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."
With this record, it was a bit mad because there were no songs. I mean, Nigel may’ve had it on his mind—since he’d been working with Paul McCartney, Mr. Melody—and didn’t intend on telling me. In fact, all the lyrics came as it was going along, which was somewhat of a difficult situation, because the only way I could really complete them, bizarrely, was to try and play most of the tracks on an instrument. Generally speaking, I couldn’t write just listening to the laptop. I know that Stipey [Michael Stipe] has done this over the years, where R.E.M. sends him tracks, and he drives around in this old Volvo, and he used to write lyrics like that. I have done a lot that way, but I was finding the pace of what we were doing so fast that I just didn’t have time. So, the easiest way to do it was desperately figure out how to play it. Which is really interesting because it feeds back to the guitar part in "Black Swan," which hadn’t been there for ages. But to sing something, I needed to strum something and then the song came, a very peculiar way around.
To me the most exciting... you know exciting music I ever had is when you get all those things mixed up together and you can't tell where one starts and one ends...you know there's something else going on....it's probably lazy and a little bit just a response to what people think I am or I am not to say that this is a political record because it has a lot of love songs and personal songs...
As we discuss the Orwellian nature into the world’s collective psyche, Yorke’s other side begins to appear, the one similar to Toto sniffing around the Wizard’s curtain. Unlike what most critics would have you believe, Yorke isn’t a pessimist; he’s a realist with a might big spotlight. Yet, continually using one’s influence as an artist to shed light on the atrocities of modern life isn’t really in the job description, though it’s always tempting.
“I wouldn’t want to take on that kind of responsibility, but I think I can’t help finding myself—given the particular weapon I have at my disposal—wanting to use it occasionally in certain circumstances. But I thin it’s best used inside the music; that’s where you can have the best effect. Some people are able to do it—Neil Young, Bob Marley; Bob Dylan’s done it endlessly. Lots of rap does it; Public Enemy does it endlessly, so it’s possible to do and do well. But I always have to be aware when it comes to writing and when it comes to music, you don’t just come and say, ‘I want to put this in the song.’ It naturally evolves, and it’s naturally a part of what’s going on … Anger is an energy source for me, especially lyrically when I’m presented with something I consider utter madness … My writing is a constant response to doublethink."
I also like the lines in "Black Swan": "You cannot kick-start a dead horse/You just cross yourself and walk away."
[Laughs] As always, whatever psychic garbage you've got going on in your head, you end up using it. You should have seen the stuff I didn't put in. That's the shit you don't want to know about.
The Eraser, however, is not the same old shit, by any means. In a very true way, it's an album of love songs. but before you think Yorke has gone completely soft, by clarification, the "love" here is the whole package, complete with mean streaks and caustic wit, not merely the trite, romantic-idealist definition. "Who would want to listen to that crap?" Yorke says. "it's not real; love isn't like that. Well, it isn't for me--maybe that's why I don't get any action", he laughs.
For Yorke, a true love song speaks to the realities of love--the egotistically sadistic side, the analytical side, the physical depravation side, all of it, not some 'here are your roses, I love you darling' Lionel Ritchie sendup.
"Happily ever after... not!"
The Eraser's title track is the most pointed. The first lines you hear on the album are, "please excuse me, but I got to ask, are you only being nice because you want something?/my fairytale Arab princess be careful how you respond/you might end up in this song".
When asked to comment on the lyrics of "The Eraser" there's a long pause before he simply answers, "I can't".
My favourite was "And It Rained All Night", just because i'd never written a lyric like that before. it was basically a cut-and-paste of something I'd written, where i had my lounge just covered in bits of paper, and one was four pages long, which I cut down and cut down--all the way through thinking "this is never going to work". Then we actually ended up recording it on a full moon through the night, because I have one of those big, fat telescopes my partner bought me, and since Nigel is the only one who knows how to use it, when he comes to my house it's like 'come on, set it up for me'. So I'd go up to the roof and look at the moon and then run back downstairs and quickly write away. back and forth, it was really good, actually; it surprised me to write that lyric. and it really surprised me that I got Nigel's voice in the headphones at the end going, 'yeah, that's good', because all the way through I was thinking 'this is so wack, it's never going to work'.