This was never part of the original concept when I decided that I wanted to blog a series on labels. I knew that mental illness was going to be part of the series, however I didn’t expect to be writing about Radiohead. Now, I cannot imagine how it couldn’t have ever been part of the original concept.
I’ve suffered a few breakdowns, however my most recent one has been the worst and music has always been key in saving me. In trying to write this piece, I’ve been also trying to recall the first time I actually ever heard of Radiohead, but in all honesty I can’t remember. I can recall hearing them from the distance of the TV or the radio as a child while in another room, but never really hearing them. This obviously came from my dad, who was the indie-rock influence in my life.
However, it wasn’t really until my early teens that I really heard them.
By this point, I was incredibly lonely, incredibly aware of my alienation from my family as well as my school friends and I heard The Bends and suddenly heard people speaking my language.
For almost twenty years, their lyrics, their melodies and their rhythms, make me feel safe, secure and understood. My mother thought that I’d discovered a cult because she couldn’t comprehend how I could blindly follow “this man” (Thom Yorke – she never seemed to see the rest of the band: Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway haha) without any question, but when it came to God, there was always such stubbornness in my heart, dispute and henceforth chaos brought into her home?
I was disgustingly late to the OK Computer party. When I went to University in 2004, even now I cringe with shame to admit it. I spent all of my student loans and grant on a sound system and all of the CDs I could get hold of – including all of Radiohead’s back catalogue of music.
I have a Radiohead song for EVERY significant moment in my life:
- “High and Dry” – The Bends (the song the boy who had taken my virginity the week before serenaded me with – he did by the way, leave me high and dry, soooooo many times!)
- “Fake Plastic Trees” – The Bends (the song we sang in the SU bar – somebody put it on the jukebox when we were tired of hearing pop crap, we thought that only our table would love it but the majority of the bar ended up singing along and getting pretty emosh!)
- “All I Need” – In Rainbows (the song playing when I realised that I was in an extremely unhealthy relationship and I wanted to go home. This song probably saved my life at that time)
- “Sail To The Moon” – Hail to the Thief (the song playing when I found out in the newspaper that the brother of one of my close friends from University had passed away)
- “Daydreaming” – A Moon Shaped Pool (the song I played the very first weekend I left the house after I was suspended from work this year. It was the first time I had left the house in days, after feeling like I was about to reach a point of “no return” in my state of mental health. I also felt like a fool.) https://play.google.com/music/preview/T2d2sp4rw6mczxgid6xoxoai2yu?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics&u=0#
- “I Promise” – OKNOTOK Computer (the moment I realised last weekend, that I needed to get better and that I not only needed to get better for myself, but also my partner).
- “The Gloaming” – Hail to the Thief (actually used to be one of my least favourite songs on that album, until I saw the band live in Victoria Park, London in 2008 where they played this and it BLEW my mind. Now it’s a song I use to take me back to my happy place when I need to desperately retreat from the real world).
- “How to Disappear Completely” – Kid A (again because of the live performance – this was the In Rainbows tour and I never expected them to perform this song which had become my mantra over the last year, due to how my mental state had deteriorated. I felt like everybody was watching me and judging me all of the time because I was such a failure and so I just wanted to disappear. Plus I couldn’t believe that after working SO hard to get to University, I was back living with my fucking mum again. Because of this performance, I now cry with happiness every time I hear this song.
- “Pyramid Song” – Amnesiac (“there was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt”… this is how I feel EVERYTIME I listen to this song.
It’s funny because after watching Radiohead’s set, at Glastonbury over the weekend and crying all the way through it, I shared on Twitter that I couldn’t believe that they had warned me and yet I’d STILL missed the signs to how shit my life would be???
Simultaneously, I always feel like I’m surrounded by an army while I’m listening to Radiohead (You and Whose Army). This is going to sound absolutely insane, but they’re the only people who have never let me down, neither have they ever lied to me.
I officially identified myself as “Kid A” when I was forced to return home following that awful relationship breakdown I mentioned before. I didn’t really talk to anybody about what had happened to me – I just withdrew into myself and Kid A became my soundtrack. I can still remember floating along the streets of Kent, on the fast-track buses, absolving my sins into the music instead talking to my friends and family, who I didn’t feel like I could confide I anyway because
(a) they wouldn’t understand and
(b) they would only judge me – which they later on admitted that they did.
I also constantly felt like a “Subterranean Homesick Alien” (OK Computer), continuously waiting to be invited home.
Because this wasn’t it.
The Bends and Hail to The Thief got me through the first year of University, when I was having seizures and spending loads of time in bed, and needed to be pumped up because I had no idea what was happening and these two albums became the drugs that I needed when I was lying in bed. On the days when I wasn’t crying over the boy who had stolen my virginity, I was crying about losing my mind because it was the reasonable explanation for what was happening to me: “Everything is broken”
“Nice Dream” was my lullaby:
“They love me like I was a brother, gave me sunshine, make me happy….”
It didn’t matter if I couldn’t be part of the crowd mentally (and I was really struggling mentally), Radiohead had me covered in the tortured serenity of my dungeon.
Over the years I’ve been able to come back to Radiohead. There hasn’t been a moment in my life I haven’t wanted them or needed them.
At times, they give me the guts and strength to feel morally superior. Look at the state of our politics – I love their very frequent references to animals, pigs in particular when it comes to politicians, and the year Theresa May came into power, they came out with the anthem “Burn the Witch”. They always know what needs to be said! Which is why I always want and need them in my life.
I’m going to see them in Manchester next week. This will be my second time seeing them and I am beyond excited.
I would love to say that they came back just for me: A Moon Shaped Pool came out shortly before my last relationship ended haha and this Manchester gig is exactly what I need after the shit I’ve been through this year.
Tuesday 5th September 2017
I’m currently listening to Moon Shaped Pool now…
I never posted this piece. So much has changed since writing it. I’m a completely different person now. For a start, I’ve realised that I’m a black woman and a white man cannot possible comprehend what I’m feeling. This is going to sound pathetic, but I feel like I’ve gone through a break up but I’m not the only person of colour to have gone through the same process. A couple of friends who have grown up in the UK listening to indie / alt rock felt this particular genre helped them profoundly in our adolescent years, however we became older and more aware of our colour and culture, and therefore more aware of a DISCONNECT. We all also struggled with mental health issues during our adolescent years, had nobody to turn to and so relied heavily upon musicians who we felt could understand our narratives eloquently. Then suddenly, in our late twenties / early-thirties, society gave us a rude “awakening”, and those narratives we relied heavily upon for so many years were no longer ours.
It’s heartbreaking: I didn’t ask to be born in an area where I was the only person of colour; I didn’t ask to grow up among white-British culture and henceforth grow up culturally confused (I shouldn’t have to defend being here either).
I recall telling a close friend, who is South-East Asian and a Radiohead fan, that I’m angry at Radiohead: they’re incredibly political, but heavily so in white politics, or anything closely linked to British politics.
Do we mean so little to them?
But then what can we expect from a bunch of white boys from Oxford?
So I have to decide, for somebody where music is so interwoven with her mental state and identity, am I just here for the music and then do I “keep it moving”? Or do I cut ties completely…..