0.10 – When Radiohead Happens

May 5, 2016

For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve abruptly recalled the article I had prepared for this series in favor of something happening with more immediate significance.

That wasn’t a part of the plan, but only one of the two events (the exodus of a certain purple titan) happened without predictable notice.

I use the word “predictable” as an axiom of science rather than mystic speculation. This is what happens when Radiohead happens.

What I mean is that I’ve been through more than one version of this event with Radiohead before, and I should’ve known it was imminent enough to warrant some degree of preparation. I am an adult, after all, and the benefit of the longview is one of many themes I bang on in VsTNHL.

In fact, I even wrote a piece for a music-focused blog roughly 5 years ago about Radiohead doing a similar thing because, like right now, I HAVE to discuss what I’m experiencing immediately, thusly, post haste, with the quickness, on the good foot, etc..

Radiohead are easily one of the things I geek out over to the level of tossing all other life norms out the window into oncoming traffic should they stand in the way of my indulgence. I could likely write a solid memoir of my own life using Radiohead releases as markers, both for major achievements and life-altering failures.

Who would win in a fight between Radiohead and Cable? I would win, that’s who. Me, you, and humanity at large would win. Radiohead is Serious. Business. Homie. Believe. This.

Here’s where I begin to struggle:

The big question I’ve been wrestling with for a while now is what music means in a world where “cool” is no longer exclusive to rock and roll.

I’m not talking about splitting hairs into music genres. I’m talking about rock stardom and it becoming the domain of all geek icons regardless of craft. Stand Mark Hamill up next to Bono and tell me the difference when they walk into any room. I’m willing to bet there’s a correlation between age and the time it takes to respond to the question.

The flaw in this formula is that it may suggest I’m hundreds of years old because I’ve yet to come up with a solid answer.

It’s to be expected that the music and musicians that have shaped our lives since our youth slowly lose relevance with each passing micro-generation. Bands become parodies of themselves, viewed as nostalgia acts that get booked to play corporate gatherings and pseudo-reunion tours even though they’ve been writing new tunes the entire time they’ve been “out of the spotlight” or “on hiatus” or “broken up” or otherwise seemingly inactive because we’ve been collectively focused elsewhere.

That’s the model that’s surfaced on the other side of the 20th century music industry quagmire that still hasn’t been squared away to the satisfaction of the artist, suit, or *shudder* consumer.

That “c-word” is what separates the geek from the herd. There is emotional gravity to what the artist creates that has greater value than whatever an industrial type wants to quantify art as a “produced good”.

It seemed simple when we were counting “units shipped” and plays by radio DJ’s that had a bit of agency in the dark ages before corporate “playlists”.

As tempting as it is to spend time lambasting consumerism, however, it’s got little to do with what’s slipping through my fingers right now. Simple consumers us geek types are not. Take the $1.XX I paid to get unlimited access to Radiohead’s single, “Burn The Witch”, and get out of the way. Grown folks got pathos to discuss.

The area where I regularly feel my grip isn’t so secure is where the music I love meets society in general. Sometimes I wonder if this is even a meaningful concept when so many will focus on sales numbers. This is why I needed to address and cut the capitalism out of the conversation in the previous paragraphs to avoid confusing the varying perspectives.

It should also be noted that I’m not inspired to write a critical piece about the merit of the new Radiohead single or speculate on the band’s intention for releasing the rest of the new material they’ve written and composed. I’m gonna be analytical about it, regardless, because that happens with me involuntarily.

That doesn’t mean I want to spend the time here discussing how elegantly the new single dances around a basic chord progression. There’s already plenty of that around.

So, here’s what i’m really on about. For the past few weeks, we’ve had plenty of clues that Radiohead were about to release new material. Company names have been established and the band’s usually savvy management have (likely deliberately) let slip that a new album is imminent. This past weekend, they started “erasing” their internet presence, which really just let me know I should probably turn on notifications for when Radiohead tweets anything. 2am was tease number one. 7am was tease number two. Around noon, my favorite band has released a new video.

I watched it once on my tablet then immediately watched it a second time. I watched it on my laptop while purchasing the audio on my phone. I took my dog for a walk so I could listen to it in headphones, getting a total of five times in before returning to my apartment.

The song and video are brilliant, of course. My concerns about social relevance seem satiated by the theme explored in both song and video of what we like to call “anomie” in the Sociology world.

It was exactly what I have been feeling about my Facebook page, the presidential election, bathrooms in North Carolina, my relationship with my family, Beyonce, Iron Man, my job, all being presented in a way that I couldn’t quite express until my favorite band did it.

I turn around and write a thousand words about it. Literally.

That’s the important part. I put a sudden halt on my current plans and changed what I want say to the world this week. Even if it was just to say that I have an immediate, emotional need to talk about Radiohead, it’s inspired creativity. Art doesn’t get more relevant than that. Maybe rock and roll still means something.


Versus The New Half-life is a satirical feature series documenting the experience of modern geek life beyond the 18-34 demographic. Are we simply nostalgia driven super-consumers refusing to embrace adulthood by indulging childhood fantasy or have the expectations of being an adult changed? Writer J. Aaron Poole over-analyzes various geek fandoms to explore common themes and appropriate behavior from limbo as an indubitable grown-up under the age of 40.

J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geek culture advocate. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.

artwork by: Cameron Stewart

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