Friday, March 3, 2017
Radiohead, "No Surprises"
Whenever the world feels like it's stopped making sense to me, I find myself listening to Radiohead. I see their magnum opus, Ok Computer, as perhaps the greatest late 20th century prophecy of the 21st. Not for nothing did I listen to them almost exclusively in the weeks after 9/11, since it was the only music that seemed appropriate for the confusion, paranoia, and disbelief I was feeling at the time.
I returned to Radiohead this week, prompted by the media's fawning reaction to the Groper in Chief's speech to Congress. For merely being able to read off a teleprompter while not acting like a shitgibbon for an hour he was lavished with praise by the same press that he had called enemies of the people only days before. It reminded me so much of Bush spewing lies and misinformation to justify an unnecessary invasion with the fourth estate breathlessly passing his bullshit along.
No Radiohead song fit my mood this week better than "No Surprises." It is a gorgeous song, starting with a delicately pretty chiming guitar from Johnny Greenwood that sounds like a music box. Thom Yorke sings in this song as a kind of Everyman character that appears on lots of Radiohead songs. He is apprehending the world with quiet shock and dread, desperate for an inner peace that never comes. The song is a plea for tranquility: "Such a pretty house/ And such a pretty garden/ No alarms and no surprises please."
In the 1960s this song would have been more of a satire, mocking the suburban squares freaked out by all the changes in the world. In the case of Radiohead, there is obviously a lot more sympathy for those overwhelmed by modern life. Ironically, the music they've made to describe the postmodern world's ennui is exactly the thing I find the best balm for it.