Message 20: Pied Piper

The title song for Kid A borrows its closing lines from The Pied Piper of Hameln. The old German folk tale, which exists in numerous forms, recounts an historical event that may have occurred June 26, 1284. If the lyrics of “Kid A” speak for the performer (for Radiohead), the song reads semi-autobiographically as commentary on the band’s commercial success.

The singer’s voice, however, is dehumanized, a fact which renders an autobiographical reading problematic. Digitalized and unidentifiable, the voice, as the song suggests, emanates from among “heads on sticks.” The performers possess an alienated mask (“We’ve got heads on sticks,” line 3 and 5) while the consumer/listener possesses (has purchased?) ventriloquists (“You’ve got ventriloquists,” line 4 and 6): performers who animate a dead fiction. This fiction, however, is powerful, luring.

Equating the singing voice, or Radiohead, with the Pied Piper produces disturbing results: once lured by the Piper’s music out of town, the children were never seen again. Versions of the story have been recorded by ABBA and Jethro Tull. The story of the Pied Piper also plays a central role in the film The Sweet Hereafter. The screenplay is available online.

One reply on “Message 20: Pied Piper”

The idea of dehumanization through digitalization is very interesting, but I actually find the semi-acoustic version (done in live performance) even more disturbing. It reminds me of Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments–the juxtaposition of human emotion with a mechanized landscape.

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