Remembering How I First Startling Liking Radiohead While Seeing Them in Concert

In some circles, a pastor liking Radiohead is a bit cliche. And in some others, it’s quite bizarre. Depending on where I am, I get one of two looks: One that says, “Of course you do and you probably use a Mac and …” The second look politely says, “Really? I thought you said you were a minister of some sort.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t get the brilliance of Radiohead until the late 90’s. After having my fill of Pablo Honey’s radio hit “Creep”, the song “Hey Jealousy” would usually follow and to be brutally honest, I kinda lumped them both together back then. A few years later, my friend Brian announced that Radiohead was the “best band alive today” and handed me a couple of burned cd’s.

Two things about my friend: One, he’s brilliant but changes his mind quite frequently and two, he exaggerates worse than I do. And so the cd’s sat in the console of my Nissan Maxima for most of that summer. I remember listening to them a few times and thinking they sounded cool but they’re so depressing.

And then it happened. No joke, it was a hot, sunny day, but it was quite a crappy day too. Circumstances had gotten the best of me … for weeks. I resented so many things, especially some of the realities of ministry I was experiencing at the time. I was at a stop light, “Paranoid Android” was on and I was captivated by the lyric:
“When I am king you will be first against the wall
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all”

I don’t know what it meant for Thom Yorke but I remember what it meant to me. The line was vindictive and violent but sung in a way that caused me to resonate. The light turned green, I moved my car but my mind was still back idling on that line. I didn’t snap out of it til four songs later, (during “Karma Police”) when York sang these words:
“This is what you get, when you mess with us
Karma Police, I’ve given all I can, it’s not enough”

He was angry, he was hurt but he sang so beautifully, I hadn’t heard anything like it. Most angry words are sung, well, with driving guitars, pounding drums and a lot of screaming. It sounded good on the outside but the inside of music was drenched not just in pain, but disguised fury. That’s how I felt much of that summer.

To me, the only other real reference point I had was the book of Psalms. So many of them begin with David’s shaking his fists at God. He’s angry, he’s hurt, he feels abandoned by the God that he’s sworn loyalty to. Unlike majority of David’s psalms, Yorke’s words do not resolve with any type of hope or assurance of God’s deliverance. Sometimes I think the deliverance piece is in the melody, but most of the time, I’m content with the song never resolving. I came to the realization that I knew of not one Christian song that did that.

I’m not sure I am exaggerating when I say this but I know at the time I could not name one Christian song that starts off frustrated and avoids concluding with some type of expression of trusting on God’s deliverance. If only we always felt delivered 4 minutes later.

Even worse, Radiohead seemed to insist that things were never going to get better. But their music seems to say you are always going to stay cursed. And when you desire to be a faithful Christian … that feels cursed, well, Yorke seems to be a preacher that gets that. For me, the paradox of such beautiful music that insisted on this type of nihilism was what I needed or maybe simply wanted but for some reason it kept my prayers broken and authentic.

If you know Radiohead, you know they never really put anything out like Ok Computer again. (Maybe they were also saying their music couldn’t get better either – I’m kidding, I really do like most of the new stuff too). Anyway, as the years passed, I’d say I slowly became more emotionally healthy, more spiritually grounded and although certaincircumstances actually worsened, I was grateful to be surrounded with a loving wife, a supportive family, some great friends and a faith that was learning to trust despite the anger and frustration. Further, through these relationships, through new ideas I was reading in books, through Scripture and through unexpected voices like Radiohead, I truly experienced my faith deepening.

Two weeks ago, standing at the Comcast Center outside of Boston … with my friend Brian, I couldn’t help but remember these things. Thanks buddy. But hey, I really don’t think these burned Justin Bieber cd’s are going to make it out of my console.


  1. Great post, man. I really love the way you described their music and your experience with it.

    My first exposure to Radiohead was Myxomatosis from HTTT when that album came out, thanks to a friend who sat me in his car and said “shut up and listen to this.” (thanks, Patrick) I was close to the end of a crumbling marriage and that song went straight to center, eerily so. I knew exactly what he was talking about and had no clue what he was saying, all at once.

    After that, I ingested as much of their library as I could get my hands on.

    Hope you guys are doing well. Maybe one day God will let us live close to you. :)

    Peace +

  2. We are definitely overdue in catching up – sorry my friend.

    Appreciate your Radiohead story here. Lol – shut up and listen to this! I’ll have to try that.
    Loved that last line of knowing exactly and having no clue all at once. I think that’s part of what makes good art good art.

    Catch you later.

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