Hey guys. Although I’m not in the same hemisphere as any of my readers (I assume), I plan to eventually go back to updating this blog semi-regularly. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I read an interesting book on the plane ride over that I wanted to talk about.

If you can’t tell, Chuck Klosterman is a pretty big influence on my criticism. I don’t always like his personality, but his writing is always compelling and interesting. So I decided to read this book.

At one point in the book, Chuck Klosterman argues that Thom Yorke unintentionally predicted the events of September 11th in the album Kid A. You can read part of his argument here.

While I kind of doubt that Radiohead somehow subconciously foresaw September 11th, Chuck’s argument resonates with me for a few reasons. First of all, he’s mostly right; Kid A would be a really good soundtrack for the time around September 11th. Every song fits, really. Two songs in particular fit really well, in my mind.

“Kid A” is probably my favorite Radiohead song. I have been obsessed with it for at least a year and a half, for a variety of reasons. This song evokes themes of childhood, regret, and Thom Yorke attempting to understand how he should use Radiohead’s enormous influence after OK Computer and the extent to which he deserves it or owns it. But I think the most prominent theme of the song is the desolation (and isolation) Thom feels in 21st century 1st world life.

There’s a vague, but strong and unrelenting, sense that Thom is certain that something is horribly wrong with the way things are going. Something terrible is about to happen because of choices those in power have made. I imagine this as pretty much being Thom Yorke’s soundtrack for everyday life circa 2000. But it also fits perfectly as a soundtrack for the morning of 9/11, right before the planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

“Motion Picture Soundtrack” used to be my favorite track on the album, and it’s still one of my favorites. The theme of death is very prominent, of course. The instrumentation (organ, harp, electronics that sound a lot like a choir near the end) are reminiscent of a Christian funeral, evoking not only death, but also specifically evoking Western culture.

More broadly, I’ve always felt that this song is about the relief and joy you experience when you stop trying to control everything and completely let go. In this case, Thom does it by vicariously dying. After the last lyric of the album, “I will see you in the next life,” there is a fairly long instrumental section as Thom dies. After a minute or so of complete silence, the ending sequence clearly evokes an ascent to heaven, which is again followed by complete silence.

This could be the experience of someone dying on September 11th. But I think the primary meaning of this interpretation (through the lens of the September 11th theme) is more likely that it represents the thoughts of a survivor releasing his grief and fully accepting what happened. He accepts that he will see those he lost in heaven, and he is finally able to continue living normally. The final instrumental sequence represents the actualization of this promise.

Another feeling I get from “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is the horror you would feel while witnessing a death that you don’t quite understand. It’s a startling juxtaposition of the primal (the feelings of watching a loved one die) and the complex (trying to interpret what it is that you’re seeing).

It sounds like what you would feel when you watch someone die from a disease you don’t really understand, for example. Or if they die from something that used to seem completely safe, like going to work in the World Trade Center, and you had to effectively watch their death on television. The moment isn’t at all private, because it’s broadcasted live around the world. Yet you don’t get the satisfaction of actually seeing your loved one in their dying moment. You get the same view as everyone else, and you feel profoundly cheated.

For the record, though, I don’t know anyone who died on September 11th, so these feelings aren’t really mine. But Kid A evoked these moods in my mind before I read Chuck’s book. It’s just that his argument makes the some of the effects Kid A has on me make more sense.

I also want to emphasize that I don’t think Thom Yorke predicted September 11th. I think how well Kid A fits with September 11th is partially a result of Thom’s profound understanding of the cultural climate around the time Kid A came out (less than a year before September 11th) and partially a result of the thematic ambition of the album. Every song touches upon so many different topics, so they can be viewed in a meaningful way in many contexts. It also helps that Kid A is a very narrative album, so it would go along well with a lot of stories.

Anyway, like I said in my About page, Kid A is my favorite album. I easily consider it to be the best album of the last twenty years. I think it’s an amazing artistic accomplishment that was created by the greatest musical minds of our time, and I think we as people are lucky to have an album this great, because the circumstances that created something this great needed help from a certain amount of luck.

I could write a lot about Kid A, and I probably will do so in the future. Although I generally listen to it at least once a month, I haven’t listened to Radiohead at all much recently for two reasons related to me trying to improve as a musician myself. First of all, Radiohead is so good that most of their discography (from The Bends on) is more intimidating than useful, which is just discouraging. It just makes me feel like I have way too far to go as a musician myself. More ordinary artists are easier for me to learn from precisely because there is less to learn from them.

Also, Radiohead’s entire ethos is morose and discouraging. I don’t care what Thom Yorke says, the reason why everyone says that Radiohead is depressing is because they are. I don’t think anyone was ever directly motivated to do anything profoundly important by listening to Radiohead. They definitely help you understand life, but they’re not going to help you get anything done.

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