facebook and a long line of Radiohead

I hang up my keys and turn on the light. I put down my phone, take off my shoes and socks, and put on my slippers. Put on slippers and music, slow enough to match the cursor blink. The sound of a guitar drops my apartment onto the stage of a blues hall.

The town is quiet but for the seldom passing car or distant motorbike. The bus idles outside for a few minutes every hour; my apartment sits at the middle school at the terminus of line 2.

The last bus of the night just left, and the sun is setting. I am without a car, and it is too cold to ride my bike. There is nothing around for kilometers but houses, canals, and fields.

I’ll be in here until morning.

In my room, sunlight, pinching at the horizon, the smoothest dissolution of day into night’s scrape of ink; windows, picturing the silent tops of the village, a view that stripes the sky with telephone lines. In the kitchen, a pear, with scarred skin surrounding a soft bath of grainy latticed juice; a knife, burs chastened by the lippy whistle of a porcelain plate. By my favorite chair, a candle, torchlight’s primate call misread into a confused domestic flame; wax, writhing away and inward, and withering, vaguely recalling a dream of itself. Beer, decapsulated and boiling up, a miniature beerfall flowing into the grip of a glass; a baguette, charming a warm network of clouds into a golden starch-plated universe; cheese, the crumbly white macroscope built of a microbe’s food and waste.

I sit down in front of my laptop. It is almost six years old, a relic of the time before I had been to college. A series of well known gestures and keyboard taps bring me to facebook. Like so many millions of people across the world, facebook is my first stop on the internet. A robot, I follow my protocol of assessment for notable online social events: has anybody written me any messages, posted something on my wall, added me as a “Friend,” or tagged me in a photo he or she has uploaded?

Then, I reluctantly scroll through the News Feed.

Most of the time, the facebook News Feed is the most vapid, shallow, wasteful compendium of user-generated data on the internet. It is populated by information about people I barely know. I have accumulated many, many facebook “friends,” most of whom are acquaintances who never blossomed into actual friends. We met years ago, her friend maybe a friend of my friend, and we hastily looked each other up the same day and added each other to our friendlists. We stalked each others’ pictures, assessed our relationship statuses, maybe exchanged a message or two, a wall post, a hopeful summary of time spent, then we lost interest and never heard from each other again. To me, these are shadow friends, vestiges of a divergent set of decisions and social efforts, relics of a different life that could have been but definitely is not.

And yet they continue to publish, to post photos, to write status updates meant to be read by their real friends. And my News Feed collects them for my viewing pleasure.

I have no idea who “Leon” is, but he is my “friend,” and he recently wrote this status update:

“Feel like the whole world is against me… dont know if I can make it to tomorrow…”

His real friends dutifully responded with demonstrations of support and love; I took advantage of my position of relative anonymity and gave him some real talk, writing, “Have you tried alcohol?”

Another “friend” named “Lauren” wrote:

“To whomever (I know who you are) is starting rumors about me:
I’m glad you find me important enough that you can’t get my name out of your mouth. Now please focus your attention on getting your own pathetic life in order so I don’t have to publicly embarrass you… Because let’s be real, I will.”

Six of Lauren’s real friends “liked” this post; four of them posted you-go-girl!-type comments (one fondly called her a “rediculous human being”). Mysteriously, even a full day later, the rumor-starter had not yet posted an apology… so I did. “I’m sorry I lied to your parents’ friends about how you hooked up with your cousin at Julie’s wedding. Please don’t publicly embarrass me by telling my friends I like to eat pencil erasers.”

So I wade through the status updates of my “friends” to read about the things that happen in my real friends’ lives… or at least those things that happen that are worthy of a facebook status update.

Then, looking at all this activity surrounding my virtual social profile, I begin to wonder.

Should I update my facebook status?

“I am sitting in my apartment.” Super lame.

“I just ate a pear.” Almost funny, but boring.

“My life only exists to make more status updates.” Sounds too much like my friend Leon.

Not often enough, I fight the urge to transcribe my life into the ultimately soulless medium of facebook status updates. Sometimes, I contemplate an indefinite abjuration of facebook… but I never go through with it. Even as I continue to use facebook, I always remember to hate it. The primary object of my hatred is how the useful and fulfilling aspects of facebook always seem to get drowned out by noise and distraction that can be nothing but harmful to the mind. As a fraction of time spent on facebook, finding and keeping in touch with real friends is tiny, while wasting time is huge. Time is most prominently wasted when status updates contain links to online articles, YouTube videos, or other miscellaneous websites. Admittedly, a few of these links point to genuinely challenging or beautiful material. But most of them are trash. The other day, I spent three minutes watching a dachshund take a bath. Cute, but I’m pretty sure I won’t remember that by the end of the week. Pretty sure a dachshund taking a bath will not be incorporated into the body of “useful things I learned on the internet.”

