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October 10, 2007

The Political Implications of Radiohead
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The release of Radiohead's new album In Rainbows – although not strictly a political event – is a political moment. As most Radiohead releases do, it tells us about the times in which we live, about who we are, and, perhaps most frighteningly, the fears that threaten to shatter us. Listening to a Radiohead record, at least in the group’s somewhat dizzying post-OK Computer phase, is not so much entertaining as it is exhilarating. Because they, these five musicians from Oxford, are providing something new, something which aims, at least in intent, to restructure reality and to provide us an alternative. Still, listening to this British band – the successor, in some ways, to the Beatles and U2, if not in accessibility, than surely in talent – is a claustrophobic affair, and, often, draining, as listening to tracks like “Pyramid Song,” off of 2001's understated and underappreciated Amnesiac, tends to be. The only consolation is that the dirge-like “Pyramid Song,” despite, or perhaps because of, its apocalyptic meandering, is a thing of utter beauty.

I remember the excitement that surrounded the release of their last album, Hail to the Thief, in 2003. It was in the midst of the Iraq war, when it still seemed to be going well. This was a sad time in America and for America, when to oppose the war was a risky endeavor. If you were a mainstream figure in press or politics, this is not what you did. You sucked it up. Also, you sucked it up, because you thought this was the only way the Democrats could hope to win, essentially by surrendering their beliefs, and by pretending to be "tough," whatever tough means, although when I hear the word "tough," I suspect it's usually used, unwittingly, as a stand-in for "stupid." So, for alternative views, for a culture of dissent, we needed to turn to music, and, during this time, a growing number of artists seemed to moving toward a 60s-type embrace of charged records, forged in the zeitgeist of this new era. At the forefront of this new "movement," was Radiohead, and Hail to the Thief, like nothing I had seen or read prior, captured the post-9/11 moment in a way that, was at the same time, depressing and hopeful. (For a taste, listen to "Sail to the Moon" and "2 + 2 = 5").

I've started listening to "In Rainbows," and there are certainly political undertones, although in the subtle, Orwellian fashion that makes Radiohead's politics timeless. What will In Rainbows tell us about this new moment? More to come.


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It seems that they are focused on neo-soc (neo-socialist beliefs) that have been proven to be unworkable in the real world. It's sad that such talented musicians (just saw them in concert) could be so disconnected with the average person in the world and their needs. I suppose this is just a result in living the reality-distortion field that many artists enjoy. One in which Plato's utopia is possible and human nature can be hoped to be "educated out" of people. At the same time they decry things like Corporate greed, they themselves allow big money that artists get to do the same thing in the name of getting the message out or making a living! Sure they did a free internet release to salve their conscience, but the majority of their records are money winners for them far beyond the average UK citizen. Travel the world, make money, live in fame and sacrifice your beliefs instead of modify them to realize that the compromises they make (you wanna know how much I paid for my ticket to their concert??? Not many poor people can afford Radiohead Concerts!) are normal and reflect reality. The naive political views they hold may make them feel, as Thom York often demostrates, better than the rest of us. But it's rooted in ignorance and a lack of understanding of human nature and the world we live in. Perhaps they are nice people, but they are sadly lacking in realistic intelligence.

I paid a lot for a Radiohead concert. But then I didn't pay Radiohead,I paid the money hungry scalper. Radiohead's set obviously costs more money than I could even really calculate for arguments sake, not to mention shipping it around the world. I would have paid even more to sit at the back of the concert just to see In Rainbows live, it was truly an amazing experience (and no, I was not on hard drugs).
You'd probably also be surprised to know that bands actually don't make very much money off CD's so long as they are with a Record Company, which Radiohead is (although I think In Rainbows may have been their first non-label but I can't remember because I don't usually care). Of course its more then the average person makes, but I think the amount you think they make is probably inflated to much more than what it is. I also do not see them waltzing up and down the red carpet saying "this is Armani" "this is Gucci" or whatever designer. Unlike other actors and performers who claim to have all these charitable ties, but show up in Bentlys wearing $50,000 watches. That to me is a joke.
To me you sound bitter because maybe you don't get to travel the world with your job. If you are indeed a doctor I am sure you aren't doing so bad. Have you considered Doctors without borders? Perhaps you could travel to countries where the western way has ruined developing countries as we dump on them. Perhaps maybe then you would see that maybe what we are doing right now is "unworkable".
Do you know what kind of house Thom Yorke lives in? I don't, he is a pretty private person, he is not the "red carpet type". Who is to say he is not a philanthropist? Or any of the band.
It is really easy to get angry at people who claim one thing but seem to be doing another just because they make a lot of money because you want money. Fuck, I want money, I am $20,000 in the hole for a university education. Unfortunately what I do will never make me famous and its a choice I have made for doing something I love. The members of Radiohead obviously love making music and if they do it so well they make tons of money then whatever. Congrats to them.

p.s. thank you for putting neo-socialist in brackets, for without it I may have never known what you were talking about.

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