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Visions of Radiohead 

Celebrating the 21st century's most interactive band

Wednesday, Aug 20 2008
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Google the search term “Radiohead In Rainbows” and what returns is 4 million hits, which is a lot of verbiage for a mere 10 songs released less than a year ago. Taken further, if you conservatively estimate that each of these items contains at least 100 words about the album/band/movement, that’s 400 million words — not to mention the torrents of MP3s moving hither and yon across the Internet, and the images and video streams, IMs and Twitters discussing the band. Or the comments section of YouTube, where the band’s official videos garner millions of views, and as many raving fans acknowledging understood facts such as, “Creep is a great song, it definitely is.” That’s a lot of bandwidth, and the band’s mere existence has made an impressive digital footprint.

In other words, what could I possibly say about Radiohead, which performs two sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, August 24, and Monday, August 25, that hasn’t been said in one of those 4 million thoughts? It’s tempting to prognosticate about the band and its “model,” and examine how much, nearly a year after In Rainbows was unleashed on the world, the industry has shifted. I could discuss how the band gave away the album for free, and the consequences of those actions, but there are tons of good essays available online that cover this from one angle or another.

While trying to conjure something unwritten about Radiohead — I failed, OK? — YouTube beckoned, and, lo, my search revealed an untapped chorus that eloquently explained the Why of Radiohead. Thousands of musicians have been touched by the band’s melodies, are eager to interact with their songs, to chime in on an ongoing conversation about music. In Radioheadland, string quartets compete for attention with jazz pianists, who occupy just as much screen space as a teenage girl bringing acoustic beauty to “Nice Dream” or a country-blues chanteuse addressing “Black Star.”

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What follows are YouTube highlights — interesting/intriguing/transcendent versions of Radiohead songs, some delivered by professionals, others defiantly not, that attempt to illustrate the unspoken something that has made Radiohead the most considered rock band of the 21st century.

Note: For links to all of the following clips, go to www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=CE0AE58489916AB9.

ortoPilot, “Creep”

There are, as of last week, 6,800 YouTube clips that come up when you search for “Radiohead covers.” They range from the most popular, nü-metal band Korn’s version of the iconic (and most covered) Radiohead song, “Creep” (something about “What the hell am I doing here?” hits home for a lot of people), and Panic at the Disco’s take on “Karma Police” to Radiohead themselves covering Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” until you arrive at a man named ortoPilot, whose interpretation of “Creep” (one of at least 1,250 different ones) has earned nearly 220,000 hits. Somehow, among all the unsigned young men whining softly about their alienation, amid the Joan Baez look-alikes getting all sad and pretty on it, ortoPilot’s straight-ahead take on “Creep” has touched something deep. His is an archetype of the genre: a young person sitting on the side of a bed, pillows in the background, sharing a secret. The door’s shut — it always is — and who knows what’s happening on the other side of it? No matter. He has the confidence of a million nights alone playing this song, singing “I wish I was special,” first into the mirror and then into its inverse, the video camera. That confidence, that ownership, breeds fandom and is a magnet in the solitary online world where people prefer avatars to reality, and tentative stabs at the bands’ melodies can easily fail. It doesn’t hurt that ortoPilot can hit the falsetto and is handsome, and knows his instrument. But you don’t need me to tell you that. Listen to commenter RoKkA4LyFe, who likes something else about it: “Sweet cover dude, almost perfect. I love the resonance u get out of ur guitar, wat brand is it?”

ideadead, “Bulletproof (I Wish I Was)”

In ideadead’s take on “Bulletproof (I Wish I Was),” from The Bends, the singer is wearing a Korean mask and holds a guitar. There’s a story here, but what exactly remains unknown. Does s/he live in a place where Radiohead is forbidden? Or are they ashamed? Could it be that the singer is in a Norwegian black metal band and would be flayed for his secret love of Radiohead but is so driven to get this song out into the open that it’s worth the risk of, at worst, death, at best the humiliation of his friends? Or is that an Elephant Man with a platinum voice underneath there? The song begins and the singer is male, with an Asian accent. “Limb by limb, tooth by tooth/tearing up inside of me,” he sings, his mask occasionally bumping the mike as his lips spell out the song in gentle falsetto, “Every day every hour/I wish that I was bulletproof.” You are.

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