You know those emotions are still alive, hidden somewhere, they can’t not be there: in compact disc bits, in the warm light of the tubes, in the metallic molecules of the wires. And there they come again, when he sings: “You’re so fucking special”. A broken guitar, a cracking noise more than a solo; and then the refrain, unforgiving: “But I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doin’ here? / I don’t belong here”. How can you yell together with Thom Yorke that you’re a creep, that you’re a weirdo? And yet… And yet you’ve done it thousands of times, on your own, with the songs of the Smiths and those darkened underpasses where you thought your chance had come at last, with the Cure and the little boys that don’t cry. Even with U2 and that record with a child on the cover, who grew older with anger in his eyes and a scar on his lip.
Here there is no anger, everything is in its right place, your lips are only slightly cracked. And the years pass by and the child reappears, but this time there are two, and you would say they are more like girls, but maybe only one is. Like Siamese twins, they have but one body and two heads, but later they separate. They never look at each other, the gaze of one constantly pulls you into her world, the other is fine where she is, in a canvas next to the altar, in the frame of a video, in the page of a book. A sheet of paper comes to your mind, with a broad and regular writing, the words are in German end they sound like nursery rhyme. “Als das Kind Kind war…”. “When the child was a child, it was the time for these questions: Why am I me and you are not you? Why am I here and not there?”
You go back to the movie that changed your life, to that Berlin that was no longer Wenders’ metropolis: this time it was just one and not two. The place where Nick Cave played was still open. There was mud all around when you went to the Esplanade, just before they dismantled it to relocate it under the Sony skyscraper. The soundtrack of that winter: Pablo Honey and Debut, and years later Thom Yorke and Björk would also write a song together. Meanwhile, the Oxford bunch with the red-haired loser would go on to become the biggest rock band in the world and they wouldn’t play Creep in concerts anymore. The Icelandic fairy queen will record a beautiful album, with a song about emotional landscapes, and then become a slightly conceited avantgarde diva.
“You’re so fucking special”. It makes you laugh that the ultra-deluxe remastered edition with unreleased tracks includes the version recorded live at the BBC where he says “very special”. Today he wouldn’t do that. And the case helps you. Fog begins, and you don’t remember ever having heard it: “There’s a little child/ Running round this house/ And he never leaves/ He will never leave/ And the fog comes up from the sewers/ And glows in the dark”. At night, you would really expect the fog to slip along those hills that remind you of the hills where you were born. You think about it for a while and realize that around that church there are indeed little girls that will never leave. Because they are made of concrete.
“But I am a Creep”. Having success in the colleges mustn’t have been that difficult, all the more because Yorke in the videos at that time had hair like Kurt Cobain and the slow verse/explosive riff progression was already used in Smells Like Teen Spirit (and earlier still in Monkey Gone to Heaven by the Pixies, for example). But it’s odd that Creep became famous in America straight away where they had people like Bon Jovi, and only later in the United Kingdom that sent Morrissey’s laments, one after the other, to the top of the charts. But in the same period Loser by Beck had been released thus making 1993 the international year of the loser.
And you wonder: what sense did it have to play those two songs at a party? Your friends were doing it, you did it too when they challenged you to the only DJ competition you would do in your life. A sublime paradox, an intimate feeling yelled in chorus by an entire room of sweaty people, boys and girls, happy for once in their life for being losers, everyone alone but all together. You as well, of course. That night you won thanks to Creep. Then years would pass where you would ask yourself what it is that pushes someone to take their heart to the stage, to display the wounds of their soul, to lighten the darkness of their mind. Nobody will ever really be able to give you an answer. Finally, Tom Smith of the Editors would tell you how his pain becomes universal, how his doubts are the doubts of everyone, that his message, once published on paper or on the computer, would no longer be his. But with his baritone voice, he touches fewer nerves than Thom Yorke, who, at 41 years old, still has something childish in his falsetto.
One day you decided that Radiohead were too pop: techno was the right word, Warp was the label to follow. Electronic music, a faith: as a child you had begun with Kraftwerk and then you owned heaps of tapes by Aphex Twin and Autechre. The world was changing and even Jeans ads didn’t use ‘50s songs anymore; instead they used noises, samples, drum machines. My Iron Lung was released in an album that you didn’t like at all. Some years later you would read hyperbolic reviews on OK Computer but you didn’t trust them at all so you gave up. No Radiohead until 2000, in another capital, Rome, another life. It was Idioteque that cleared up any doubt, any prejudice, even any memory. Whose was the voice that sang about the coming of an ice age to an electronic beat, what was that caress of synthesisers while all around the rhythm was broken up, multiplied, repeated? A marvel that still makes you happy like a child today, you like it so much that the first time you heard it in concert you cried.
“I wish I was special”. Kid A. The boy. Or the girl, who knows. These figures, they have no name. It’s like a story by Ingeborg Bachmann where someone yells “kids” and they all come running. If they think about their own bodies, they find them undecipherable, “they eagerly wait for every dialogue of love, wishing for a dictionary to understand that incomprehensible language”. They fall in love without knowing with whom and they invent a language which makes them go crazy. Then they grow up, they separate into a you and a me, just like Kid A and Amnesiac. They are born together, but they live separate lives and both want to be special. Your favourite is the first, but listening to the second again you discover that it hides a thousand surprises. And they surprised themselves most of all, putting themselves into an awkward position, tearing themselves away from what they were bit by bit, and for that you are thankful because you are sure that they are not like all the others. When you thought they had found themselves on the easy track with Heil To The Thief, they released In Rainbows which messed up all the rules once again. But why those children’s voices right at the beginning of 15 Step? You think about the chorus of Another Brick In The Wall, but the answer is not there, and then the words of Thom Yorke break the noises and the hisses: “How come I end up where I started”? And you rediscover the emotion in computer bits which become music once again, in the air shifted by those woofers made in Germany. In the end, you understand: Creep is the childhood of Radiohead. It’s not around anymore, but it is present in every song, even the one dedicated to the very old First World War veteran who died last summer.
(Originally published as Tu mio luogo. Tu, nessun luogo in I Wish I Was Special, by Valerio Berruti, Silvana Editoriale).