Today I went Christmas shopping at the Americana Mall. Whenever I do that, it reminds me of the first time I Christmas shopped there, because it was a special day for me. It was the day I fell in love with Radiohead. This was back when I was living in East Rockaway, but all my friends lived up there in the Manhasset area. I was a poor recent college grad, working at Adelphi, and browsing around the one store I could actually afford to shop in, which was HMV. I loved HMV. It’s closed now and I am sad about that.
I was browsing around, looking for ideas for gifts for my family, when I heard the most beautiful music I’d ever listened to. I had no idea who it was, but it kept me in the store for another 10 minutes or so, until I recognized a song, “High and Dry”. Before that day I was really not a fan of Radiohead. I mean, really not a fan. I hated the song “Karma Police”. Looking back, I don’t know why. But when I heard and recognized “High and Dry”, I was in shock. “This is Radiohead??!” At the time, I was heavily into classic rock, and considered Clapton to be a guitar god (which I still think he is, even though I really don’t listen to him much anymore). But Radiohead was the farthest thing from what I thought I should be listening to and liking, and it turned out I loved them.
It was really the first time I ever listened to anything with an open mind. It was the first time I stopped trying to convince myself to like what I was supposed to like, and really just enjoy the music for what it was — beauty. I know, everyone has a different opinion about what beauty is. What I like isn’t necessarily what others think is beautiful. I have “conversations” about this with my dad all the time. Well, debates. Well, arguments. But you see, that’s the point. Until then, I’d been forcing myself to like stuff. Not all music, but certain music within a genre, because if you’re into classic rock, you have to like “Freebird” (the most boring song in the world). Because if you’re into grunge, you have to be a Pearl Jam fan (not necessarily!) I personally didn’t find them to be beautiful, but I tried to convince myself they were, because that’s what I should be listening to.
I had put my musical tastes into a box. I categorized it. “I am a [insert musical genre here] fan, and that means I like everything that comes with it, and exclude everything that does not.” My 23-year-old mind pretty much exploded when I started liking Radiohead.
I hung in HMV and listened to Radiohead for as long as I could before it got a little creepy and suspicious, and promised myself I’d come back after Christmas was over to buy The Bends. Over the course of a few weeks, between Amazon and the bargain racks, I was able to fill out my collection. I immersed myself in them.
It was an odd time in my life for other reasons. I was living with a horrible roommate, and I think I might have been depressed over that winter. My thoughts drifted a lot to death, and the sometimes scary reality that it’ll all be over for me one of these days. I kept thinking it might be tomorrow. Because, well, it might be. It’s heavy stuff when you’re 23. I found it hard to concentrate.
Oddly enough, my new obsession kind of pulled me out of that funk. Don’t ask me how — it was a long time ago. But I do remember thinking, as I had Pablo Honey on repeat in my car, if a car crash did me in, at least I’d go out listening to awesome music. Morbid? Perhaps. But that thought got me functioning again. I think, if not for Radiohead, I would never have gotten into a car again. Ironic, because one of my favorite Radiohead songs is this one: