#114: Radiohead, Kid A
By Matt Worley with Jon Worley

In the summer of 2002, I was seeing a girl about ten years younger than me. I was 30, so it seemed to make complete sense. Some of the time.

Our connection was a recently deceased mutual friend.

Brian was a drummer, and I'd known him as one of the better young drummers in the larger University of New Mexico drummer circle. I wasn't actually part of this circle (I'd stopped playing drums in marching band after high school), I just went to the drummer parties. They were the best parties.

After my younger brother, Aaron, and I moved back to Albuquerque in the fall of 1996 (we were in St. Petersburg, Florida, for about three months), we took Brian in as a roommate. He lived with us until 1998, when he moved into the drummer house (where most of the drummer parties took place).

When Kid A came out, Brian got into it immediately. The electronic aspect, something he'd been dabbling in with his own music, was a turn on. Even though I'd been into Radiohead since "Creep," Aaron wasn't really that much of a fan until Kid A. Then he understood Radiohead (and subsequently upped his appreciation of some of their earlier works). The companion album, Amnesiac, also fueled the enthusiasm by both Brian and Aaron. In fact, Brian got into Coldplay because it reminded him of Radiohead. I wasn't as impressed (and never have been) by Gwyneth Paltrow's husband's band, and, looking back, it might have been the drugs Brian was on.

I have to say that Kid A has kind of diminished my appreciation of Radiohead over time. When it was released, it was out of the blue different. And since we'd just entered a new millennium, this seemed entirely appropriate. I embraced the change because it seemed like everything else was changing as well. There was a notion by music writers and fans that Kid A signaled Radiohead as a Pink Floyd for a new generation. Musically adventurous. Album centric. The best of old school prog rock mixed with new school production and sounds.

The first song on the album is called "Everything In Its Right Place," which, I think, is supposed to be ironic. Because it's all mixed up. But back then when the decade was so new, and we thought the best was yet to come (and, wow, were we fucking wrong about that), I think it was in its right place. After hearing pretty much everything Radiohead has released since then, maybe Kid A was actually the big gong sound before the storm. This album gave them permission to stop writing songs, and that, over time, makes it sound way more pretentious than it probably was.

I understand wanting to get off the pop merry go round. I've seen the concert film of their OK Computer tour, which, at times, makes the point that grinding those songs out night after night is what killed pop for the band. Or maybe just Thom. But it also makes the point that Radiohead was taking all this love for their music way too seriously.

So they took it all apart and split the band's existence between pre-Kid A and post.

By the time 2001 rolled around, Brian had somewhat embraced his gayness (he came out in 2000, which caused a bit of a shock in what was a dominantly heterosexual drummer circle) and also gotten into cocaine. My brother and I spent the afternoon on January 1st at the student slum apartment Brian was living in to watch Kubrick's 2001. I now think of this day as the beginning of the end. The time when the bad stuff hadn't turned bad yet, and everyone was looking at a brighter future.

Even though Bush had won the election (or should I say lawsuit?) and was about to be inaugurated in a few weeks, we didn't see this as a bad sign. The 90s had ended so up (and, while there were hints of economic unease because the Internet bubble was bursting, we hadn't felt the real pop yet), it didn't seem to really matter if we had some goofball Republican president. He couldn't fuck it up that bad, could he?

So we all marched into 2001 pretty confident that we knew what we were doing and everything was good. We couldn't be touched. I wasn't quite 30 yet. And, yes, everything was in its right place. Maybe we were all just a little screwed up from the night before.

Unfortunately, the cocaine became a habit. Brian and his roommate stopped paying utility bills. They didn't eat much. Any money lying around was used for non-food enhancements. After the 2001 Spring Crawl in downtown Albuquerque, I found myself back at Brian's, not quite ready to go home (I was a little drunk, and my house was still a few miles away). His roommate came in and announced he'd found $100 (whether he found it on the street or in his wallet or at an ATM, it's hard to say), and he was going to go score some coke. About fifteen minutes later, he came back with another guy and a bunch of crack. It was all he could find at two in the morning, I guess. I'd taken a little hit of pot earlier, and another beer, and I watched as these guys smoked these little white rocks. They went through $100 worth pretty fast, and the smell was of burnt chemicals. I'd casually asked if I should take a hit, and they all said no. Like, really quickly (almost shouting it out).

