He was sitting outside a coffee shop downtown with a shopping cart and a paper sign that read, “Need help/ Homeless/ And ugly.” He had a thick Southern drawl, a friendly face, and a busted pocket radio. “I dropped it this morning, and now it don’t work.” He handed it to me. “Could you see about this?” I twisted the dial. No go. His radio was dead. “All I need is to get but one station. They got a bluegrass program that comes on every Sunday night, and it means all the world to me to hear that music.”
Right then I knew where he was coming from. Music was what he lived for. It defined him. It made his bad days into good days. Music worked the same magic for me, too, though long ago. Rock radio was my lifeline throughout adolescence, but via the dumbing down that commercialization brought on, rock music became less and less relevant, and eventually I stopped listening.
Radiohead revived all that for me. They made it safe to like pop music again, although at first I didn’t get them at all. I thought “Creep” was self-indulgent and gratuitous. I still do. Early Thom Yorke was weird, angry, and depressing, and for a short while his band sputtered along from one strange release to the next. And yet there was something of a rock deconstructionism going on in their music that was savory. Indie radio stations heard it and played all the Radiohead they could get their hands on, but OK Computer was the album that made Radiohead mainstream. Less grunge-meets-Queen, it generated an uncommon atmosphere that compelled me to listen to it, in whole or part, almost daily for the next several years. As for my homeless friend, I haven’t seen him in a while, and I don’t know if he ever got his radio fixed. I hope he has.
RADIOHEAD, Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre, Wednesday, August 27, 7:30 p.m. 619-671-3500. $35.50 to $55.50.