In Rainbows

I'm a good ten years-plus behind the times when it comes to music, and hopelessly un-hip. Lately I've been obsessively playing Radiohead's album In Rainbows, which until I looked it up on Wikipedia a short few minutes ago, I thought dates to 2001 or thereabouts. Shows what I know. It was released in 2007. The lyrics to the songs are included with the CD art, and they're arranged in a fashion superficially similar to Jessica Smith's plastic poems (check out 2005's Butterflies), but the disorientation or reorientation in the lyric pages of In Rainbows is produced by fiddling with the spacing between and among words--so if you're patient, it's easy enough to read Radiohead's lyrics "straight." Smith's poems, by contrast, allow a reader to wander through them, creating paths of his or her own choosing. There's not necessarily a straight way to read her poems. Maybe the difference is academic . . .

Regardless, I'm too lazy to take the time to read the lyrics for In Rainbows, and generally, the lyrics are not clear in the songs themselves, which is great: a listener can make up his or her own lyrics and occasionally out of the mix a few stray words or entire lines and phrases leap out. The lyrics, even if you don't bother to try to figure them out, are no less effective for being largely inscrutable: the emotion or sense of each song comes across clearly regardless of whether the lyric is intelligible. It reminds me of the lyrics to the songs on REM's Fables of The Reconstruction, which didn't make any sense to me when I first bought the album after it was released. Even after listening to it a few times I couldn't make out what Michael Stipe was singing. Then one evening, in that half-awake-half-asleep state we all find ourselves in from time to time, seemingly the entire lyric to "Driver 8" played out in a waking dream. Aha! Now I get it, I thought. Until then, I was pissed that I'd spent a whole $7.99 (1980's vinyl price and a lot of money for a 15-year-old at the time) on an album filled with incomprehensible lyrics. That's pretty much how I've listened, or not listened, to popular music ever since, aside from, say, Sinatra or Dylan. It's much more interesting to not know what the singer is singing.

I was talking with a friend a couple weeks back about manipulating photographs in Photoshop and similar software. He mentioned that one reason he likes to work with metal sculpture is that he can make something with his own hands--there's no computer manipulation involved. That struck a chord with me. Almost everything I've done has been computer manipulated! A bit self conscious perhaps, but I started paying more attention to what I might write or draw with my own hands, without aid of a computer. (This piece, which began as a hand-written glyph of the word "eyes," was manipulated and transformed entirely by computer; so even when I've started something by hand, the end product, for what it's worth, is computer-torqued).

Here are a couple In Rainbows-inspired doodles (Geof Huth might call such writing "fidgetglyphs," which is a much better word than "doodle") that I found myself writing during a meeting I attended a few days ago.

In the song "15 Step" Radiohead's Thom Yorke spits out the phrase "etcetera, etcetera" like a barbed retort roughly mid-way through the song. It's the only part of the lyric to the song I can ever remember. I find I often use "etc.," in my emails and letters and notes; perhaps I need to rethink that innocuous abbreviation. It's more powerful than I've given it credit for. Thank you, Radiohead, for making me realize that.

Before I bothered to read the song titles on In Rainbows I thought that the fourth track on the album was called "We're Fishing." Turns out it's called "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi." Here's a weird fish of my own, which like "etcetera" came out of the meeting Monday night. I couldn't help but to color this bit of writing in "Goldfish Cracker Cheese Orange," to match the roughly two million Goldfish crackers I've served up to the kids and their friends, and eaten myself, over the past ten years.

My handwriting is not good; my illustration skills are as poor as my lettering skills, but there's something interesting and satisfying about accepting whatever limitations one might have and working with them. And for some reason, looking at both glyphs, I can somehow remember just about everything we covered in that meeting . . .


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