Saturday, June 8, 2013

Track of the Week: Radiohead, "Pyramid Song"

The recent revelations about government surveillance of telephone and internet communications have been sending my mind reeling with memories of the Bush administration.  It is easy to forget today that such an irresponsible and palpably incompetent person was given practically untrammeled authority from September of 2001 to about the summer of 2005 (Katrina finally broke the spell after months of severe screw-ups and the deterioration of Iraq).  Hardly anyone in the mainstream media was willing to criticize him openly between 9/11 and his infamous "mission accomplished" moment.  In fact, even the more liberal news outlets seemed to be doing his bidding.  It was a reporter at the New York Times, Judith Miller, whose articles gave creedance to false claims about Saddam's nuclear ambitions.  During the invasion of Iraq, MSNBC had an American flag in the border of their screen, and actually hired the likes of Michael Savage.  When the Dixie Chicks were brave enough to criticize Bush on the eve of war, it almost destroyed their careers.

During those dark days, my already deep love for the brooding British band Radiohead intensified.  Their paranoid, skittish music, dripped with dread, and seemed to speak to the insanity of the times.  Strangely enough, the two albums I clung to most, Kid A and Amnesiac, were released in 2000 and 2001, before the towers fell.  Somehow these two albums had prophesied the world of nightmares that was to come.

On September 11th and on many days in the coming years, I found myself listening especially to "Pyramid Song" from Amnesiac.  The album is willfully difficult, and not loved by fans, but this particular song is by far the band's best.  It's based around a jazzy, minimalist piano figure and Thom Yorke's voice at its most keeningly eerie. The spare, haunting accompaniment, which is made up more of soundscapes than melodies, evokes a passage from the world of the living to the world of the dead.  The last lines, "there was nothing to fear/ nothing to doubt" make it sound like a relief to be done with the pains and deprivations of living.  I found the song strangely comforting.  When I listened to it, I could escape a world gone insane and contemplate something higher, something better, or at least something else.  A world where George W. Bush and his nefarious henchmen could be allowed to exploit tragedy and spin lies into wars seemed well-worth escaping.

Twelve years later, things do not seem to be as horrifying insane as they used to be, but the paranoia and fear that drenched that world have not left us, nor the tendency by those in positions of authority to exploit those fears to grab more power for themselves.  On a night like this, I just want to listen to "Pyramid Song" and escape.

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