When a band suddenly leaps into my life, I find it like I'm in a snowstorm. They surround me. Little bits of them and their music softly float around, with a few perfect flakes finding me to settle on. Corny? Maybe. True? Certainly.
After this cliché few weeks of mental abandon, a relationship ensues. It cracks under pressure, you will deny it if it afflicts you and your life, you will love it when you need it most and you will come back to it when you know what you left behind. Music is possibly the only substitute for a love life. And I can quite categorically state that - despite my tragic affair with Nirvana and my fantasies about the old lady next door (The Smiths) - Radiohead are my rock, they are my island.
I'm not writing this to state that point alone. I'm sure I don't need to persuade/tell you about Radiohead's qualities. The fact is though, over these past few weeks I've been falling in love all over again, and I think it's a good example of the way in which a band really becomes a part of your life and seems to live and grow with you. I've certainly gone full circle with Radiohead.
The first spark was a passing glance, already searching for something. I was desperate to find a band for myself. My brother's wouldn't allow me to encroach too much into their tastes of Nirvana, Supergrass and The Doors. I was starting to come of age you might say, and I needed music (amongst other things…) to call mine. I saw Radiohead perform "Creep" on MTV's Beach House. I didn't fall in love at first sight, I was just intrigued. Thom had the brightest bleach blonde hair and big sunglasses and he had this snarling melodrama about him. Jonny on the other hand just had a guitar, and he made it shriek. I then asked my brother about them and he told me how he'd seen them a few times at The Jericho Tavern in Oxford and they would be cool to like. I was interested, but that was about it.
Then, like all the best love affairs, it started without me even knowing. I didn't read any music magazines due to my older brothers and I didn't go to gigs, as I was too young. Music was just what happened to be on the TV or the radio in the kitchen or the car. I remember I was being driven around Oxford, I think my parents were visiting relatives so the journey was a long and boring one. On the radio was Jo Whiley…and she was previewing material from The Bends. I remember Fake Plastic Trees and High And Dry being played. I just remember staring at the roof of the car and the stereo, unsure of what to do or what I was feeling. It brought memories back of a childhood dream of a star opening to reveal heaven, a recurring one that always sent shivers down my spine. Now I was more than interested, but I felt so out of my depth. Everywhere I went The Bends artwork could be seen on t-shirts and in shops everywhere, around Oxford and on the TV. Even around the village, all the posh, intelligent people I knew who took art and were into Red Dwarf were now sporting The Bends t-shirts. I felt like a young boy starring at a couple in the street, safe in the knowledge that this would not be me.
I was already wrapped in them, but something needed to happen. I was watching MTV alone…it was Music Non-stop, and I found myself being lucky enough to catch a Radiohead trilogy (they always played 3 by 1 artist at the end). I was so happy as I was never comfortable watching Radiohead with others, it was like I wouldn't let myself like it for fear of embarrassment. First it was Just, then the soul enlightening Street Spirit then…I didn't recognise the next one. It was a cartoon video that I'd never seen. I'm not sure if I breathed as the opening guitar snaked around me and bit into my neck. I just watched the boy in the video get sucked into a world of debauchery as the music washed over like an alien water that was so fresh and new. Then after the first guitar explosion of "you don't remember my name", the angel saved him, and played table tennis with him and Thom & co chanted like angels… heaven opened again and then closed with a strike of lightning shifting through every capillary in my little body. "I've got to find this song and its album" was my conclusion. I went out the very next day to HMV and asked for a Radiohead album called Ok Computer (it said it's name under the song title)… only to find it wasn't an older song like I thought…it was one MTV's first showings of "Paranoid Android", and it wasn't out yet. The girl across the street was suddenly beckoning.
OK Computer I refused to buy at first. I didn't want to be cool or follow the crowd that were queuing for their prized copy. I still felt so inferior to the outbreak of Radiohead on everyone's minds. I just denied myself. Then, one night, I was playing my guitar and trying to write a song with not much success. So disenchanted I was that I stopped and put the radio on, something I hardly ever do. No Surprises came on. That was what I wanted to write! It was perfect, it just captured everything I was so short of trying to do. So I ran to her, and bought the album. It was my album now. We were together, and it was beautiful.
I spent the next while in Radohead's arms. So much so I joined the website community and it's message board cronies. Then cracks appeared. I met some apparent "fans" that just traded information like a game of Radiohead top trumps. People who wanted nothing but Thom's autograph in their life and others that had been to every gig, were there at Glasto '97 and obviously "loved" Radiohead. Plus, Thom's increasing hatred of his back catalogue seemed to stifle the relationship. I wasn't the biggest fan, I hadn't even seen them live and I still loved the music even thought the band didn't. I decided the band had no more to offer me and so left them to find new ones. This was good as I found lots of other good music, you never forget a pair of loving arms though…
This is where I jump to today. I saw them live and you saw the review (I hope…). I got the The Bends out of the closet on holiday to find on my walkman probably the best collection of modern songs ever. I saw a video of them playing Just pre-Bends on MTV. It was so raw and vital and reminded me of why Jonny is my favourite guitarist alive, no matter how much I deny it for eclesticism's sake. I watched Meeting People Is Easy, and their arrangement of Karma Police on Saturday Night Live (or was it The Late Show?) was like finding your lover's lipstick marks on your collar after a year gone by. Then today (after I found Kid A and Amnesiac both listening that really affects or defects, depending on your mood) I saw the Knives Out video. The song itself, a twisting merge of a chorus and a verse that feels like you've got someone else's tongue in your cheek, I like a lot. The video though is just so good. Radiohead have grown. This video is funny. Yes it's funny. I laughed out loud. The band after a turbulent time now know where they are I think. Myself, after my turbulent teenage years that are still driving long-winded post-6th form rants, knows where I am too. When I saw them live, they were just so full of a new edge, fully charged and powerful/thoughtful enough to burst through everything and to just be themselves on stage and in spirit. They returned to me a new person like I did to them. I'm hearing their songs and listening to new ones at the same time. We are together again.
The point of this was to say two things. Firstly, to demonstrate how loving music is very alike to a relationship in the way it shifts and starts. And secondly to show that it's all well and good to have a lot of new music and strive to find more, but there is nothing like that small number of bands that really do follow you around. (wink)