Friday, 27 November 2009

The ’00s: How ‘Idioteque’ explains a decade

In October, 2000, months before the year that would come to define much of the next decade, Radiohead released Kid A, the first part of what was, essentially – along with its successor, Amnesiac – a two-part album. In his 2005 book, Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of a True Story, Chuck Klosterman posits that when people talk about 9/11, it’s like they’re talking about a dream they had, and they’re telling you about it because they want to say something about themselves without doing it overtly. Then he writes,
Kid A has no gaps in logic, perhaps because its logic is never overt; it almost seems like a musical storyboard for that particular day.
[...]
The first song on Kid A paints the Manhattan skyline at 8:00 A.M. on Tuesday morning; the song is titled, “Everything in Its Right Place.”… You can imagine humans walking to work, riding elevators, getting off the C train and the 3 train, and thinking about a future that will be a lot like the present, only better.
Now in 2009, TIME magazine is calling the ’00s “the Decade From Hell.
So what then, do we do with a song like “Idioteque” – number 8 on the Kid A track list, and one that Klosterman passes by quickly in his analysis? We discuss it as an analogy for the entire decade, because the last ten years have felt like a dream, and the only way we can wrap our stupid heads around it is to let Thom Yorke do it for us. It’s nice to look back at a piece of music that seems now to have predicted the future, because we always like to assume that someone, somewhere, knows what’s coming. That’s never true.
Evaluating the 00’s objectively is impossible because they’re not really over. We still lack the context or the hindsight that can only come with another decade or two of living with the consequences of our recent actions. “Idioteque,” like any decade-in-review, lacks the capability to understand the things we did, it only points out that we did them. So what were they?
We panicked through Y2K and 9/11 (Who’s in a bunker? Who’s in a bunker? Women and children first/ And the children first); we became distracted by something called “reality” television because we couldn’t deal with our own (I laugh until my head comes off); ate like moron kings (Swallow ‘til I burst/ Until I burst); watched some more T.V. (I’ve seen too much/ You haven’t seen enough/ You haven’t seen it/ Laugh until my head comes off); and panicked some more (Women and children first/ And the children first).
Then we embraced the Internet (Here I am alive/ Everything all of the time).
And then there were the arguments. First, the never-ending debate over climate change (Ice age coming/ Let me hear both sides/ Ice age coming/ Throw them all in the fire). And also about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the on-going threat of global terror, whether in London, Madrid, India, or at home (We’re not scare mongering/ This is really happening). Not to mention the collapse of the economy, and the questions we’re still asking to find where to lay the blame (Mobiles quirking/ Mobiles chirping/ Take the money and run/ Take the money and run/ Take the money and run).
And always – always – the Internet. The blogosphere and social media furthered our alternate selves, projecting a persona that exists in a meta-reality, both everywhere and nowhere simultaneously (Here I’m alive/ Everything all of the time), while the bodies in front of the keyboards are still always ready for the next panic – maybe a pandemic, or a fear for the world we’re leaving for future generations (this one is for the children…).
And while it all might seem a bit depressing, the greatest thing that “Idioteque” tells us about our decade was that it also contained moments of ingenuity, complete magic, and great beauty. It was the decade of Banksy and LeBron James. Of finding evidence of water on Mars, Mad Men, iPods, and completing the human genome project. The decade of Alexander Ovechkin, the Royal Tenenbaums, and a guy who can draw the New York City skyline by memory; of football in HD, an airplane landing on the Hudson River, Usain Bolt, legalized gay marriage, TED talks that are available to everyone, Jon Stewart, etc. etc. And it’s the decade when we heard Is This It, Stankonia, Funeral, Elephant, Takk, and yes – Kid A.

Colin Horgan @'True Slant'

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