I came to Radiohead late, and in the end I’m grateful for that. It makes me think back to the closing scene of Fight Club, as the story builds to its climax and the buildings are collapsing, when we get the first strains of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind? I’ve often wondered who had that moment better, those who knew and recognized the song and went, oh yes, fuck yes! or those of us who had never heard that shit before and felt it for the first time as buildings buckled and crashed. I’ll never really know, but in my gut I think the more novel things are, the fresher, the better. So when I finally acquired Kid A, a decade after its release, it had my undivided attention. I got it fresh and pure as forest snow.
I saved the album for the flight home, because I knew it was going to be a tough one. The last time I had taken that 14 hour flight, I’d had an envelope from her that said on the outside, “to be opened on the plane with your hands,” and contained a love letter and a hand-made crossword puzzle. This time, I had only her voice running over and over in my mind, shaking with emotion and the crackle of the long distance line: “I slept with someone… I slept with someone… I slept with someone…” The plane took off and I dropped into a bottomless sleep.
When I woke up all the windows were down and the cabin was dark. I took out my old iPod, put on headphones, and hit play on Kid A. As the first song began, I cracked the window and found myself at 30,000 feet while dawn broke over the ice at the top of the world.
I was a mess, and would continue to be a worsening mess for a long time yet to come. Even back then, at the very beginning, some part of me knew that. But everything out that window was blue and white and clean and fresh, way up there in uninhabited nowhere. As the first notes of Everything In Its Right Place played, and pink and orange washed and mingled with the blue and white and purple of that pristine wasteland, something broken inside me collapsed and fell and landed where it belonged. The colors, the music, the timing, the contents of my head — it was perfect, all of it, and no less so for being sad.
Then a flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned and lifted the headphones she scolded me for introducing light into a cabin where everyone was sleeping. Scowling, I shut the window, the moment passed, and everything was awful again.
But there is meaning and metaphor in everything, even that, and this time I closed my eyes, exhaled, and savored it — all the beauty and the pain, all the banality and love and absurdity, everything, all of it. I sat there helpless, heartbroken, in that uncomfortable seat in that claustrophobic cabin, and an idiot smile bloomed across my face.
Life, even and especially at its lowest points, is annoyingly, impossibly, beautiful. The answer to my problems then was the same as it is now: Stop fighting, relax, and let yourself be carried through the clouds.