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Do Poets Dig Radiohead?

Do Poets Dig Radiohead?

A non-scientific sample group of poets were asked whether they liked Radiohead, and why they did or didn’t. Here are their responses:

Jill Alexander Essbaum:

I like the one song Thom Yorke sings with PJ Harvey. But that’s pretty much it. I always thought there was too much thinking involved in listening to them.

Elisa Gabbert:

Sure, I like the band Radiohead, but I’ve never bought any of their “records.” I’ve had an especially soft spot for “Fake Plastic Trees” ever since I saw a drunk (female) bartender sing it at a karaoke bar a couple years ago; it was very beautiful.

John Gallaher:

I listen to Radiohead about as much as I listen to any band. It started with OK Computer for me, at least that was when they went from a band I like (like The Auteurs) to a band I play a lot.  They do all things I like in a band, from melodic to dissonant, both in the music and lyrics.  Favorite song, I guess today at least, I’ll choose “How to Disappear Completely” from Kid A.

Steven Karl:

You know, despite much derision I’ve always liked Radiohead. This will no doubt age me quite a bit, but I actually saw them twice for their Pablo Honey tour, one time driving all the way from S. Jersey to the University of Baltimore. Belly was the headliner & I also REALLY liked Belly (at the time, much more so than Radiohead).

I guess there was something charmingly affected about them, Thom Yorke’s perceived snottiness & Jonny Greenwood’s guitar sound. I know when “Creep” came out, they were talked about as a one-hit wonder coming in on the coat-tails of Nirvana & I didn’t mind Nirvana but I never LOVED them like most people. They were never my BAND. By the time Nirvana became bigger than life, I was listening to a lot of P.J. Harvey, Catherine Wheel, and Swervedriver, so I guess I was listening to Radiohead more in the context of these bands & a lot of the songs from The Bends seemed to fit into that head-space of mine. By this time, I was living in Eugene, Oregon, & working at the Record Garden & reading a lot of NMEMelody Maker, so I was also living in a bit of a musical vacuum.

Anyways, I remember the store received five copies of Radiohead’s Iron Lung e.p. I shelved four & bought the remaining one. Probably for sentimental reasons, “My Iron Lung” remains my favorite Radiohead song, tho’ years later, depressed & living in Portland, Oregon, “How to Disappear Completely” certainly gave the o’l “Iron Lung” a damn good run for repeated plays.

Mark Lamoureux:

I like Radiohead, but, that said I haven’t listened to them extensively since OK Computer. “High and Dry” was my jam after I broke up with my college girlfriend the first time. OK Computer was useful the second time. Subsequently, I became more interested in electronic music and phobic of emotional intimacy. Thom Yorke is, of course, a redhead, so there’s that, too.

Chris McCreary:

My favorite Radiohead is the mournful Radiohead of Amnesiac. OK Computer might be the masterwork, but Amnesiac is the one I return to. It seems truly timeless, as in, out of time, transmitting from some parallel universe where the band put out this lone, lonely album & then faded away into static.

Sawako Nakayasu:

Yes—and my favorite song by them is “Fake Plastic Trees,” the Eugene Kang acoustic version, which I heard the first time I went to his house, 12 years before I married him.

Kathleen Rooney:

Yes, I do. I like their music and arrangements, Thom Yorke’s eerie choirboy voice, and their poetic lyrics. “Creep” became a hit on alternative radio in 1993-ish, right around when I started really paying attention to music. I loved that song then, and I’ve loved Radiohead ever since. That song in particular is so self-aware and such a good example of effective writing within a persona. The line “I want you to notice when I’m not around” sounds specific and universal, funny and sad.

Jessica Smith:

I love Radiohead; they are one of my top 5 favorite bands, if not my favorite. My first concert was Radiohead opening for R.E.M. and I’ve been to a lot of Radiohead concerts, even during the unfortunate Che T-shirt era.

