Thom: "The words to 'Cymbal Rush' started out coming from a direct experience. But then I filtered out all the' direct experience' connotations until I was left with something else entirely."
Friday, May 18, 2007
Thom: "I called it Harrowdown Hill because it was a really poetic title. To me it sounded like some sort of battle, some civil war type thing. Finishing the song, I was thinking about the 1990 Poll Tax Riots — another of England's finest moments, when they beat … protesters, and you know, there were old ladies there and kids with families. I didn't expect that many people to realize that Harrowdown Hill was where Dr. Kelly died. I'm not saying the reference isn't there, but there's more to it."
About "Harrowdown Hill":
... when he explains why he titled the album The Eraser, he’s more forthcoming.
“I was reading this book about the death of Aldo Moro, the head of the Christian Democrat party in Italy who was murdered by the Red Brigade in the ‘70s—which was a big deal when I was a kid. Before he died he’d written all these letters and was disowned and ‘erased’ from Italian Politics. Even before he died everyone was saying, ‘Well, he’s obviously lost his mind; the person writing these letters to newspapers in desperation is obviously not the real thing.’ It got me thinking. For me, a lot of the record is about living in a world where things like Iraq happen. You pick up The New York Times and there’s one little column saying ‘a bunch of soldiers blow away 100 people they’re trying to save because they were on speed’ and over on another column there’s some other small piece on how they should be brought home. OK and next page—the ability to erase these people from one’s [consciousness], partly in order to exist day-to-day, exists. Also, all these nightmare scenarios that are going on in the background. In Britain, it’s almost too much the other way. People in the U.K. are constantly talking about climate change right now, but the big fear is that it’s become some bizarre fad, and I’m a bit freaked because it doesn’t really work like that. Talk about ‘erasing,’ what about New Orleans? I mean Stipe and some other artists have been talking about it, but, oh my God, how can you do that? How can you erase all these people like they don’t exist? Obviously there’s the personal thought of me trying to erase this or that from my mind to move on because there are all these things going on, and then I thought, ‘No, the record is much more a response to the political environment and general public psyche.’ It’s a response to the ability to [snaps his fingers] and these issues can just go away.
“In Britain there was a massive thing called the Hutton Inquiry, where there was this scientist, David Kelly, who was the chief chemical-weapons person in Britain. He was a whistle-blower on the lack of WMDs in Iraq. He was rather inconvenient, much like [outed CIA operative] Valerie Plame, so he was outed by the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense by saying he was a leak, and that he was the one talking to the press when he shouldn’t., and he ended up ‘committing suicide.’ I feel really funny talking about it because he lived locally to us and I have friends who know his family, and to me, it’s this incredibly dark period in British life, where basically the entire country held the prime minister responsible for it because his press man said, ‘I want this guy rid of, I want him erased; I want him gone.’ So there was this Hutton Inquiry, which naturally said the Ministry of Defense was probably at fault with the way they handled his outing, so obviously the prime minister can’t be held responsible, which everyone thought was a croc of shit, but—poof—it went away; it was whitewashed. It was erased, and the culprits are all still there, and this poor man died for whatever reason. It seems lie this very, very small thing, but it’s an expression of something much wider and much more frightening.”
Q: Is the song Harrowdown Hill really about the suicide of weapons inspector and government scientist Dr David Kelly?
Thom: 'It is,' says Yorke with some reluctance. 'But I've got this thing where I don't want to make a big deal out of that because I'm very sensitive to the idea of digging up anything that the Kelly family... I don't really think it's appropriate for me to say, 'Yes, it's about that', because I'm sure they're still grieving over his death.'
Q: But Harrowdown Hill is the name of the Oxfordshire woods where Kelly's body was found in July 2003. I remind Yorke of the lyrics: 'You will be dispensed with when you've become inconvenient... up on Harrowdown Hill... that's where I'm lying down... did I fall or was I pushed...'. That's quite direct stuff.
Thom: 'It's the most angry song I've ever written in my life,' he nods grimly. 'I'm not gonna get into the background to it, the way I see it... And it's not for me or for any of us to dig any of this up. So it's a bit of an uncomfortable thing.'
Q: Did the Kelly affair crystallise everything that was wrong and venal about the whole Iraq adventure for Yorke?
Thom: (A pause). 'Um, I guess I didn't see it in terms of Iraq, but obviously, yes. What disturbed me the most about it was the way that the Ministry of Defence in this country is able to operate. I think it's a profound cancer at the centre of this society.'
"Harrowdown Hill" has parts that sound like a love song ('I'm coming home, so dry your eyes'), but there's menace in the opening lines ('You will be dispensed with when you become inconvenient') and other parts sound like a grim political showdown ('there are so many of us that you can't count'). Yorke had already written part of it when he realized it was about David Kelly, a chemical-weapons inspector in Iraq who committed suicide in 2003 after being connected to a leak of British intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. The body was found in a wood near Yorke's former school in Oxfordshire.
'The government and the Ministry of Defence were implicated in his death. They were directly responsible for outing him and that put him in a position of unbearable pressure that he couldn't deal with, and they knew they were doing it and what it would do to him... I've been feeling really uncomfortable about that song lately, because it was a personal tragedy, and Dr. Kelly has a family who are still grieving. But I also felt that not to write it would perhaps have been worse.'
The Eraser song "Atoms For Peace" is about Yorke grappling with his worrywart, paranoid-android tendencies. 'No more going to the dark side with your flying saucer eyes,' it begins. 'No more talk about the old days, it's time for something great.'
'Quite a personal song, really,' Yorke sniffed. 'Trying to correlate my life with choosing to do this, and choosing to get over the fear which is a constant thing I have. Being a rock star, you're supposed to have super-über-confidence all the time. And I don't.' A pause. 'And it was my missus telling me to get it together basically.'
Q:Now is that one of the love songs that you referred to earlier on?
Thom:"Yeah... kind of. It's a bit messed up for that, it sounds like it's more of a love song than it really is. It's actually a song... it's more about the dislocation than anything else to me, when I when I sing it, I always have this image of slick black oil"
Q: So that's what you're thinking about when you're performing that?
Thom: "Yeah... That and sex."