It’s what keeps me alive/’So why does this still hurt’/Don’t blow your mind with whys.”

Imagine if you will, a couple standing outside. It is a summer night. They are on vacation, far from the stress of their lives. One is absorbing the feel of the ocean breeze, the clear sky and more stars than one could ever imagine. Yet the other, quiet for a long time, says, “So why does this still hurt?”

The first person does not answer, trying hard to find peace, that moment th