Embarrassed

Shortly before one of my favorite bands, Radiohead, released one of my favorite albums, KID A, I remember reading an interview with their lead singer, Thom Yorke in Rolling Stone.  He previewed the albums stark contrast with their previous work.  As the interview progressed it became apparent that many of the signature Radiohead sounds would be missing on this album.  Chiefly, Yorke pointed out, gone were the guitars–or at least guitars that sounded like guitars.  The interviewer pushed to know why the band felt the need to make such a drastic departure.  Why ditch the guitars he asked.  The Radiohead frontman made a comment I’ve never really been able to forget the gist of:  “I guess all of us just hit this point where we’ve become embarrassed that we play them. We need other sounds. Sounds that we’re not embarrassed of. I mean, everybody can play the guitar.”

What struck me at the time is that the boys of Radiohead weren’t just any old guitar players. They were innovative, deeply creative, and technically brilliant.  If anyone had a right to KEEP playing guitar, it was them.  But somehow the baggage of those shitty bands around them, the Radiohead wanna-be’s, the knock-off’s, the un-artful imitations made them hit the wall.  Not only that, but also they felt they had taken guitar playing as far as they could while still being inspired.  It was time to set aside the thing that had defined them and they had also, in part, helped define.

The album that came out of that, KID A, was incredible, and it was, as the interview had promised, devoid of anything that sounded like a guitar.  They managed to reinvent themselves and did so beautifully.

Last year, and several albums later, they came out with the latest and greatest–an incredible work called “In Rainbows.”  Interestingly, the guitars were back.  It wasn’t exactly the original “Brit-pop” sound they had help pioneer.  But there were actual hooks and recognizable riffs.  Fans were happy, and so was the band.  Stepping away from the thing that they simultaneously loved and were embarrassed by, gave them license some time later to return and fall in love again.

Sometimes the sounds that we are familiar with–that we have given ourselves to completely–lose their luster.  Either we find ourselves no longer inspired by them or others have polluted the well we’ve drank from.  It seems, somehow, cheapened.  And we are embarrassed of those sounds.  We need to put them down for a time and simply hear or play with other melodies, other symphonic expressions.  But all in order to fall in love again…

And I wonder if this is happening…somehow, somewhere in me…is this the process I’m in?  Am I learning new languages so to embrace my mother-tongue more fully later on?  There are clearly no guarantees, I’m sure of that.  But perhaps…I suppose time will tell. Until then, I’m not so concerned with the sound making instrument–simply that I make sound at all…I hope that the music is still great.

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