The fencing season is filled with long bus rides, often at night, and often quiet. Though I do enjoy the camaraderie of the team, I also enjoy separating myself from the group both physically and existentially for times of introspection. There is something about the rapidly changing landscapes and views that leads me to believe that perhaps life is not as predetermined as we sometimes leave ourselves to think. That if we can so easily change what we view and our location, that there is no reason why we cannot change ourselves as well. It is thus during one of these moments of introspection that when listening to the album In Rainbows on my bus ride to Pennstate that I had a minor epiphany.
So much of what Radiohead does is purposefully unsettling. I have found that certain guitar strokes, ambient noises, a number of Thom Yorke's lyrics and his vocals all make me feel uncomfortable. They make me vulnerable. Suddenly exposed to a new world of sounds and cracked textures that I do not understand, maybe cannot understand, I realize that this is purposeful as it makes me question what it is that we as a society consider music. Is it merely tones and melodies, or is it merely the use of sounds to produce complex emotions. Indeed, one cannot truly understand Radiohead and their songs till one gives in to this alienation, because when one is ensconced and armored in primitive and conservative conceptions of what music is, then Radiohead's alternative message is missed. Though many artists may discuss the often pained existence of mankind, Radiohead goes a step further and indicates that is pain is the result of the fact that life is not complete. That it is not comfortable. That it is not simple. That life is often fractured, disjointed and twisted, and instead of merely saying it they are able to portray it in their music. By throwing open your arms wide to the odd and eerie music and embracing this estrangement one may get a dose of reality in a world that is as odd and eerie as Radiohead's music make it out to be. This "uncomfortable" music thus does not only challenge what music is, but also what life is.
For many people this is not always welcome. It is not an easy thing to embrace life's imperfections and vagaries. But, through their music Radiohead has remained in touch with some of the more difficult questions that humanity faces.
As I get off the bus and turn my Ipod off, my eyes readjust to the bright neon lights of the parking lot, I find that my eyes are not the only things becoming readjusted. My life outlook has also been altered into a more somber, pained experience that is perhaps a more accurate depiction of what life is.