Some music transcends its purpose as song and becomes an experiment in self-awareness. The medium of sound and silence shifts into an analogy for breathing and suffocating. You start correlating the thickness of the music’s texture to the people of your life and their timbre, as opposed to the layering of instruments. Pitch stops being a perceptual property and becomes an excruciatingly physical sensation that you feel deep within your bones, your muscles, and your blood. Damn it, you start sensing the frequencies vibrating inside your esophagus, and the involuntary muscles of your body become slaves to the tempo, contracting and expanding with the notes of the music.
Most music is not transcendental to me, regardless of how much I enjoy it.
My story with Radiohead is practically auto-biographical. In the 15 years since I first heard “Creep”, their music has become a reflection of my life and my being. I was 13 when I fell in love with my first Radiohead song. It was around the time “OK Computer” came out, and way before “Amnesiac”, “In Rainbows”, or “Hail the the Thief”. My first song wasn’t from “OK Computer” though (we can all agree that that album wasn’t designed for 13-year-old girls): it was “Creep”, from their 1992 debut album “Pablo Honey”.
A boy I was in love with sent me the MP3 file, and it was the most excruciatingly painful thing I ever heard in my life. I was instantly addicted, playing the track over and over again. I couldn’t relate to the lyrics (as a teenager, I believed I was too cool for my own good), but there was something so beautiful about “Creep” that I wanted to do nothing but get lost in the sad, sad pain of Thom Yorke.
During the rest of my teenage years, I explored Radiohead with agony, swallowing them in bites larger than I could chew. I didn’t know how to feel every time I heard a new album. I realized the gorgeousness of their music, but I still had not developed a feel for the experimental electronica that I now love so much. I listened to Radiohead anyway, often to impress the boy who introduced me to them. He had good taste in music, and to this day, his love of Pink Floyd, Oasis, and Tool greatly influenced my own musical preferences.
Then right as I started university, Radiohead released “Hail to the Thief”, and my uncomfortable appreciation turned into love. That album marked an important year in my life. I had just moved to Jordan, I became the proud owner of my first car, and I spent many, many hours discovering who-the-fuck-Roba-is in Amigo’s, a little rock pub in Jabal Amman. “Sit Down Stand Up” and “2+2=5” perfectly embodied my awakening as an individual and my rising frustration from being a part of a backwards system.
Several years later in 2007, five months after I started my first full-time job, “In Rainbows” was released. For around a year, it was the only album on my iTunes library at work, and it was during this time that Radiohead started becoming transcendental to me. Thom Yorke says that “In Rainbows” is based on “that anonymous fear thing, sitting in traffic, thinking, ‘I’m sure I’m supposed to be doing something else’. The lyrics are quite caustic—the idea of ‘before you’re comatose’ or whatever, drinking yourself into oblivion and getting fucked-up to forget … [there] is partly this elation. But there’s a much darker side.”
The darkness of death and pain came into my life as the album continued to be the only thing in my iTunes playlist, and the darkness only started abating around the time they released their most recent studio album “The King of Limbs”. The latter is light and airy, with a lot of white space. Although I’ve listened to it over a hundred times, I have no idea what the lyrics say. It’s just an experience in elation, very much like how my life has been in the past two years.
Somehow though, this elation I feel now affects all of Radiohead’s music. Listening to them is like drinking a very stiff drink. Their music triggers feelings of pain and joy in exactly the same millisecond, sending my brain into a رحلة إنفصلم, where I lose control over my muscles as I try to make sense of all the contradictory things I feel allatthesamedamntime.
I am sitting on the floor and the woodsy fragrance of my teenage bedroom’s carpeted floor is attacking my senses. I am 18 and it just started snowing lightly, but I don’t care because I’m heading to Books with a guy I like. I am at work, furiously fighting to finish a deadline. I am 25 and unhappy, sitting outside on my balcony watching the rain and smoking a cigarette. I am 13, writing an essay for my English teacher. I am drunk somewhere, feeling the frenzy of their music, screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs. I am at the hospital, my dad dying on the bed across from me. I am 27, lost in new old sensations.
That’s what being transcendental is about. My heartbeat slows down. My mind is gone.