Thom Yorke: My Autobiography. By Steven Wells
, May 20th, 2009 08:10
As Radiohead reissue their first three albums, Steven Wells presents a series of recollections of the band at different stages in their career
An extract from:
Thom Yorke: My Autobiography by Steven Wells
Yorkie — a Life in Pop
Philadelphia, February 2009
"What do you mean you're not paying for it?" I snarled. "There's a fucking fall-over funny anecdote or a red hot sex scene on every page. It's got to be he shit-hottest rock-biog ever."
"Well to be frank," said the stuck up little public school publisher twat, "it sounds like you've just made most of the stuff up."
I blinked hard. What a cunt.
"I thought was kind of the point. Don't start with the "reality" shit. I don't do reality. Same as I don't ghost-biog fucking nonentities. I deal with legends, and that's what Thom Yorke is — a fucking legend. Like Jesus. Or King Arthur. Or Gog And Magog. Reality doesn't come into it. Reality is the base metal anchor that keeps us mired in the fetid shite of the mediocre. I'm an empire, I make my own fucking reality. Wake up and smell the post-Rumsfeldian coffee, man. "
"And apparently Thom Yorke's lawyers are claiming that he's never heard of anyone called Steven Wells and never spoken to you, never mind given you enough material for 80,000 words …'
"Well what does that prove," I laughed. "You've read the manuscript. You can see what a fucking liar he is. All that "I shagged the Spice Girls in this order — Posh, Sporty, Ginger, Scary and last but definitely not least, Baby while a gagged and bound David Beckham looked on, grunting with frustration, helpless to intervene." Like you say, obviously a total lie. So how come you believe him when he says I just made it all up?"
"Did you actually interview Thom Yorke for the book?"
"So the bit where Thom Yorke runs up to Brett out of Suede, shouts: ‘Take that, you cunt!' and breaks both his legs with a sliding tackle on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, Thom Yorke actually told you that?"
"You know what? Fuck you. I don't need you. I don't want you publishing my book. You know who will publish it though, in installments, and for at least twice what you tight cunts are paying? The Quietus, that's who."
"Fuck off, Wells. Just give us our money back."
"No you fuck off. Plus I'm going to put you in it and make you look like a cunt. "
"On no, please don't do that," he sobbed, like a cunt.
_Click . . . _
Pablo Honey (1993)
Totally true story, I swear to God. I'm in some godforsaken snake's foreskin of a strip-mall raped Mid Western town. I have racked my brains but I cannot for the life of remember what the fuck I'm doing here. Interviewing some band for the NME, probably.
Anyhow I'm at some music industry circle-jerk where a shit-load of new pop acts perform one song each 'live' for the local radio station. Most of the acts are Debbie Gibson wannabes but there, smack in the middle of all the fluff, is this English band with a wonky-eyed singer, all them wearing what one can only assume are their gardening clothes.
They don't play their best ever song, 'Creep'. KER-DUNK. I'm sure I'd remember that. They play something swirling and mean and bitterly ethereal and, quite mindblowingly beautiful. Probably 'How Do You' or 'Stop Whispering'. There is, I think at the time, a rare completeness to this band. Like the Ramones. Like the Undertones. Like The Exploited. They will be great — so long as they don't fuck it up by going on a self-indulgent auto-proctological yellow submarine journey to the centre of their own arseholes.
(Actually I've just dug out Pablo Honey and with the obvious exception of 'Creep' it is, from start to finish, run-of-the-mill pompous/amateurish/grandiose/whiney indie rubbish. Which suggests I was either savagely stoned when I first saw Radiohead or more likely (given that I've never been wrong about a band ever) they were promoting one of their later albums, one of the ones with some good songs. Whatever the situation, the fact that this stack of mediocre shite actually got recorded is indicative of just how crap the alternative end of the music biz had gotten by the early 90s. Tricky bugger, memory.)
So I'm hanging around backstage and the incredibly scruffy, wonky-eyed Radiohead singer is surrounded by jailbait. One of the chicks hands him her friend her camera and says to Thom: "Can I take your picture, please?"
"Only if you make me look pretty," says Thom. God's honest truth.
And this is where I step into the band's history and change the face of rock forever by uttering my first words to the man who's now listed in my iPhone simply as Yorkie.
"You always look pretty," I quip. Making a pretty obvious joke. But Thom doesn't laugh. He looks up startled, and gives the same stare the viper gives its traditional enemy, the mongoose, only wonkier. A look of fear and suspicion and loathing and contempt. But mostly fear.
There's nothing in his baleful gaze to suggest that this is the start of the most important suppressed-homosexual relationship in pop music since Lennon met McCartney.
The Bends (1995)
Thom phones. "Turn on the Chart Show, they're playing the video," he says.
It's the video for ‘Just'. Which, by the way, just happens to be an amazing piece of music.
