Dr. Yorke or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Radiohead

Radiohead playing at The O2 Arena in London. (Creative Commons/LittleO2)

Radiohead playing at The O2 Arena in London. (Creative Commons/LittleO2)

I used to suck. Or you can make the argument that I still do, but I’d counter the degree to which I suck is less than it was, say, four years ago (post your opinion in the comments).

Four years ago pits me one month into my collegiate career at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, a gorgeous just-inland college town in central California, toiling away but apparently enjoying the exciting field of computer science before realizing the hell I created for myself.

Four years ago, I met a couple of my best friends. Let’s call one of them Erik, because that’s what his parents decided to call him, and it snowballed from there.

Erik came from a greater Sacramento region suburb, too, and lived in the room diagonally across from me. He’s a ridiculously smart kid who now develops T-1000s or something at Carnegie Melon. If Skynet happens, yell at him.

We collaborated for “epic” open mic nights, featuring stunning performances of such classics as “Tribute,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Burnin’ Up,” which is immortalized on Facebook: here’s the link you didn’t see anything. Move on. When it comes to mediocre guitar jamming, he’s the ivory to my ivory.

There was a sticking point, though: Radiohead. As a then-unenlightened individual, it was easy to mock him for liking them without giving them a legitimate chance, as that’s what people who suck do (I wasn’t lying). Plus it was fun calling him a hipster, as unfounded as that was.

Having only heard “Creep” and random cuts on the periphery of my music consciousness, calling Radiohead “weird” is excuse number one for refusing to listen to Thom Yorke.

My fleeting 2010 New Year’s resolution was to listen to a new album each week. Being that ambitious failed after four weeks, as programming consumed my life. One of the few albums that snuck under the Java-enforced wire was OK Computer, if only to foster derision based on actual opinion.

Upon Erik’s recommendation, the 1997 album would be my launching pad into the crazed Radiohead discography. Had he abandoned me in the deep end with Kid A, I’m sure the acceptance phase would have been a nonstarter.

The opening track “Airbag” only swayed my thinking that Radiohead wasn’t entirely weird. Though quick and truly engaging with a hint of alt rock bite, my attention was not fully captured. It sounded kinda cool, sure. But that was about it. The pessimist marked it down as 0-for-1.

I’m a bit hazy as to what happened with “Paranoid Android,” but this is as good as guess as any. Whatever apprehension dissipated with the acoustic guitar, giving way to Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s scorching riff and solo, preceded by Philip Selway’s invigorating, grounding drums. It was now approximately 57-for-2.

The “Stairway to Heaven” structure to its composition drew me, no matter how superficial a parallel that is. Both songs start slowly and increase to a relatively frenetic pace in the middle/end. Making that comparison is not fair to the group’s collective genius. Plus, both pieces deserve praise for their respective achievements, not shared formational patterns.

After that, the following ten tracks flew by. It took years before some other songs latched on as much as “Android” — “Let Down” is an all-time favorite. Who can’t love the Yorke’s melancholy masked by the seemingly positive wall of sound?

The rest of discography opened up, from more conventional rock sounding pieces (“Fake Plastic Trees”) to anything but (“Idioteque”) establishing footholds in my sonic headspace.

The plan wonderfully backfired. It was never that I truly hated Radiohead. It’s that I thought I would, so stubbornly refusing was a way to retain that idea. It’s like a kid who doesn’t want to veggies. But after trying broccoli, they realize it’s the shit.

And, yes, akin to that weird yet delicious mini tree vegetable, Radiohead is the shit. Thanks, Erik. That’s the lesson to be learned.

radiohead lolz

The other lesson? I suck. Don’t forget that.

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