Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I'm a Creep.

Once in a blue moon I use this blog for something a bit more introspective - this is one of those posts so feel free to disregard.

Last week was the 20th anniversary of The Bends, which to me is the greatest complete Radiohead album of all time (you were so close OK Computer, but nobody listens to Fitter Happier). For me, it was a profound moment because this record was a game-changer in my musical taste (which at the time included Def Leppard), and it was the soundtrack of my adolescence. 

Most non-Radiohead fans however will know the band for their first US hit single Creep, which came on the previous album Pablo Honey. And that song is a timeless hit for good reason: aside from harnessing the spirit of 90s alt-grunge angst, it features Jonny Greenwood's now-famous guitar blasts and vocalist Thom Yorke's incredible pitch range. And that's not to mention the profoundly sympathetic message itself: a man with low self-worth wishing he was more in order to impress a woman.

It's no wonder this song has so many wonderful cover versions.

Intentional or not, there's no denying the similarities in the chord progression between Creep and the 1972 song The Air That I Breathe, a ballad by the Hollies. In fact these very similarities led to a plagiarism lawsuit that Radiohead lost (perhaps rightfully so). And that's where we finally come to the point of this article: it is perhaps poetic that these two songs would conflict in a court of law as they also conflict lyrically, while simultaneously completing each other in harmony.

Many mash-ups of these two songs can be find online, but I'm going to highlight an acoustic version I found on YouTube by a band called the Moon Loungers:

What's so special about this particular cover is how it successfully juxtaposes the conflicting ideologies of the two songs. First you have Creep: a heartbreaking tale of insecurity. In one line the man is complimenting an attractive stranger, saying she "floats like a feather" and "she's just like an angel." But while he builds the woman up, he concurrently tears himself down, declaring he's a "weirdo" that has absolutely no business being near her. 

Meanwhile, The Air That I Breathe features a narrator on the other end of the same spectrum: he is completely content with his life and love in every way. This man starts his song saying that if can make just one wish, "I think I'd pass." He has just made love to a woman, and now has lost all human desire to need; he doesn't require sleep, sound, food, or anything else in the world. He declares that "peace came upon me and it leaves me weak."

This is the type of self-actualization that most of us - consciously or unconsciously - strive for in our lives. It's a feeling of completion and closure that's unfortunately short-lived when it does occur, but remembered for a lifetime. For me personally, I might've felt that moment 4 or 5 times in my entire 35 years, and I can remember each instance in excruciating detail.

In the embedded acoustic cover, the singers jump back and forth between the two sets of lyrics and often overlap them where it suits the harmony. I like to believe the result is a musical struggle within one person between confidence and inadequacy, as this is what my own adult life often feels like. In one moment, I can feel like there's little left to be desired, and in an unexpected shift I can feel I'm not worthy of the things I covet or have.

It's the kind of uncomfortable introspective conversation most people don't want to deal with or explore with you, which is why we as a culture have to hide these heavy themes in songs, movies, and other artistic media. In part it may be because people like myself - who swing like a pendulum between the two songs - lack an understanding of what's making the pendulum swing in the first place. Is it biorhythm? An unstable personality? Other people? Who knows.

What I do know, personally, is that from two songs from two different eras, which resulted in contempt via a lawsuit, came an almost perfect and extraordinarily beautiful representation of the internal struggle I myself feel on a regular basis. 

And for me, it's nice to have that validation through artistry. Even if it's coming from a wedding band.

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