I love their use of electronics and their lyrics and they speak to my melancholia. I’m not kidding. It’s true. I also hate people who don’t like Radiohead b/c they got popular or whatever—just like what you like. My favorite albums are OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac. My favorite songs are “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box,” “Exit Music,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “No Surprises,” and “Black Star.”

Amish Trivedi:

I. LOVE. RADIOHEAD. I’m not saying they are the greatest band ever (that’s a tough discussion itself) but Radiohead must be the best thing going.

First things first, I thank whatever deity you want every morning when I wake up that Thom Yorke didn’t decide to get into the poetry business. We’d be fucked. He is, no doubt, one of the finest lyricists around, but because he does not hold himself to any conventions at all. His lyrics are some kind of tap into the unconscious, into the code of the brain. He writes darkness like no one else in “How to Disappear Completely” or brooding sarcasm in “Optimistic.” Even when he gets ridiculous and fun in “Paranoid Android,” he does so while using his words so perfectly. He often writes words simply because they sound good with the music the band already has and there’s a wonderful connection that happens when he fits things into that space. I really love that.

The second thing is the whole band, playing together. Everyone is amazing, but of course Jonny Greenwood is like some kind of magician in the middle of that band. What Yorke does with words and sound, JG does with the sonic landscape in their songs. Even early on when Radiohead was primarily guitar based, it seemed like even his guitar playing was beyond just standing there and making noise. All three guitarists are stellar and on top of that, they have an amazing rhythm sections in Colin and Phil.

Those five guys, in one place, make up maybe the most creative and outside of the box sound there is. And they seem to do it with relative ease. I know there has been tension in the band over various things and I think they probably won’t last forever (like The Stones have managed, despite their in-fighting) but it seems that these ideas and creations are just floating around them, waiting to be recorded.

New album coming, I hear. I’ll buy it with gusto, I have no doubt.

Jasmine Dreame Wagner:

The first time I heard Thom sing: “A green plastic watering can,” I was sitting in my living room with a Radiohead evangelical. We were listening to The Bends—acoustic guitar, clean taps on hi hats—and then—Thom’s voice, the thin vibrato.

Earlier that day, I’d visited the Met with a painter friend and we’d inspected the green dance floor of Matisse’s “Nasturtiums.” Up close, I saw the graphite tracings beneath the oils. The paint, thin, appeared lifted. This was how Thom Yorke’s voice crept into me: thin, above, separate. It was appealing: the impulse to identify with Thom’s separateness, his vibrato high above the lush production, above the roar of the guitars when the band kicked in.

Dudes liked Radiohead. Bros and white hats and punks liked Radiohead. Jocks hung Radiohead posters and wrung their sweat out of Radiohead T-shirts. I was overwhelmed by the proliferation of Radiohead merchandise. I couldn’t stand the cult of self-congratulatory, consumer-oriented masculinity that surrounded the boys in the dorms with Radiohead merch who would claim to be feminists and then talk over me in class. Maybe they identified with Thom’s voice’s separateness. Maybe they couldn’t shake the way they were conditioned. Maybe Yorke’s tenor vibrato gave them permission to be a little more vulnerable than they were.

I think of Wayne Koestenbaum writing about opera: Vibrato was a kind of limpness, like a wrist.

“Creep” is the only Radiohead song that strikes a note of nostalgia, mostly because I first heard it at summer camp. Thom Yorke disinherited “Creep” and all of Pablo Honey. Maybe it’s because the song tells too much truth, too plainly, the lyrics “I don’t belong here” ringing too raw, too confessional, too desperate, too too. Too much “I.” It’s easier to turn the narrative around and sing: “she lives with a broken man.”

Dan Coffey
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About The Author

Dan Coffey

Dan Coffey hails from Buffalo, NY and has made the Midwest his second home. The librarian for English and World Literature at Iowa State University, Dan lives in Ames, Iowa, with his wife and son. He has had poems published or forthcoming in Poetry Bay, Kennesaw Review, MiPoesias, Dirt, and The Laurel Review.

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