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Of Friendship and Radiohead

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In 2006, my friend Brenna and I had talked about going to see Radiohead if they ever toured America, no matter the distance we had to travel. Two years after that conversation, Radiohead announced their 2008 In Rainbows tour. They were to play in Dallas May 18. Lucky for us, that was not too far from either of us. I lived Oklahoma City and she lived in Denton, Texas.

I called Brenna to tell her the news. She was ecstatic. At last, we were off to see Radiohead.

This might sound silly, but Radiohead has always been an important part of our friendship. And it was more than just good music. Any Radiohead fan knows that if you find someone else who likes Radiohead you are instantly on the same wavelength. Truly appreciating Radiohead takes a certain temperament, a temperament that both Brenna and I had. I am convinced you can tell a lot about a person whether or not they like a certain band or musician, in this case, Radiohead.

Tickets did not go on sell until the first part of April. By that time, my brother Bryan had found out Brenna and I were going, and he wanted to go too. So, I agreed to let him come. He asked to bring a friend I didn’t really know. So, I bought four tickets and warned my brother his friend better not flake.

Two days before the concert, his friend inevitably did just that. But that was okay, because my brother had a backup plan. He said his girlfriend, Amy, was now coming. Sure, she had only heard one Radiohead song, but my brother was determined to make her an expert by the end of the concert.

And so there were four. Come May 18, Bryan, Amy, and I ate at a burger joint in Oklahoma City and headed south, listening to In Rainbows and OK Computer for the duration of the trip. We met up at Brenna’s at about 3:30 – long before the concert actually started. It was then that we realized that we were painfully, awkwardly early.

It was awkward because we didn’t know each other, except for me knowing Brenna. She gave us a tour of the house, and then we sort of stood there in the living room for ten minutes with her roommates. Bryan and Amy didn’t really know anyone there, not even Brenna. At this point, they must have been thinking coming was a mistake. I was starting to think the same about bringing them.

But I was not going to have any awkwardness on my special day. I suggested we leave for the concert, although we still had a couple hours to kill. But the awkwardness hung over us like a little black cloud of doom, casting a shadow on our Radiohead party. Would the sun ever come out through this cloud, the sun being the power of Radiohead’s In Rainbows tour? Only time could tell.

While waiting in line for the gates to open, sweating under the relentless Texas sun, I spent a good thirty minutes attempting to get my ragtag group to converse with each other. I wonder what it is about meeting strangers that puts people so on guard.

By the end of the night, I could only hope that would change.

It was then that the gates opened. We filed into the concert grounds and found a seat among the thousands already sitting on the lawn.

Though I commented to Brenna that we were really far from the stage, she told me not to complain, because we were finally seeing Radiohead after all these years. This was one my life’s dreams, and it was finally coming to life. We had been able to get tickets when countless others couldn’t. And we were here, together.

By this time, Bryan and Amy were off in their own little world having their own little date, smooching up a storm. I was okay with this because I could finally talk to Brenna since we were not all cooped up in the car. Now, we didn’t feel so forced to talk to each other. After all, we had originally planned to be the only two going to this concert anyway.

But our wonderful conversation was interrupted by the awful opening band, the Liars. To get an idea of their sound, imagine a bunch of rabid cats and dogs thrown in a gunny sack and shaken up a bit, complete with the poisonous snake of your choice, and all that nasty sound going through a wah pedal. Yeah, it was that awful. It was forks on a plate bad.

But Brenna pointed out a guy in an orange shirt standing in front of us, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the spectacle. Orange shirt was a few feet in front of us, his face a mask of enjoyment. Apparently, music’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is where he got his kicks. But I had to look away, because the sight of his mountain safety orange shirt was blinding to say the least.

The case of the Liars and Orange Shirt goes to show how wide and varying music tastes can be. While Brenna and I did not care for the Liars one bit, Orange Shirt seemed to like them, as well as Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead singer, who had apparently invited them on the tour. Music not only is the great unifier between people, but the great divider.

The horrid Liars finally put a halt to their cumbersome noise display as roadies set up for the real act: Radiohead.

Brenna and I wondered how Radiohead could actually like them. Though we both respect Thom Yorke for his godlike musical genius, it doesn’t mean we have to enjoy everything he listens to.

As the sky darkened, the stage lit up, and the concert began with Radiohead’s marvelous piece of orchestration known as “All I Need,” track five of the wonderful In Rainbows album.

Also beginning were the lighters and clouds of sickly-sweet smelling smoke. Not me, but others. A guy with at least four popped collars came up to us asking us if we had any “goodies.” I told him our party didn't have any favors and the worst we did was cream soda on Friday night. With a look of disappointment, he hobbled off to the closest hipster doofus he could find to meet his needs.

I’ve never smoked weed before, but it just seems to me you don’t need it to enjoy music that’s already good. Plus, I feel like a lot of time I feel naturally high. People have told me I look high before when I'm in these moods. I don’t know whether that’s weird or a good thing, or even psychologically possible, but whatever.

After a few songs, I felt a tap on my shoulder. My brother pointed to Amy, who was lying on the ground, her once pristine white sundress now wrinkled and grass-stained. She had fallen asleep. Who could fall asleep during Radiohead? Who could commit such treason, such blatant disregard of greatness, such blasphemy?

I guess I couldn’t blame her. She had only heard Radiohead a tiny bit, and she didn’t know any of the songs they were playing. She fell asleep because people tend to like the familiar – Amy had not been exposed and familiarized to Radiohead to the extent the rest of us had.

I turned to Brenna, I saw her swinging slowly back and forth, Amy’s antithesis. She was really into the music. Her head was bathed in a cloud of smoke, coming from the people behind us. Maybe that’s why she was really into the music. But then again, maybe she really liked Radiohead.

The light displays were phenomenal. They played a massive set, covering the gambit of all their albums but the worst one, Pablo Honey. They played every song off In Rainbows, plus a few of the oldies, like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Exit Music.”

The concert was wonderful and obviously the best I had been to thus far in my life. The music seemed to heal all the little things that seemed to wrong, which it uncannily has the ability to do.

By the time they played their final two encores, “You and Whose Army?” and the almighty “Paranoid Android,” the latter arguably the best single released in the nineties, Amy was awake and seemed to be enjoying herself.

When the final notes of “Paranoid Android” resonated in the air, I knew it was a great moment in my life. It wasn’t just because the song was so amazing, but that it was shared with one of my best friends of all time, Brenna. It was a perfect way to close this most epic of nights.

We drove back to Brenna’s after fighting insanely thick crowds and traffic for an hour. On the way back, we stopped at Jack in the Box, truly the grandest restaurant in the land, where I acquainted myself once again with their two-for-ninety nine cents tacos. Being from Oklahoma, where there are tragically no Jack in the Boxes, a trip to Texas necessitates a stop at this most holy of sites.

I noticed the looseness of the group compared to pre-concert. There was no more awkwardness or small talk. We now talked about things that actually mattered. Music had brought a group of almost strangers together, as it has probably been doing since the dawn of time. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why music is so instrumental to humanity. Forgive me for that one.

We finally made it back around 12:30 a.m.. At the house, a modest crowd had gathered. We stayed for about thirty minutes and talked. Brenna sweetly offered for us to stay the night, which would have been really fun. But Bryan and Amy were hankering to get back.

For me, it meant I would not be seeing Brenna for a while. But I also knew that when I saw her again, far or soon, we would always be friends. I decided then that friends were pretty neat to have.

I fell asleep to the sound of The Bends, Radiohead’s second album, emanating from my brother’s CD player. No amount of Radiohead is too much in our book. I lulled off to sleep to track six, “Nice Dream,” a peaceful song about dreaming about angels. It was quite fitting, if you ask me.

I awoke at my house around 3:30 a.m. I crawled out of the car, went to bed, and continued my nice dream.

The night itself had been a dream. I saw my favorite band live and spent it with some of my favorite people, in particular, Brenna. Spending time with your favorite people, even if it isn’t something extravagant like an awesome concert, helps makes life worth living. The joy of sharing friendship, life, and passions with each other is truly taken for granted, especially by me.

We have our friendships. Some fade away while others choose to stay. The lesson is that it’s important to cherish what we have, while we yet have it. And I think that was what that night was really about.

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About Kyle West

  • Kyle

    Hey, no problem. I’m just glad to help in any way.

    I’ve had suicidal thoughts before, too, and more people than would admit have had them also. It’s important to remember that no matter where we are in life, others have been there as well. As humans, we all have the same struggles and feelings. It’s just a matter of being open about them, which you seem to have done.

    I’m happy that what I’ve written inspired you, which really makes all the work I put into this piece worth it!

  • jorge

    You dont have to believe me if you dont want, but i woke up this morning with suicidal thoughts, i even search google for suicide methods because of yesterday issues… and then i read this (i’m a big Radiohead fan too).

    those last words you wrote there are very significant to me, i appreciate your point of view, and thanks for sharing it.

    “The lesson is that it’s important to cherish what we have, while we yet have it. And I think that was what that night was really about.”