Friday, February 21, 2014

30 For 30: OK Computer by Radiohead

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 10, I talk about the thing that made all of this possible.
On my 30th birthday, after spending part of the night drinking a couple beers with my Dad and watching the last 2/3 of The Two Towers, I decided to listen to OK Computer. This may not seem like a particularly rowdy way to inaugurate my third decade of existence, but then again, you don't really know me, and so you wouldn't know how important this album has been to my life. You also wouldn't know that I never listen to it anymore. Mainly because I don't need to listen to it anymore.

I guess I should explain.

For at least four nights a week for the entirety of my high school career, I used to fall asleep listening to OK Computer. Sure, this may be a gross exaggeration due to time and sentimentality warping my memory, but it's as “true” as anything else I remember from my youth. I can say with absolute certainty that during that time I really did fall asleep listening to some sort of music every night. On nights when I was feeling especially depressed or anxious, I always went with OK Computer. It was like a world I could go inside to escape everything in my life. Every song is like its own little story, its own atmosphere or idea of music, and somehow they all work together. OK Computer is a record I got lost inside of, over and over, in the same way other people remember getting lost inside the world of a book or movie they loved, over and over, when they were a kid. Those late night OK Computer experiences were like how I imagined drugs or love must feel, that total loss of pain, of doubt, and of the ego.

In a very real, non-hyperbolic way, OK Computer is the central point upon which my life pivots. There was the time before I heard it, when I thought music was just kind of OK, but not as good as action movies, the military, and guns. Then there was the time after I heard it—the only way to encapsulate it is to imagine a torrential, endless downpour of art, music, movies, books, love, poetry, drugs, and interesting people.

This, then, is my world now, and OK Computer was the portal I stepped through to get to it. I can't get back out now, and I don't want to. Perhaps this is why I don't listen to the album that much; it feels like going back to the beginning when I'm not even to the halfway point yet. However, something about turning 30 made me want to give the album a fresh listen, and surprise surprise, it's still amazing. But you knew that, right?

At this point, OK Computer has had its 10th anniversary, and has long since entered the canon alongside past classics like Dark Side Of The Moon. As with Pink Floyd, I don't usually bother asking people if they've listened to Radiohead when I talk to them about music. It just seems like a basic assumption you can make about people who like music. Even if they can't stand, say, The Beatles or Radiohead, they've at least listened to them enough to form a coherent opinion. So it often feels a little silly to write about OK Computer because it's the music equivalent of telling someone “you know, I really like The Dark Knight.”

Not that I'm equating the two in any way, mind you. Though comparing the themes of OK Computer and The Dark Knight is the sort of headache inducing wank the 20 year old version of me would've been up for. But I digress.

I wish I could say that I have some fresh perspective or insight on OK Computer at age 30. As it happens, I still have the album all-but-memorized, to the point that I almost don't hear it when I listen to it. It's so much a part of my mind, drilled down deep into my subconscious by years of playing it incessantly, that listening to it is almost irrelevant. The only profound thought I had was, “wow, this is the first time I'm hearing OK Computer in my 30s and it still sounds as amazing as it did the first time heard it in my teens!”

So, yes, I don't need to listen to the record that changed my life anymore. I still do, sometimes, but it sort of feels like re-watching The Dark Knight for the umpteenth time and neglecting all the other great movies that are out there. OK Computer's lasting contribution to my life is as much the music itself as it is the very intimation implied by its existence, that of “hey, there's probably a bunch of other stuff like this in the world, stuff that will also make you feel incredible things. You can stay here, but wouldn't you rather go and discover?”

I suppose, then, the only thing left to say is that OK Computer led me to become who I am at age 30, and to be writing these words. Oh, sure, I was already kind of a weird kid who had an interest in writing before I heard the album. And sure, if it hadn't been OK Computer that did a number on me, turned my world from black-and-white to technicolor like the scene from The Wizard Of Oz, it would've been something else instead. Still, though: all these years later and OK Computer still means something to me. It might not mean everything like it once did, but it does make me want to keep going on. It inspires me to keep writing, to keep exploring what's out there, to experience new things, to think about the world in a different way...Just as it once started me on this path I'm on now, it's still around to serve as a reminder of how far I've come and how there's so much farther I want to go.

1 comment:

Sherman Krebbs said...

This was an excellent summary of Radiohead's influence on my life (I imagine it was like this for a lot of people who discovered them in high school or college). Of why their music was so important to me growing up and why I rarely feel compelled to listen anymore. That "torrential downpour" line especially was fantastic. Great series so far (I also loved the pieces about Bukowski and MST3K). Keep writing.