I’ve been sort of dreading this one. What is there left to be written about OK Computer? By now, I imagine anyone who remotely cares about music has listened to it and formed their opinion on it. Just about any list of top 90’s albums that is worth anything will have it at or near the top, with most praising it as a landmark album that has come to define the 90’s and everything that came after it. It’s a prescient album that in some ways predicts how the internet would make music extremely fractured today in 2011. It’s hard for me to imagine another album being made that unifies as many people as this one, that is celebrated by both the indie sect and more casual music fans.
Since enough has been said about it, I don’t really feel like giving my own inferior analysis of the music. If you haven’t heard OK Computer, do it. Now. Close your door, stop reading this crappy blog, put on your headphones and spend the better part of the next hour listening intently. Meanwhile, I can at least share what this album means to me personally.
I’m somewhat unique among the musically obsessed in that I didn’t really listen to music at all growing up. My parents both played some classical stuff on guitar or piano, but there was very little in the ways of contemporary music. When people asked me favorite bands or songs, I just kind of shrugged and said I didn’t listen to music. Pretty much all of my musical memories from this time are things I was exposed to unwillingly: Awful Smash Mouth songs, the collected works of pretty much every late 90’s boy band (thanks to my sister), and most of the other ubiquitous 90’s hits. There was nothing that I ever sought out myself.
It wasn’t until high school that I began to take at least a casual interest in music. It probably had something to do with the transition going on in my life, from a previously happy and well-adjusted elementary and middle schooler into an alienated high schooler. After living a mostly sheltered existence, high school was the first time I saw what the real world was, and for the most part recognized how terrible it is. I had always been considered funny, witty, and smart by people who knew me, but in high school none of those traits seemed to be valued. Eventually I basically gave up on trying to relate to my peers and became incredibly shy and withdrawn (problems I still struggle with today). For the most part, I had no real friends that I was seeing regularly and just a handful of acquaintances who I would occasionally talk to.
After each day of high school, I would usually take a nap, but then I’d have nothing to do for the next 7-8 hours (since I rarely did my homework). And that’s when I began to start seeking out music, partly out of boredom but also because there was this whole world that I had really not explored at all. For the first year or so (I’m guessing), I latched on to just a handful of bands: Oasis, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Verve. And those bands, and pretty much just those bands, became music for me. I listened to them constantly and didn’t bother finding anything else for a weirdly long amount of time. (Sidenote: I still listen to Oasis and The Verve occasionally, but now just hearing one note of Muse and RHCP is enough to almost make me gag.)
Eventually I began to look for more bands, and I decided to try to find bands similar to Muse. When searching, I found a lot of people saying that Muse was simply a worse version of Radiohead (“how could Muse be a worse version of anything?” I thought to myself). So, I looked up Radiohead, saw that OK Computer was their most acclaimed and recognized album, and decided to give it a shot.
Now this will sound really corny, but it’s true: OK Computer changed me. It wasn’t just that it was so beyond anything I had ever heard musically, but it was also the first music that I really felt spoke to me and my situation. It wasn’t poppy the way the Britpop bands were and wasn’t focused purely on histrionics like Muse. It was all emotion, and it was all the emotions that I was feeling and felt weren’t being articulated anywhere else. And it almost instantly sent me down the path from being someone who just listened to some music to being someone that really cared about music. In a sense, Radiohead (and other bands I grew attached to) replaced the friends I didn’t really have, which might be why I’m so passionate about my favorite artists.
Now, 4-5 years later, I don’t find myself listening to OK Computer as much, possibly because it’s inextricably linked to a time in my life that I’d rather forget. But I’ll always be indebted to it, and whenever I listen to it again I’m reminded of how powerful it is. When I hear someone complain that Radiohead is too sad or mopey for them, I just kind of shake my head and chuckle, because I know that they don’t get it and probably never will. And it reconfirms that, despite their massive popularity, Radiohead is a band that seems like they made music just for me.