Those who know me know that I hate being a Grumpy Gus. I don’t like people who are constantly complaining. I keep my own impulses to do so firmly in check with a diet of coffee, watered-down Buddhist philosophy, and Celexa. So imagine my surprise when yesterday I found myself in the comic book store griping about the band Radiohead.
For those not in the know, Radiohead is a British shoegazing band that turned itself into avant-garde experimental pop geniuses several years ago. They’re critical darlings with an enormous fanbase. If you’ve heard Coldplay, you’ve heard the radio-friendly version of Radiohead. If you’ve heard the song “Creep” then you most surely have not heard Radiohead, because that song is nothing like the rest of their stuff and EVEN THE BAND HATES IT AND WISHES THEY DIDN’T HAVE THAT ALBATROSS AROUND THEIR NECK AS THEY SING ABOUT IN “MY IRON LUNG” AND THAT’S WHY ‘PABLO HONEY’ IS THEIR WORST ALBUM AND…
I don’t hate Radiohead. If someone puts on some Radiohead in a room where I’m sitting, I’ll have no problem with it. Of course, I say the same thing about “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” by the Buckwheat Boys. I just don’t get it. And I’ve tried, honestly I have. A lot of people whose opinions I really respect have told me time and again how good Radiohead is and how I just need to give it a good listen. I’ve listened to their two masterpieces, ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Kid A’ and I admit they did grow on me somewhat. But I didn’t have even one orgasm while listening, much less the non-stop flurry of them I was assured of. I just don’t hear the absolute genius there. What I hear is atonal warbling over modulated static.
Top Ten Signs You’re Probably Listening to Radiohead
10. You’re too stupid to appreciate the genius of it.
9. You’d like to listen to someone a little less whiny, like Morrissey or Michael Stipe.
8. You’re looking at the liner notes to see if the guy playing the out-of-tune trombone is the same guy that bangs on the radiator on track two.
7. You keep adjusting the tuning knob to get the station in clearer, even though you’re listening to a CD.
6. You’d like to listen to something a little less jarring and musically intrusive, like Kraftwerk or early They Might Be Giants.
…oh, you get the idea. Let’s just skip to number one.
1. You’re 20 years old, white, male, and alone in the dark in your dorm room chatting on IRC.
Now, I want the record to show that I didn’t start the Radiohead argument in the comic book shop. It was already going on in full force when I innocently walked in. All I did was offer my opinion to back up the poor guy who also didn’t see the beauty and magic of Radiohead. During the exchange, Radiohead was compared to the Velvet Underground, and perhaps that is apt. For example, I love several bands that were heavily influenced by the VU, but can barely make it through an actual VU album. They say that only a few people bought the Velvet Underground’s first album, but each one started a band. That’s probably correct. The same wouldn’t be true of Radiohead fans, because they’d get as far as downloading Fruity Loops before they were distracted by a Slashdot thread or a Cowboy Bebop marathon.
I admit that I’m getting old. I’ve developed a low tolerance for screaming and whining in my music. I miss fun music. It seems to me that even the allegedly fun music these days isn’t. It’s brutally urgent, demanding I start the party, get my ass on the dance floor, and have sex with teenage girls. That sounds like work to me. These days I prefer nice hooky power-pop, three minute songs about cars, being in a band, or how much the singer adores this girl that doesn’t know he exists. Fountains of Wayne, The Minders, The Apples in Stereo — these are the staples of my CD player. I also admit that I have a bad habit of letting something’s fans detract from my enjoyment of the thing itself, and Radiohead fans are extremely…vocal. Apparently you can’t be into Radiohead halfway. You’re either in it to win it or you’re an idiot with no musical taste who should go back to listening to N’Sync. So that could be a big part of it. After all, there are very few bands that could, to me, hold up to the kind of rabid word-of-mouth that Radiohead’s gotten. For two years I was submerged on a message board where every other person was in the Radiohead Army, so I’m sure that had an effect.
Whatever the reason, I need to brace myself. They’ve got a new album coming out soon, and advance word is that it’s a work of genius which can cure cancer and end world hunger. Fortunately I just bought ‘Golden Street’ by The Minders.