Zen and the Art of Radiohead

When I said in a post last month:

I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that discovering great music, literature, and visual art saved my life.

…it was with the utmost seriousness. That said, I sometimes feel like I have to defend my praise of pop music artists, partly because the “pop” stands for “popular”, and for hundreds of years the music that was most popular wasn’t always good. On the contrary, it has often been the case that the most popular music has been irritatingly shallow crap, serving merely as a vehicle for an equally shallow celebrity.

And so, I always get a thrill when I read something about a popular musician whose work I admire that supports my assertion that pop music can be as artistic an any other medium.

    Rolling Stone: Do you feel more or less empowered than you did in 2000 — as a musical concern, as a band trying to make art in a strange world?

    Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien: On a more personal level, if you went back nine, 10 years, you’d find that external events exerted way more influence. Imminent war — things like that affected us much more. Now, I feel more empowered, that these things cannot create heaven or hell within me…

    In terms of the band…one of the things is we do things without fear. A lot of where we come from — our education, our upbringing — manifests itself in the shadow of fear… And in a sense, I don’t think it served us too badly. It kept us on our toes. It kept us trying to seek new areas artistically.

    The trouble is, as you get older, fear is not a great motivator. If you have fear, you can’t relax…

    What we’re trying to do now is make art without fear. You’re relaxing. There is more joy in what you do.

Wow. Ed’s a rock star? Really?!

Seriously, what he said really resonates with me. While I can’t say that I’m consistently successful at preventing external events from creating heaven and hell within me, I do feel that I’m heading in that direction. I’ve written here several times already that I made a conscious decision to quit being a primarily political blogger, most recently pointing out that one of my main reasons for doing so had to do with self-preservation. Blogging about politics, indeed, was a very effective way of letting external events create a hell within me.

Radiohead first artistically distinguished themselves in my eyes when they did what all great bands have done: they evolved. After early success as a heavily guitar-oriented rock band, rather than giving in to the temptation to continue with the formula that made them money and won them fans, starting somewhat with their third album, OK Computer, and in earnest on their fourth, Kid A, they risked the alienation of their fanbase, and therefore the support of their record label, by eschewing the guitar-centric sound for a more orchestral approach, introducing more ambient and electronic elements.

The risk paid off big time, with critical acclaim, chart topping, and Grammy Awards. They might have lost fans of their earlier music, but they most certainly gained plenty of new fans to compensate.

Now, back to me. Because politics is so drenched in drama-inducing polarization, it’s not that difficult for a political blog to draw traffic. My former blog, at one point, was attracting hundreds and hundreds of hits a day. But, all I had to do was give a blog post a headline like “Republicans are Evil” in order to guarantee a lot of visits from folks on both sides of the political dichotomy, and sometimes they’d battle it out in the comments section.

I feel a kinship with Radiohead. While the scale is nowhere near the same, I did give up all that sure-thing political traffic in an effort to evolve. Consequently, despite having had two spikes of traffic — 134 views one day, 191 on another — most days see a yield of no more than 40 views.

So, I’m standing by, ready for those Radiohead-esque rewards for my artistic courage and integrity to come rolling in…

…um, I’m still waiting!

2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Radiohead

  1. You’re doing well, Fish & Bicycles — my highest day is about 43 hits. Good job, and great blog. I’m gonna go listen to some Radiohead now…

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