OK Computer: An Autobiography

OK Computer B&W

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the passage of time, mostly because I just turned thirty and that is supposed to Mean Something.

One thing that struck me recently is that this year marks the fifteenth anniversary of Radiohead’s OK Computer, which is literally half a lifetime ago.

I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

OK Computer was a complete revelation when I first heard it back in 1997. You could draw a line and separate my experiences with music into the years before and the years after I heard it.

In the years before, I mostly listened to what I heard on the radio or on MTV. My dad had great taste in music, and I followed his cues. I listened to Casey Casum’s Top 40 while mowing the lawn. I enjoyed music, but I never really thought about it that much.

As I grew older, I started slowly branching out and defining my own taste. I made a GeoCities fan site for The Fountains of Wayne after their debut album was released. I distinctly remember buying Beck’s Odelay and REM’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi during a trip to Borders. I heard Ben Folds Five late at night on the radio when I should have been asleep, tracked down a copy of Whatever And Ever Amen at the library and dubbed a copy to casette. On the opposite side of the casette I dubbed London Calling by The Clash. I starting watching 120 Minutes and reading record reviews. I listened to Pavement’s first album, but didn’t quite get it.

OK Computer was different, though. After I bought it, I stuck it in my CD player and didn’t take it out for six months. I listened to that album daily. Sometimes several times a day. Sometimes several times in a row. One time I sat in bed listening to it on repeat and fell asleep with my eyes open.

No other album has ever grabbed me so thoroughly and refused to let go. I listened to that album until the CD was too scratched to play and I had to buy another. I was obsessed with Radiohead. I scoured CD bins for their singles and rarities, and no price was too high for a few tossed-off b-sides. I looked forward to nothing more than the premiere of the newest Radiohead music video.

OK Computer marked my transition from music listener to music lover.

Following Radiohead through all of their ups and downs only broadened and deepened my appreciation of music in general. Their experimentation led to my willingness to experiment and listen to genres of music I never thought I would enjoy. A few years after OK Computer came the advent of file sharing, and my musical tastes exploded in the face of so many options. It only got more eclectic from there.

In fact, I feel certain that my fifteen-year-old self would find some of my current favorite bands unlistenable or bizarre.

Of course, I sometimes wish I could go back to a time when an album could hold my attention for months at a time. Nowadays my attention span is much shorter. No album stays in rotation for very long. I’ve heard so much that it is rare when new music surprises me.

I also no longer feel quite the same way about Radiohead. They’ve made some fantastic music since OK Computer, but they’ve also made some terrible music, and it’s clear they had a hard time following up what is generally considered their masterpiece. To be honest, I rarely listen to them now.

Even still, I feel certain that I will always have a deeply personal connection to OK Computer. Maybe someday I’ll find another piece of music that means as much to me.

I won’t be holding my breath, though.

For now I think I’ll focus on trying not to think about how old I will be when the 25th anniversary rolls around.



     music
Music, nostalgia, personal history, Radiohead, and the nineties