I’ve been reading reviews of Radiohead’s latest tour. The writers are generally (white men) my age who seem caught between nostalgia1, dread, and envy. This paragraph, however, made me think of why I do what I do:

[B]etween songs, the house lights would go up on stage as the band members traded instruments, breaking whatever spell the previous tune had cast. The muted visuals and discrete borders between performances had an intensifying effect on the music itself. We were being asked to consider Radiohead’s work on its own terms, not through the lens of arena spectacle.2

Radiohead, more than any other band, makes me wonder simultaneously at the their songs and the thinking and work behind those songs. Like, how do you take everyday moments and make that art from it? What prompts those translations? What conversations and ideas and processes shape it, hold it together? How do five guys agree to do that thinking and work together for years?3

Turning the lights on and off between songs is exactly the type of gesture that inspires me.4 Recognizing and then understanding the framework that holds a ‘thing’ together and then poking at it interests me, too, and my interpretation is that Radiohead have (has?) been doing that in and around their music since at least OK Computer. Airbag‘s guitar-and-sleigh bells and No Surprises’ guitar-and-glockenspiel and Fitter Happier‘s latent piano sound as crisp and lonely – and lovely – and desperate and self-involved as Christmas break. My preferred iteration is Amnesiac; it’s just ragged in places, so slipperily syncopated in others, yet resigned to living through mundane dread! :) 5

  1. In the summer of 1998, I saw Radiohead thrice in three days (actually, I saw the band twice and Thom Yorke once… maybe). 1. I saw Thom Yorke (I’m pretty sure) taking a cup of something early one morning at the Georgetown Barnes & Noble. He sat on a stool at the café counter. His feet didn’t touch the ground. I was passing on the down escalator and he looked at me! (I think he looked at me. I don’t generally fan, but I fan Radiohead, Toni Morrison, Glenn Ligon, Keanu Reeves, and a certain Museum Director). 2. I saw the band play the Tibetan Freedom Concert the following Sunday. Radiohead was the only reason I was there. I went from my seat in the stadium stands down to the sun-soaked center front lines of the densely peopled field (the day before, a girl was struck by lightening on that field). I waited with the crowd. When the band took the stage, the crowd surge lifted me off my feet, carried me several meters from where I’d been standing, and cured me – in an instant – of all crowds, of mobs: in moments, I navigated the wave of people the way they say to swim when caught in a riptide; if the field was the ocean and the stands behind me were the shore, I cut a radius to the stairs to my right thinking, ‘That’s my favorite band, but they’re not worth getting crushed to death. Nothing is worth getting crushed to death. There’s something wrong if so many people are fixated on that stage – on anything – to the point of harm.’ (That experience, that thought is why I don’t participate in protests.) I took in the rest of the event happily, safely from my shaded seat. 3. Late that night (the night before? after?), dirty with dust and dried sweat, dehydrated, and tired, I saw the band exit a car outside of the 9:30 Club. I wanted to go home. So I did. But not before Thom Yorke looked at me! Again!!! ↩︎
  2. Part of me wonders if this breaking the spectacle isn’t a response – conscious or not – to Damon Albarn’s critique that “bands who care about certain things and then go on one-and-a-half-year stadium tours are just total hypocrites… In one sense you’ve got this developing humanist thing that’s coming out of you, which is great. Then you’re creating these massive impersonal events where you set yourself up as the subject of thousands of people’s adoration. Where is the humanity in that? That’s just idolatry.” The full story at has been removed. ↩︎
  3. The money must help. ↩︎
  4. Right after I read that paragraph, I complied a list of ‘simple-to-the-point-of…/so-simple-it’s…’ that might characterize the intent/result of my work (simple to the point of elegance/so simple it’s banal). ↩︎
  5. And when my mother asked me the other day, I was pleased to tell her that my favorite song is I Might Be Wrong. ↩︎