Personal Record Entry #1 Radiohead "Kid A"
Sometimes I become obsessed with a record. And “obsessed” really is the right word. I’m sure some of you know what I mean. That feeling where you can’t wait to get the headphones in and give it another spin. You love it so much that you look forward to doing the dishes because it means time with the record. (I use “album,” “record,” “cd,” “tape” interchangeably here.) Sometimes I know I’m obsessed right away. That was how it was with “Channel Orange” and “Perfect from Now On,” for example. But sometimes it’s clearer once a few years have passed.
Tonight I’m going to write about an album that I was truly obsessed with - “Kid A” by Radiohead.
“Kid A” came out in October of 2000. I was 22. Married with a brand new job. I had just moved with my wife of one year to Richmond, and was cautiously optimistic about starting my new life. This is where retrospect really comes in. I was at this crazy, crucial juncture of my life and didn’t really know it. I had taken a job at a “dot.com” that provided a digital platform for credit unions. Or something like that. We had a round of venture capital and all the snacks money could buy. I was nestled in a day-home of cubicles with a motley crue ranging from right-out-of-high school go-getters and post-prime mid-lifers. We played a lot of online cards.
“How to Disappear Completely”
I would later find out that this song came from some advice from Michael Stipe to Thom Yorke about how to handle fame or something, but the lyrics definitely resonated with me on some level. I wasn’t feeling super content or proud of my current station and “I’m not here” was a refrain that connected in a way that I kind of understand now. I knew on some level that I didn’t want to be “here.” “This wasn’t happening.”
“Everything in It’s Right Place”
One of the wonderful and mysterious things about this album was the advance press. To this day, I have not heard of an album with advance reviews like “Kid A.” Journalists were trying to describe the sound and coming up short. On the heels of “OK Computer,” it was expected to be great, but the things I was reading were straight-up breathless. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it was going to be different. More than different. But when I heard the first the opening synthesizer notes of “Everything in It’s Right” place, I knew it was going to be perfect. Everything was going to be… you know the rest.
So I would take my lunch breaks with a kid named John Mason. I call him a kid, because I later found out he was 19, but he was a big boy. 6’3”? Chubby, but maybe country strong. He was the kind of 19-year old with a goatee and “multiple businesses,” that never materialized, but still. He played classical guitar and bass in a ska band. As a reminder, this was October of 2000.
One lunch, John got in my compact Nissan and I put “Kid A” in. I felt like if anyone was going to appreciate it, he would. He didn’t. He looked at me after I made him wait out the whole song, and I’ll never forget his words - “Man, I don’t get it.” I didn’t try to convince him. We went to my house and watched an SNL rerun on Comedy Central while we ate sandwiches.
But I got it SO HARD.
“This Is Really Happening…” but I thought…..(see above). Still my second or third favorite song on the album, which brings me to:
I just loved the sound of it. And one of the lyrics was: “Cut the kids in half,” which made me think of my recently divorced parents. Yeah, I got mad emo over this song.
I loved - and still do - the seemingly meandering sounds at the beginning of the song. And then the percussion and warbles. The distorted vocals. This song does that thing that Radiohead does. It captures, pristinely, the feeling of the time. The year 2000. But without being explicit. You don’t know why it’s perfect, it just is.
“Standing in the shadows at the end of my bed.”
“We’ve got heads on sticks. You’ve got ventriloquists.”
“Rats and children follow me out of town.”
I know not what these lyrics mean, and I don’t want to know. But they mean something, and that’s enough.
“Motion Picture Soundtrack”
I have no idea why this song makes me want to cry. It just does.
Some people think of Radiohead as the ultimate blowhardy band, name-checked by posers. And I don’t know if that’s true. But this album was a big deal to me. It meant something to me. I felt like someone out there in England or cyberspace was speaking to me.
Wearing my reasonably priced headphones, in my cubicle, in my dockers, I felt connected to something.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the company went out of business, like, 3 months later, and I have no idea what happened to John Mason.