I’ve always felt middle aged. When I was in second year at school, aged 14, I felt old and past it. As a 24 year old, teaching English to European teenagers, I felt impossibly grown up. At 34, teetering on the edge of a career/ relationship meltdown, I was in full-blown crisis mode. Now, aged 44, decades of disappointment behind me, I feel like a fucking veteran of career insecurity, emotional instability and dwindling prospects. If the future’s never looked bleaker, it’s because it’s always been like that.
And the perfect perpetual middle-aged, mid-life mid-crisis band for my generation?
I shunned them for years. I thought Radiohead were just a jazzed-up U2 who had nicked a few moves out of the Talk Talk playbook. Perhaps I was waiting for the right crisis for me to find them meaningful.
My brother had tried to get me into them around Kid A/ Amnesiac, amazed and annoyed I wasn’t interested. He knew they fit my profile perfectly. I just heard them as a bunch of festival-pleasers playing muso and having their Spirit of Eden moment.
“Fond but not in love”, you could say.
That line from Fitter Happier, off of OK Computer, was my way in. And from that line, the whole track. And from that track, the whole album. From that album, all albums. It’s how it goes.
“Fond but not in love”, and pretty much every other line in that song-that-isn’t-a-song spoke to me at a very direct level about the life I was living. (For fun, read the lyrics and try to identify which ones really hit home.) The slumber I’d been in since the death of my mother – the somnambulistic shuffle of my relationship, my zombie career – was disturbed.
Something below was pounding like fuck on the hatches and wanted out. An alarm was going off, defences scrambled, full denial. Do anything. Go running. Go for a drink. Go for another drink. Go on holiday. Propose (ok, not that). Buy a new kitchen. Anything, anything. And like the dawn with a hangover, the light inevitably comes up on every terrible decision, every concealment, every lie, every time you stood holding hands in silent hating. And nothing can prevent the realisation that you’re fucked, that your life is in the shit.
And Radiohead’s music puts its arm around you, grips you tight and tells you it’s going to be OK. They’ve been there, mapped it, put a flag in it and brought back field recordings. No Surprises was the next track that gripped me, furiously jabbing at the repeat button on my portable CD player, demanding to be soothed and pacified. It begins with a child’s toy of an alarm bell. It lullabies your trauma into submission as you rock back and forth, thumb in mouth, nursing your bruises that won’t heal, weeping your landfill heart out for the travesty your life has become.
But. Better it happens sooner rather than later. And who better than Radiohead to be there to squeeze your knee and put you in a chummy headlock.
My recollections of the demise of that relationship play out with a filter of warm tones and bright colours, soft at the edges, mostly thanks to Radiohead, who accompanied me everywhere I went that summer. I stayed out long into the evening, photographing alphabets, drinking with friends, drowning sorrows, sleep-walking/ drunk-walking towards my crisis-in-waiting.
In the middle of it all, I received an invitation from a blogpal to come to Vancouver to hang out, make art. Which, marvellous as the whole experience was, just ended up stretching the rebound elastic almost to breaking point.
Almost. Because as long as I had Radiohead, everything was going to be OK…
I have no idea what draws me to The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time tonight. I’d forgotten I used to love Radiohead. My pristine copy sits at the end of everything. Right at the bottom, right at the end. Hidden behind a speaker. Barely there. A present from my brother – Christmas, birthday, not sure. Makes me wonder what brothers who still exchange presents buy for each other now that no-one uses solid state media.
Watching it – barely even that – for the first time, it reminds me of the Zoo TV stuff I was excited about in 1992. Manhattan Cable. Mrs Mouth. Wayne’s World. The cover blurb reveals that it was a marketing stunt: they were to have their own TV channel that proved too expensive and ended up being a bunch of stuff on the internet.
Plus ça fucking change.