I feel ridiculous for writing this, but I’m become completely unable to evaluate Radiohead with any kind of meaningful critical grip. I just can’t do it.
Since I was one of those teenagers surrounded by throngs of suburban white kids touting Dave Matthews Band, Phish or perhaps following those accents into furrier jam band territory, I was desperate to find an alternative. My though was to try to find what I hadadored in classic rock records like The White Album and IVand find a modern application. No matter how good something old sounds, its always different to be a part of a band’s arc, being at its shows, collecting trivia minutiae as it happened, and exchanging bootlegs and phone numbers with other fans. The best bands engender communities.
Radiohead was always this band for me. It could very well be the timing—9th grade, for me, was in 2000 when Radiohead was careening into its creative peak—the place, the people, and in all likelihood, it’s a little of everything. But I just knew that, the second I heard the blast of the opening guitar lines of “Airbag,” I would never be the same, and following that bands own recommendations led me into stuff that was as good, if not much better, than OK Computer. But it all started with the Oxford quintet.
What followed was what I call the “Everything Radiohead” phase, where I was collecting $40 out-of-print import singles, buying tab books on Amazon, even sneaking out during a school lunch to purchase a copy of the band’s less-than-sensational EP Com Lag, which had a lot of the bleep of the more famous Radiohead records without any of the bloop. I was fixated. I’d cycle off Radiohead into something else for a little while, but lord knows I’d be back soon enough, fishing out the usual favorites (“Airbag,” “Life in a Glass House,” “Optimistic”) as well as finding something new to appreciate in a song I had previously ignored. Even if a song was trivial, I gave the band the benefit of the doubt—I was just too stupid to recognize the brilliant truth that particular song presented.
I made friends through Radiohead—I know for a fact, that without Radiohead, I would have never gotten to know my friend David like I have— I learned about upstarts through Radiohead (Animal Collective was heavily endorsed by the AtEaseWeb community since the early decade) torched miles and miles of Midwestern highway tar traveling to the shows that were never in Kansas City to see Radiohead, rudely shut down a conversation with a cute coed at a Lawrence bar so I could go listen to the just-leaked In Rainbows at a friend’s house across campus, once even pulling an all-nighter coming back from St. Louis so I could make a final the next day. Whatever one man can give to a band, I gave to them. I lost myself in it, and I mean that in the best possible way, because I was falling in love with music on a singular, personal level. My tastes were mine, my opinions mine, my misinformed ramblings my own as well.
But now I’m older—25 in April—and I don’t feel that pull anymore to the band, or any band's, work like I did as a teenager. When The King of Limbs came out a day before its initially-announced release date, I didn’t get to the tracks until the early evening even though it’s my job to listen to music all day. When In Rainbows came out, I came home from my friends house after sunlight and listened to the record several times more, eventually collapsing on my laptop in sleep, fully clothed in the room at my house. And though I had somewhat hypothesized The King of Limbs’ inferior quality—it’s decent, too short, very subdued without the bombast you might expect, and where the fuck are the guitars?—that wasn’t the reason I had put off listening. I just had other shit to do and slid past the reverence of the moment, that the always-too-long interval between records had finally elapsed and what I had, at a single keystroke, was the new record by the band that made me fall in love with strangeness in pop art.
It makes me sad. But, perhaps those moments of bliss experienced in youth will show up in more real ways, like when I fall in love with a girl or fall in love with my kids, and I’ll look at my teenage obsession as just some silly rite of youth, something I’ll forever keep underneath the bed but never have the energy to uncover.
While it’d be insane to claim Radiohead made me move to New York, made me be serious about my intention to write about music as a profession, or just the first hint of the sheer joy and catharsis one person can enjoy while experiencing music in a live setting, they, this band of Oxford art-school dudes that will never know me or love me, had a little to do with that.
And for that—not the music, not here, anyway—I’ll be forever thankful.
A Stupid Thing About Radiohead