What’s in a Radiohead anyway?

sarah paolantonio on 2017-01-20

Radiohead makes me feel funny.

The sounds remind me of something I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if the acid in my stomach can hear Radiohead and rises to get a closer look. Or maybe it’s the sweet treat of icing on the cake, mid-bite, and the build up is the sugar crash. When I feel Radiohead, I feel the slosh of the subway shoving me from side to front to back onto someone else. While Radiohead remains the sound of something that has gone terribly wrong it also has the sound of everything being in its right place, as if it’s all I’ve ever known.

But what if Radiohead was more than a feeling? What if it was a reaction, like sore gums when your throat swells from the common cold? Or it’s the chunks of your hair in the drain. It’s the sound a sip of clear alcohol makes, when your tendons tremble and slip over their knuckles. Maybe Radiohead is a symptom, or worse, an orchestra of them with moody melodies and waves of syndromes one after another. Muscle spasms that jerk you to the ground, or numb toes that make you limp after a long ride. Radiohead could be that bruise on your knee, the one that came from the inside. It’s the tired muscles that can’t hold you up after a long day.

Maybe Radiohead is the worst pain you’ve felt and a feeling you’ve never lived without. A pattern stuck in your head for worse, an anxious feeling nothing will ever go right while everything is already broken. Perhaps it’s an anxiety attack.

Radiohead is that sound of the underground. Living under me, moving me forward, taking me to new lows I didn’t know were there. It’s a trance in that in between fantasyland, the one when I’m between who I am and who I’ll become — the one where I’m free.

How can I be free and trapped inside myself at the same time? This is the question Radiohead asks me. If I am me and can’t help myself go in another direction — a direction I want, a new way free from the stinging, throbbing, hurtful, raw, aching feeling — then do I exist in free will? Or do I live inside Radiohead’s imagination?

Could Radiohead burst all over me? Would it be yellow like the goop extracted from my hand and is Radiohead saving it for me to drown in? How long would it take to suck me under? Would Radiohead glow in the night and wink at me when it knew it was striking me in all the wrong places — shoulder, ankle, right middle finger? Maybe it will peel me apart, ligament from bone, with every key change shift. What about the constant percussion and dissonant melodies? Could Radiohead force my blood up against the arteries, swelling my skin? The pins and needles in my feet would never fade no matter how long I walk.

Am I within and without Radiohead? Does it exist all over me, like water, or does it travel through me like liquid neon, popping up in bright blue every time it rains?

Radiohead would start to pull me under. What would it say to me once we were finally face to face?

I want to believe it would tell me to deal with it because they aren’t going away anytime soon. Radiohead would probably tell me that yes, I can continue to crack my knuckles, that yes, it’s just air in there that’s popping. They would tell me that it’s a long road ahead, a long life ahead, and I might as well embrace their morphing sights and sounds.

I bet Radiohead would explain to me why my feet are numb every morning and why if I sleep with my hands above my head, my fingers go numb too. It would remind me to always have the isle seat so I could stretch my legs. Radiohead would tell me every time I go to lift something larger than a gallon of milk, watch out you fucking idiot.

Like the bump on my hand, always fluctuating, as if it were going through the filter of a synthesizer, Radiohead is a constant reminder of my inheritance.

I see myself in the womb — I’m still a small fry, or I guess more like a bean. My mother’s legs start to swell and the doctor spikes her vein and the blood starts to flow smoothly again. So smoothly in fact that it picks up flecks and spots along its stream. All the illness we never imagined before is now in our blood. That’s the horn section, the deep bass of saxophones that spiral out of control, that sound, that’s the blood pouring through my mother’s body and into mine. We’ll both inherit something and it will only take seventeen years to arrive.

Radiohead would continue to talk, apologizing for the fact they mislead me in the beginning. I couldn’t quite hear them, no one could, and I was mistaking them for something a lot simpler, something easier to brush off, like Oasis — a problem that would pop up for a second and die down once you pricked my wrist.

Radiohead’s ambient sounds are the happy times, right before I’ve spread my legs so far apart that my hips lock open. They put me in a trance where I think ‘finally, everything is going to be okay.’ Then I need a tooth pulled and when they yank it out, half of it stays in the socket. Doctors will scrape deep in my jaw to find the Radiohead and even so close to me, I didn’t ask to see it.

I could feel it though. My mouth snapped shut on itself when they took out the rubber prop that was holding it open and my face started to swell and I felt tears that were mine, and the pins and needles in my cheeks. I felt it then.

I closed my eyes and started breathing. I felt it there in that upholstered dental chair, after all these years Radiohead finally said something right to me. It was a whimper and it said, “Hello.”

sarah paolantonio has rheumatoid arthritis and likes to explore what it can do to the body and its intersection with sound. You can tweet at her @sarahpaol.