With all of this week’s controversy over Radiohead’s two shows in New York City (tickets were so scarce, one fan offered to sell their soul on Craigslist in exchange for admission), it’s worth taking a look at frontman Thom Yorke to determine where he falls on the Hipster-Literary-Bro continuum, which, in its original iteration, only featured a single musician — Jeff Tweedy — who recently put on an exceptional show on Friday night in Central Park.
What do you need to know about Thom Yorke in order to decide whether he is or isn’t a Literary Man? Judging from the picture above, you might be thinking: what a fucking hipster. But upon closer inspection, it appears as if he’s wearing some kind of sweater over a collared shirt, maybe at a pub in East London, drunk off his rocker cause his beloved Arsenal just lost to Chelsea or something. As the Literary Man is 50 percent hipster / 50 percent bro, it’s conceivable that Thom Yorke is a a true Literary Man. The art is definitely there.
What would a Literary Man do after achieving worldwide artistic fame and success? Jackson Pollock became a parody of himself, self-destructed, and drank himself to death. Hemingway pretty much did the same thing, with the notable exception of The Old Man and the Sea, which helped him finally win the Nobel Prize. John Lennon (this is only to compare their career trajectories, rather than suggest that Yorke is artistically on par with Lennon) stopped playing live shows completely and essentially turned his back on his bandmates.
All in all, it’s difficult to say where, exactly Yorke falls on the spectrum, but it feels like he’s probably a few ticks west of Literary, somewhere around 60 percent hipster, in Jack Kerouac territory, really.
*Updated thoughts about being disappointed by the show last night, feeling guilty about that disappointment, and then trying to figure out the cause of the disappointment, when many people seemed completely thrilled by it:
Someday we might call this “your father’s Radiohead.” This is the revolutionary band that produced The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac in succession, in less than ten years, taking major artistic strides with every album. Amnesiac seems like the capstone of this effort, as it blends Kid A’s experimentation with noise, while retaining some of the melodic, brilliant concessions to accessibility that were common on OK Computer. The last time the Literary Man saw Radiohead live, the year was 2001, the venue was the Columbia River Gorge, and Thom Yorke played some of the songs from Amnesiac that no one had ever heard before.
It’s of course ridiculous to assume that — ten years later — the band would put on the same kind of show. And yet it was very difficult to expect what kind of show they would play, as they haven’t played New York in three years, and their musical style has, of course, continued to evolve. So, to recap, it wasn’t a bad show, at all. It was a well-executed show that featured a completely different sampling of music — new music — than what was expected.
This Radiohead emerged with Hail to the Thief, followed up with In Rainbows, and has now released King of Limbs. Kid A is the artistic predecessor of the band’s latest release, but King of Limbs seems to lack the urgency and desperation of Kid A, and its melodies don’t quite measure up to the emotional resonance of Amnesiac’s “Pyramids” or “Life in a Glass House.” And yet fans at the show last night seemed to react positively to the Limbs tracks.
It’s interesting to see that an entirely new generation of fans have emerged in the past ten years, whose interest stems largely from these more recent albums. The Literary Man interacted with one young teenaged fan at the show who was trying to decide whether he should spend his last 40 dollars on an insanely overpriced t-shirt or save it to take a cab home, as his mother had instructed him to do. In the end, he bought the shirt. Good for him. Of course the t-shirt isn’t worth 40 bucks, but it’s a better souvenir than a comfortable ride home from the show.