Crack, they said, was a shit drug. You keep thinking you're going to get high, and then, for a second, you do, and then you spend the rest of the night trying to get that high again and you never do. And, after watching them chase this elusive high for a while, I realized it was about time for me to go home. The fact that they knew exactly what they were getting for their $100--DIDN'T LIKE IT--and then proceeded to go ahead and do it was kinda sad. And I was tired.

That summer, Brian had a "medical event" during a coke binge. He told me it was an allergic reaction to something, and not a big deal at all. I stupidly believed him. Other friends saw what I didn't, and they continually pressed him about stopping with all the cocaine. After a wedding of a mutual close friend (one of the drummers, the wedding was in Santa Fe), he drove me back to my house. My brother was acting in a theatrical version of Reservoir Dogs (he was Mr. Brown), and had to leave the reception earlier than we did.

We went out to the back yard, and I fired up a bong. Brian declined to partake. He told me that he wasn't doing coke, but pot just didn't work for him anymore (it didn't get him high). I didn't think to ask what he was doing instead of coke or pot. I probably didn't want to know. And, I'd just gotten high.

We talked for a bit, and then he took off. By this time, he and his roommate had moved to a different house in the same neighborhood (about a block away from their other shitty apartment), and they had no gas or electricity. As the weather turned into early fall, their neighbors allowed them to snake long extension cords so they could have portable heaters and lights (as well as a working entertainment center). They exchanged this electricity for drugs.

When my brother and I met up with Brian, we usually met at the Copper Lounge, which was not far from his place. He was keeping his living situation from me, and I wasn't trying to look too hard into it. On Halloween, he tried heroin for the first time. A few days later (in the early morning of November 4th), he OD'd and died. It was less than two months after 9/11, but this hit me harder than anything that happened on the East Coast in September. We'd all lost our little brother Brian.

On the day of the funeral (which was a horrible Catholic mass, officiated by someone who didn't seem to know who died, and pretty much told us all we were gonna go to hell if we didn't repent RIGHT NOW!), my brother put in his dubbed tape of Kid A and Amnesiac as we drove around town from church to modern cemetery (Brian is buried in a wall of caskets above ground) back to home. It was a better funeral dirge than anything we heard until the wake that night. Which freakin' rocked. A little advice: Skip funerals, go to the wakes.

In the summer of 2002, Brian's parents invited some of us (the ones they knew) over to their place for a get together. We ate, told stories, and realized his parents were in a lot of denial. Both about the way he died, and that he really was gay. His father, in particular, saw it as some kind rebellion/phase that Brian would break out of eventually.

And their "see, he's not gay" evidence was this young blonde girl Brian had met while he taught her high school drum line (she was a flag girl). As far as any of us knew, this girl was the only female Brian ever had sex with.

Later that night, after the party had moved to my house, I ended up in bed with the girl. Felt good. And so started an off and on affair that would last into the fall (actually, until just after the 1st anniversary of Brian's death).

On another evening with her later in the summer, I put Kid A on the stereo while we screwed. I can't say with any kind of certainty that this enhanced our activities, I was actually just making a musical reference to the only thing we had in common: our dead friend Brian.

When she came over the next time, I asked if there was anything she'd like to hear while we got down to it.

"Whatever," She said, "As long as it's not that fucking Enya shit."

I've never, ever listened to an entire Radiohead song, much less an album. I know, this makes me a philistine and an uncurious bastard and probably a very, very bad music critic. It's just that I've never really liked what little I've heard from the band.

Maybe it will turn out like blue cheese, which I started eating (and loving) after I turned 30. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll go back and listen to Radiohead and cry out "Why, oh why, did I wait so long to discover the love of my life?"

Probably not, though. And in the meantime, I've got 45 albums to review before next Sunday. So I'm a little booked.

Nathan, the bassist in my current band, had no knowledge of Radiohead either. So I gave him CDs to burn onto his computer, which he might have done. But they never made an impression on him. I think some bands might be hard to get into, kinda like coming into Harry Potter by watching the fifth (of eight!) movie and wondering why Potter isn't totally hot for Hermoine (in other words, not getting this toddler wizard story at all). Radiohead can be cold and impersonal, and those kinds of people are really hard to like without an anchor point.

The whole thing with Brian was fucked. And I don't have anything more eloquent or whatever to say about it than that.