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Message 183: OSU lecture notes

Following is a link to the slides and notes (without music examples) from the April 6 lecture at OSU on Radiohead: osulectradiohead.pdf>. The notes have not been proofread and are disjointed and rambling, like the lecture itself was. Also missing are image credits and a bibliography.

My preparation for the lecture was not as complete as it should have been: part of the weekend immediately prior had been spent in the hospital with my daughter.

I welcome any comments and/or criticisms. One major weakness that will be obvious to readers of this site will be the lecture’s superficiality–many stones are left unturned and even more left untouched. One question not asked and still unanswered: what is Thom Yorke saying at the end of “In Limbo”? My first guess: “Call me.” Online lyric archives so far haven’t given an answer.

Also, another major weakness is the failure to mention and explore the obvious thematic connections between “In Limbo” and “Arpeggi”: lost at sea, bottom of the sea. We fishies. Plus the thematic connections with “The Bends” (a disease associated with the sea) and “Pyramid Song” (jumped in the river) and “Big Boots” (drift all you like / from ocean to ocean).

We fishies. Hitting the bottom to escape is the wrong action to take, it would seem (to “hit the bottom” is an idiomatic phrase for loss or losing. The burden of the sea’s weight above, pressing down. The bottom of the sea would offer escape into a different, heavy, dark world. But out of what? The place where eyes turn “me.” From the edge of the earth.

UPDATE: Some text is cut off when the PowerPoint file is rendered as a PDF file. Here’s a link to the PowerPoint file itself.

7 replies on “Message 183: OSU lecture notes”

Hi Joseph
I downloaded your notes on the recent lecture and was enjoying them immensely when I realised part of the file is probably missing. Can you put up another link please?

‘The big fish eat the little ones, the big fish eat the little ones’

I think that the sea has become, in Yorke’s mind, an arena in which the rules of more solid land can be seen in a different light. In this way, it is one of his many alternative worlds, where he deals with reality through a veil of fantasy. He has experimented with dinosaurs once or twice, but ‘Arpeggi’ shows him returning to the ocean, which is a natural arena for anyone with a good imagination; the sea being that is very much among us (unlike dinosaurs) but something that is simultaneously hidden from us, about which we know very little

what I think Thom Yorke is saying at the end of ‘In Limbo’ is ‘come back here’. I was tempted to think that it was ‘come back to me’ as it is written on the hidden album illustration, but ‘come back here’ seems more likely, though it would be fair to say that mr yorke isn’t really going for the correct intonation and quite possibly doesn’t quite knoew what he is saying himself

The audience comprised inquisitors of Radiohead and inquirers alike, and the speech was written to accommodate the appetites of both. Through disappearing completely into the work as a group, the knowledgeable audience members heard the critical examination they came for while the novices were not left behind.
Particularly fascinating was the Mingus allusion, how taking on Mingus’ style in “The National Anthem” imports an inherent comment on first-world political and social scenes into the track.
Thank you again for speaking, and I wish you the best with the book.

i was thinking that maybe thom was familiar with joseph campbell, the expert mythology and comparative religion scholar. in one of his videos, joseph campbell and the power of myth, he talks about how the journey into the sea represents a hero’s journey into his subconscious, and coming out of that sea signalizes a rebirth. he expounds on this a lot more than i’m capable of doing, obviously.

on a search for more information about this theory, so that i could be a little less brief, i found this article, which applies the journey campbell talks about to the entrance into adulthood. considering that many of the sea references in thom’s lyrics are from later albums, this seems somewhat appropriate. this is around the time that noah was born, and perhaps thom was going through the sobering up that a parent often feels.

or, alternately, the journey into the subconscious was caused by all the fame and money and things that accompanied becoming famous. i’m sure it would be hard not to let all of that press and exposure and all of the touring and everything get to you. i believe thom has said before in interviews that during the kid a sessions he sort of…just became really internalized, isolated. and that was the bottom of the sea. and by putting out kid a and amnesiac, he encountered a rebirth of sorts, where he released a lot of those fears and pressures he felt with fame, and was free to put out an album without all of that – without the press and the videos and the exposure.

i don’t know if he necessarily intended that, but i know around that time he was very interested in the symbolism of different mythology, and still is [“siren singing you to shipwreck”, the omnipresent minotaur]. so i thought perhaps he was familiar with campbell and his interpretation of the journey into the sea.

That’s fascinating, kylie: thanks for posting that. I know Campbell’s work but hadn’t thought of connecting him with Radiohead.

I’ve been thinking that “Arpeggi” might be the first song where the sea represents something positive. One of the last repeated verses is “we fishies,” the word is cute and the first-person plural (inclusive)–and the bottom of the sea is an escape. Every other sea song seems to involve a threat. The bends (from rising from the sea too quickly), lost at sea (in limbo), big fish eat the little ones (optimisitic). Pyramid Song’s river is somewhat positive but I’m not sure the “nothing to fear nothing to doubt” is meant sincerely.

i never thought of “nothing to fear” as being insincere. i feel like it’s a hope, it’s not true now, but in the future he will be able to swim in the sea without any fear or doubt. and “arpeggi” indicates that he has reached the point where he can swim freely, where the sea is no longer a threat.

i do find it really interesting, though, that the imagery of the sea starts out as being quite obviously dangerous, and immediately connected to a physical problem, and gradually goes from being really vaguely dangerous to almost welcome. that idea applies rather neatly to the idea of adulthood, i think. the idea of growing up scares the shit out of me, but once you’re there i suppose you realize it’s actually quite nice. or at least i’m hoping, heh.

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