Although Thom Yorke released the song “S.A.D.” as a b-side on the “Judge Jury and Executioner” vinyl in 2013, he finally released the song, along with “What the Eyeballs Did,” “Magic Beanz,” and “Hearing Damage” from the 2009 soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: New Moon, to digital platforms. A huge fan of Thom Yorke, I was excited to know I could find “S.A.D.” on Spotify, choose song radio, and see where it takes me.
Upon listening to “S.A.D.” for the first time in years, I was taken back to 2013, before I started relying on Spotify. I was the Sunday night bartender at Jackie O’s, and a small group of regulars led me to the song because I was playing the Atoms for Peace’s album Amok on YouTube.
“Put it on next,” Patrick said. He was one of a group of four Sunday night Regulars.
Although they also led me to other great songs like “Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses,” “Ego” by Burial, Four Tet, and Thom Yorke, and “Rabbit in Your Headlights (featuring Thom York)” by UNKLE, “S.A.D.” immediately became one of my favorites. Heavy in the repetitive lyric department, Thom Yorke’s hypnotic voice and the circular music pulled me in like a whirlpool.
I went on to play the song a little too often. People at the bar already had a limit to the amount of Radiohead they could take, so when I played “S.A.D.,” they made comments like, “Now I feel like I want to kill myself.”
I accept the fact that the song is sad. The melancholy in Thom Yorke’s voice gives it away to those who cannot understand the lyrics. But it is meant to be sad. “It cuts deep.” “Who else do you kiss?/With those lips.” “I hope to see you soon/see you soon/But somehow I doubt it.” And the ultimate punch-in-the-gut passage, “It’s just the rest/Of the time.” A song about a person who will never realize the relationship they want with another person; it reminds me of “Instant Crush” and “Something About Us” by Daft Punk. However, the haunting Atoms for Peace sound and Thom Yorke’s voice takes a sad song and experience and makes it totally devastating.
Now that I’ve dug myself in a hole—Why would anyone ever want to listen to a song like that?—I will explain its power. “S.A.D.” is a song about great love and longing. The pain that the song’s subject feels is what a romantic like Thom Yorke chases. Bruno Mars is another romantic, and we get songs like “It Will Rain,” “When I Was Your Man,” and “Grenade.” However, his songs jump the sentimental line into cheesy territory, where Thom Yorke’s “S.A.D.” balances it, leaning more toward dark depression. Yes, not very positive, but let me finish explaining.
In my short story, “Desert Island Disk” (based on the Radiohead song of the same name,) I focus on a farmer named Roy. Although he never thought he would move away from the city, he found a way to entice a woman, Teija, to visit him; he grew flowers and vegetables; fruits and mushrooms, and exotic shrubs and plants to create a romantic environment her. The farm, the food, and the sex are amazing, but Tei only visits Roy every couple of weeks. Because desire causes suffering, Roy misses the real beauty of their relationship. He focuses on “the rest of the time,” when they are not together. And when they are, all he thinks about is her leaving. However, the outside world, Roy’s daughter, Gin, and his good friend, Chris, along with the reader and writer, can see the relationship for its sweet perfection.
“S.A.D.” is remarkably similar. It tells the story of a powerful relationship. But the subject focuses on the rules of their relationship and the time they spend apart. The excitement is there, but the focus is misguided.
I thank Thom Yorke for songs like these. They are reminders to experience relationships in the present. I remember the good times we spend together and absorb as much energy and love as possible while I am within the moment, looking forward to the next encounter but not dreading the time in between. Relationships are strange and challenging enough. If we step back and look, sometimes the objective side is as beautiful, if not more, than the subjective side. And although “S.A.D.” lives up to its name, “different types of love are possible,” making it an incredible love story.