But this video — way more than the song or the album it comes from — speaks great echoing volumes about Radiohead's massive popularity with white Western middle class 21st Century males, aka the most privileged and pampered group in human society.
It features a rich white male lying down on the pavement.
As a rich white male pop band look down form a nearby building, rich white people approach the geezer and ask why he's just lying there and not running around going "whoopee!" and spending cash and generally enjoying being the one of most privileged bunch of cunts in human history and that.
Now I imagine a lot of editing went on at this point because no one tells the miserable fuck to get up, pull his socks up, take some Prozac and stop feeling sorry for himself. No-one says: ‘Look our grandparents used to make regular visits to the doctors to have tapeworms wound out of their fucking arseholes on sticks (true story, hence the American Medical Association logo) so think on you sad cunt, stop just fucking lying there blocking the pavement and go do something useful, you pathetic, self-pitying piece of shit."
But even under the video's truncated badgering the bloke on the ground cracks and whispers the reason he's lying on the ground into another white middle class male's ear.
The last shot is an aerial view of every white middle class person for miles lying on the ground being really sad.
The moral is clear: the message whispered into the bloke's ear (which we don't hear and isn't subtitled) is the secret reason why rich, white, healthy 21st Century westerners are totally justified in being like really sad and oh-woe-is-me and why they love rock bands fronted by rich, white, healthy 21st Century westerners who bellyache on and on and on about how fucking pitifully miserable they are.
Of course I don't know what that reason is. And Radiohead's legions of rich, white, male, healthy 21st Century Western fans don't know either. But the fact that it's in this video means that it most definitely exists, totally justifying their insatiable appetite for sad, depressing pop music that feeds both their (otherwise apparently totally unjustified and self-obsessed) melancholy and their sense of me-me-me self-importance. It also, of course, totally justifies Radiohead.
And it explains why the band have never written a song titled ‘Fuck Me — More Money!' or ‘Let's Go Down The Cashpoint'.
In short the video for Just was a bit like Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the World Sketch except in reverse and really self-obsessed and adolescent and wanky.
In 1999 Travis asked ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me?' At my command thousands of NME readers sent whiney Fran Healey a postcard reading "Because you're a cunt". But I then wrote a personal letter to Fran, stating that if he really wanted to know he should ask Thom Yorke but that he might not like the answer because it would almost certainly make him like down on the pavement, like forever.
OK Computer (1997)
"I'm gonna call it OK Computer", said Yorkie, "whadya think?"
"Thom," I said (the "th" is pronounced as in "theocracy". Every time someone pronounces his name "Tom", Thom once told me, "I die a little inside . . .")
"Thom," I said, "I love the computer angle. Very now, very future, very Thunderbirds are Go! Very Bowie, very Gary Numan. Very Sique Sique Sputnik. But I think you're going to have to change the image a bit to pull it off."
"Whadya mean?" said Yorkie in the estuary drawl he habitually slips into when not having to maintain his "posh tramp fallen upon hard times" pop persona.
"Well let's take Sarah Brightman, for example," I said citing the former lead dancer of The Kenny Everett Show's staggeringly erotic Hot Gossip dance troupe who shocked the world of pop to its sugar rotted foundations when she quit to become a serious artist and had a massive dystopian Sci-Fi hit in 1978 with ‘I Fell In Love With A Starship Trooper'.
"Like Bowie, like Numan, like Buck Rogers in the 21st Century and like everyone else who has successfully pulled off the whole Sci-Fi whoo-whoo the-robots-are-taking-over shtick," I explained, "the first thing Sarah did was dress herself up in an incredibly tight sparkly space-sex catsuit. What she didn't do was appear in public erotically fantasizing about the well-lubed love pumps of death-laser wielding space-ninjas from the year 2434 while dressed like Wurzel fucking Gummidge."
"I hear what you're saying, bruv," said Thom.
As it turned out, OK Computer sold like hot cakes and was another hit record for Yorkie and the lads, but nowhere near as big as it could have been had they worn the "space look" designs (silver dungarees, "alien' deelyboppers, silver "robot" face paint, shocking green "cyberpunk" haircuts and "space" boots literally made out of old computer monitors) that I faxed over to them that very afternoon.
But little did I know, as I hugged Thom tightly while the rock'n'roll rollercoaster leapt the rails and twisted through the meteor-streaked showbiz sky like a rocket, sending hangers-on screaming to their death miles below where they hit the asphalt with a sickening slap and exploded like overripe loganberries stuffed with C4, that me and Thom's journey into the heart of both animal and machine darkness was barely at the toddler stage and when the new teeth finally came through they would be triangular and shark-sharp, perfectly designed for tearing both human flesh and the music business a new arsehole.
"The next album's going to be total shit," said Thom. "As an experiment to find out how dumb these fuckers really are. So hold on to your hat."
But that's another story.