It’s his birthday today.
My associative memories involving Radiohead are a little bit too intense and specific, and so I find it difficult to listen to them anymore. Some music is like that. It’s so associated with something specific you kind of don’t want to re-visit it. Cliff Eberhardt is like that. Tori Amos too, a little bit. OK Computer is so attached to a very very specific – and un-repeatable – moment in my life that the whole album – dystopian and creepy already – brings me right back there to that time, a time of deep sadness but also unexpected exhilaration because I met this guy. It was just an encounter in the night, a passing-by of kindred spirits, but it changed me. I was not doing well. At all. Meeting him was … well, I wish I never met him. The parties I went to at that time – hanging out with that whole crowd, him and his friends … OK Computer was floating in the background.
But before OK Computer, of course, was the massive culture-wide juggernaut that was “Creep”. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say it captured a zeitgeist, it spoke to a generation – right into the heart of things – I suppose the sweep of it hit the millennial generation first: this song hit when they were teens, young 20s. For Gen-Xers it was “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. “I feel stupid and contagious” is just another way of saying “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.” When you speak of generations, you speak in generalities, I realize there are many exceptions, but when you are talking about a watershed song like “Creep” – and the long shadow it casts – you have to look at overall generational forces. Sometimes something so strong comes along, something strikes such a universal chord, that the generation it belongs to thinks: “That is OURS. We can respond to things that came before us, we can love what comes after, but this? This is OURS.” Nirvana, Liz Phair, L7, Soundgarden, etc … I remember the feeling of “wow … this is OURS.”
The real test of “Creep” is to see how far it traveled. First it went around the world becoming a smash international success. And then it went round the world again. And again. Radiohead toured for two straight years on the strength of one song. Selling out stadiums. So … it turns out, “Creep” wasn’t OURS after all. And “Creep” has moved out of its own time, into the next generation, and the next. It’s one of THOSE songs. Anyone who is even halfway honest to themselves about how they feel will see themselves in the song. It’s not an affirming kind of song. It’s … embarrassing, things you don’t want to admit, you want to be cool, you want to seem like you’ve got it all handled. But you don’t. You don’t at all.
The song keeps going. It continues to expand. Thom Yorke has said he doesn’t like “Creep” which is, of course, his prerogative. He’s not a FAN of himself. he’s the artist. Artists have very separate takes on their own work, and often their most popular work is their least favorite. “Creep” changed things for him irrevocably. Not too hard to realize why his feelings are mixed.
I want to point to a couple of different covers, to show the VARIETY of people who see themselves in this song, who feel this song speaks to them, to their audience.
First up, my dear friend Alexandra Billings sang it when she hosted the 27th annual Ovation Awards (and the song is a staple in any of her cabaret shows). When sung by a trans woman, it takes on whole new resonance.
Prince did an absolutely epic live version of “Creep”, which keeps going and going and going … the clip is almost 9 minutes long. And watch what HE does with it. He turns it into a celebratory anthem of creep-itude. It’s a joyous explosion, kind of like: It’s better to be a creep among creeps than someone who won’t ADMIT they’re a creep. LET’S HEAR IT FOR CREEPS. For almost 9 extraordinary raise-the-roof minutes.
I tripped over this extraordinary performance of “Creep” actress and singer Carrie Manolakos (she played Elpheba in one of the national tours of Wicked. This show was at La Piosson Rouge, on Bleecker Street, one of the coolest New York performance venues (I went to the David Bowie/Elvis Presley Birthday Bash there). Anyway, she turns this into an introspective monologue but … her voice. I am all over goosebumps.
And finally the Grand-Daddy of all covers, or … the Grand-Mama – is Haley Reinhart’s version with the Vintage Postmodern Jukebox. Reinhart was a contestant on American Idol, and she didn’t win, but it was probably for the best, because she has gone on to have a very unique career, where she sings standards – and/or pop songs … only transforming them into jazz or blues. Her voice can do anything, but she also isn’t just imitating these styles. She understands them. Her voice is a real INSTRUMENT. You won’t recognize “Creep” in her hands. She’s the real deal. She was sick with the flu when she recorded it, and did it in one take. Haley Reinhart is not a “star”. Neither is Vintage Jukebox (although those who love them love passionately). My point is: she is not a massive superstar and this clip is closely approaching 1 billion views. That’s Eminem-type numbers. IT’S INSANE. But she – and this mind-blowing cover – deserve it.
I hope Thom Yorke et al has seen it.
I’ll end with this: My brother Brendan wrote about seeing Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl, and his thoughts, as always, are so interesting.