For nearly three decades, I thought my mom was a fan of the ALCS-swept New York Yankees. She grew up in New Jersey, her brother is a Yankee fan, her parents are Yankee fans… I guess I just assumed. And there wasn’t exactly a shortage of opportunities for her true colors to show — I played little league for like 10 years, went to god knows how many Norfolk Tides games, and watched a ton of baseball at home during and after family dinners. So imagine my surprise when the following exchange took place over the phone earlier this season…
Mom: “Ugh. I hate the Yankees.”
Her: “I’m a Mets fan!”
Turns out, when she was a kid, she rooted for the Mets to stick it to the rest of her family. Pretty awesome, if you ask me. She also called a career audible when I was in high school and became an Episcopalian priest after 31 years of teaching American History. She’s just full of surprises.
So is Radiohead, apparently.
Of my favorite albums in the universe, OK Computer is probably the one I revisit most frequently, both in terms of cherry picking favorite tracks and listening all the way through, and I thought I knew the thing pretty darn well. I found out just how wrong I was the other day while making my way though Radiodread, a reggae-fied, note-by-note remake of OK Computer that was released in 2006 by veteran rotating collective Easy Star All-Stars. Strangely, it wasn’t the stylistic substitution that threw me. Reggae actually suits Radiohead just fine, especially when it comes to the politically charged ethos that lies at the heart of both. No, it was much more specific than that; Radiodread made me realize that — Surprise! — I’ve been mentally singing along to OK Computer with the wrong fucking words. For years.
I won’t list all the misunderstandings here, because they’re as numerous as they are embarrassing, but the best/worst example (depending on how you look at it) is definitely “Airbag.” I had no idea the word “interstellar” was involved. I’ve always heard “Very interesting about… [something ending with 'ssssst'],” which doesn’t make a lick of sense and looks patently ridiculous now.
I guess I shouldn’t be that hard on myself, given that the discrepancy can be partly chalked up to the fact that Thom Yorke is genuinely hard to understand sometimes. It’s not his English accent as much as his emphasis, which bridges syllables in an uncommon way, squeezing in words where they might not normally fit. (Not that I’m complaining; this is one of the things I love most about Yorke’s singing.) That said, I think the biggest reason for the mix-up is that Yorke’s voice, maybe more than any other singer I know of, works exceptionally well as an instrument. It’s no coincidence that the last third of so many of their songs slips into floating, non-lyrical vocal improvisation (“Nude” is a great example). I guess, when push comes to shove, I’m fine not knowing exactly what he’s saying, because his vocals still contribute a great deal — melodically, texturally, emotionally — and the musical tableau it drapes across on OK Computer is so rich that it’s easy to lose focus and let the song, however you’re hearing it, wash over you.
Maybe you’re a better Radiohead fan. Maybe you have their lyrics down pat. Maybe you even have a tattoo of selected “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” lyrics, like this guy/gal. But just for fun, I encourage you to give Radiodread a try anyways. I’ve posted Easy Star All-Stars’ version of “Paranoid Android” below. If you dig it and are free this evening, head over to The Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville to see the group perform live.
Oh, and because it’s Friday, I’m posting The Darkness’ version of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” as well. Have a great weekend!