Meeting People Is Easy
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2010, Volume 17, #7
Written by John Metzger
Tue July 6, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Myth-making is as important to a bandís legacy as its music. Great songs and albums frequently are lost to the ages. Only the legends and tall tales that bloom around a burgeoning outfitís career seem to linger for the long haul ó not necessarily propping up the story on their own, but most certainly keeping it ó and therefore the music ó at the forefront of public consciousness.
These days, it is harder than ever for a group to develop and shape its persona. Fans have grown more cynical, and the internet is as good at spinning fiction as it is at dispelling misinformation. A rumor that once might have drifted via word-of-mouth, gaining momentum with each iteration, now flies so quickly around the globe that it often is buried and forgotten in the next news cycle. Many of the controversies that have clung to Jim Morrison, for example, likely would have vanished after the timely publication of an amateur video on YouTube.
Radiohead is one of the few groups from the modern-age that successfully has managed to create its own myth. In fact, it likely is part of the last generation of outfits that has any hope of shaping and controlling its stories. Unlike its predecessors, Radiohead has been forced to deal with a changing media landscape, and one could easily argue that its legend was concocted as much by happenstance as it was by the decisions that the ensemble made. The members of Radiohead astutely determined that most things had been removed from their control. Consequently, the only way for it to survive was to succumb to the raging current, where it would be able to subvert the usual tricks of the trade from within.
When it initially was released more than a decade ago, Meeting People Is Easy largely was viewed as a documentary that captured Radiohead at the height of the hysteria that surrounded it during its 1997Ė98 world tour behind OK Computer. This certainly is a fair synopsis of the film. It dutifully follows the outfit around the globe, capturing the essence of a disorienting lifestyle that makes every town, city, and country appear to be exactly the same. Through strange encounters with fans and countless promotional appearances, the members of Radiohead come into contact with an assortment of characters. Yet, the movie largely serves as a depiction of isolation and loneliness. Meeting people might be easy, but establishing an intimate bond is far more challenging.
Directed by Grant Gee, Meeting People Is Easy breaks down the rock star myth by focusing upon the mundane machinations of the music industry. Each day features another round of interviews; every night, the band must ready itself to perform the same batch of songs. At one point, less than halfway through its scheduled slate of shows, front man Thom Yorke is seen standing on stage, holding a microphone to the audience as they sing the words to Radioheadís breakthrough single Creep. The look on his face is one of faintly amused boredom.
In hindsight, however, Meeting People Is Easy has become an important part of Radioheadís canon because it so deftly explains not only how the group escaped from the prison of alternative radio but also why it established the modus operandi that has guided it ever since. Like Nirvana, Radiohead rejected its commercial success, while simultaneously embracing all of the perks that came with it. Throughout Meeting People Is Easy, the members of Radiohead complain constantly about having to record an endless stream of promotional spots for radio stations. Yet, they continue to do them at a ridiculous pace, perhaps hoping that these concessions eventually will help them to reclaim some semblance of control.
In Meeting People Is Easy, Yorke refers to modern rock as background noise, comparing the increasingly narrow channel of commercially acceptable music to the drone of an appliance. Over the past decade, Radiohead continuously has redefined itself in an attempt to outrun this creeping buzz, which continuously threatens to envelop it. At the same time, the band has also tried to strike the right balance between art and commerce. Rather than turn its approach to OK Computer into a formula, the outfit dismantled its sound, pulling a pair of highly influential albums (Kid A and Amnesiac) from the sessions. More recently, Radiohead allowed its fans to set the price that they were willing to pay for In Rainbows.
By staring at a critical juncture in Radioheadís career, Meeting People Is Easy highlights how the band, in the wake of Creepís success, made a determined effort to remain flexible and not allow financial matters to thwart its willingness to take risks. This of course, is a difficult line to walk. Yet, Radiohead has fared remarkably well by creating a blueprint that changes so often that no one else can copy it.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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