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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, June 09, 2003
    Hail apocalyptic again
     
    I had time today for Everyday Apocalypse, David Dark's book gazing on Radiohead, The Simpsons, "and other pop culture icons" through the lens of apocalyptic, a form of language which reveals the world as it really is, "shows us what we're not seeing" (Previously blogged about here). Dark writes,
      It can't be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of 'the way things are' whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as 'the way things ought to be' and whose greatest virtue is in being 'realistic'.
    To Dark, apocalyptic begins where we think through what we mean when we say 'realistic'. It's a language of hard, honest liberation.

    I had time for Dark's apocalyptic today as a preamble to hearing the new Radiohead album Hail to the Thief. Dark is clear that they ooze apocalyptic, that their songs, far from being miserable (as popularly portrayed), are deeply revealing and ultimately positive - revealing the cracks in this technologically-driven era of mass consumption, their music is filled with a "hope and expectancy [which] might occasionally leave you with the same fright and invigoration that can accompany prolonged stargazing."

    Well, Hail to the Thief declares some of that even in its title, and in its opening track 2 + 2 = 5 Thom Yorke screams out the apocalyptic agenda:
      IT'S THE DEVIL'S WAY NOW
      THERE IS NO WAY OUT
      YOU CAN SCREAM & YOU
      CAN SHOUT
      IT IS TOO LATE NOW
        BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT BEEN
        PAYING ATTENTION
    I first really woke up to Radiohead's strange insightful power the week Diana died, when I couldn't stop myself listening to Airbag, released two months previously. It seemed to me then a twisted prophecy about her death and her destiny,
      In a deep deep sleep of the innocent
      I am born again.
      In a fast German car
      I'm amazed that I survived
      An airbag saved my life
    This morning I enjoyed David Dark's grappling with You And Whose Army? from Amnesiac. He's a lot cleverer than me but I think he missed the point on that one, calling it 'gospel' and connecting it to 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot'. He's great but he's American and if you've ever been anywhere near an English football ground you'll immediately pick up the reference:
      Come on, come on
      You and whose army?
      You and your cronies
      Come on, come on
      Holy roman empire
      Come on if you think
      Come on if you think
      You can take us all on
    It's a killingly funny take on an impotent old tribal taunt, Yorke's drone sucking all the energy out of it but somehow breathing into it a spirit it never has on the terraces. Or in the interplay of everyday political discourse.

    And tonight I'm letting Hail to the Thief seep into me because it's stock-full of lament and hope in the face of today's Empire, today's Thief. One of the tracks, 'I will', is psalmic, and sums up this band's use of language. Could say, it's positively apocalyptic.
      I will
      Lay me down
      In a bunker
      Underground.
      I won't let this happen to my children.
      Meet the real world coming out of my shell
      With white elephants
      Sitting ducks.
      I will
      Rise up.
      Little babies' eyes.