And these minutes add up, add up, add up, and the circuits that drive me endlessly back to facebook are reinforced, reinforced, reinforced. Sad and true how weak, how powerless I am.

This is an evening at home, like any other, and like any other day I am on facebook. But today something good happens: I find a link which brings me to treasure.

Radiohead releases new album, The King of Limbs.

My Radiohead story begins during spring break in 2003, when I was a sophomore in high school. I was on vacation in New York, and I bought Kid A, Radiohead’s fourth album, at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. Back at school, I took advantage of my study hall period to listen to the entire CD on my Sony Walkman. At this point in my life, I was a fanatic of classic rock and alternative rock and pop rock: anything that had really great power chords or guitar solos. Kid A was something much different: Thom Yorke’s voice, the unrecognizable instrumentation, the time signatures, the electronics, the rhythm… they were ethereal sounds. In an imagined music video, there would be no people smiling and dancing around, but instead colors shifting in environments much bigger than a stage, the visual language of emotions and studied grandeur. The sound was huge in a way I could not have previously conceived, and it affected me differently than other music ever had.

Everything In Its Right Place

Later that week, I listened to OK Computer, Radiohead’s second and probably best album. One song in particular, called “Paranoid Android,” captivated me and remains to this day one of my favorite songs (it seems like every Radiohead album has that one song that really gets to me).

Paranoid Android

In 2007, when I was a sophomore in college, In Rainbows was released for download on Radiohead’s website: fans could name their price. Using the same laptop I use to type this sentence, I named $5 and downloaded the album; on his laptop, my roommate Raiden named $0. On a cold October morning, I listened to the album on my iPod, beginning when I left my dorm room, during the walk up Science Hill, and ending about halfway through a chemistry lecture. For months, Raiden and I excitedly blasted the album and shared remixes of our favorite songs in our common room. The following summer, we went to Lollapalooza in Chicago and saw Radiohead live. I nearly melted when they played “Nude.”

Nude

These are flashbulb memories for me. I’m old enough now that I have fully investigated the back-catalogs of my favorite artists. I know all their songs. When I was first getting into music, with the help of Napster and Gnutella and Direct Connect and Kazaa and Limewire, the material for every artist I loved seemed inexhaustible, seemed vast enough to take years to digest. Well, now I have.

So now I wait for new releases, and when they come, it is a big deal. It is memorable. These are days when a part of my life is modified somehow, to the positive or the negative. For instance, my concept of Weezer, the rock band, has been steadily diminished and softened over the last five albums or so. Today I listen to none of their discography except for their first two albums, which I will always love. But so far, Radiohead has failed to displease me with any of their music. It is one reason why they are a truly great band: my concept of them is expanded every time I hear something new.

I click the link to Radiohead’s new album, happily navigating away from facebook. I pay seven euros to download the album. Then I transfer the music to my iPod and close my laptop.

I go to the kitchen to slice another pear. I sit back down in my favorite chair, beside a candle and a glass of beer. My feet are restless with excitement inside my slippers. I gaze out the window at the day night sky, and I press play.

This is not a night like any other. As I sit and listen to The King of Limbs, I am at the end of my Radiohead story. I am standing on a long red line, and at the other end I am a 16 year old kid, fitting Kid A into the grip of my Sony Walkman. And as far away as it is, this moment runs flawlessly before my eyes. The moment is endowed with the then-unknown import of an eight-year-long thread, a vision that is very simple but very rich.

The sixth song on the album, Codex, is beautiful, soft and evocative. It is now a prominent point on ever-stretching line.

Codex

My imagined music video features the props that populate my apartment tonight. I see a knife, a pear, a piece of cheese and bread. I see a glass of beer and a French sunset. I see my Sony Walkman, my old iPod, and a ticket to Lollapalooza.

The telephone lines twitter the frequencies of piano chords into the sky, the sun slips off the hilltop away into the lake, a distant motorbike sounds its sustained horn-like call, and there is no one around.

Sleight of hand
Jump off the end
Into a clear lake
No one around

Just dragonflies
Fantasize
No one gets hurt
You’ve done nothing wrong

Slide your hand
Jump off the end
The water’s clear and innocent
The water’s clear and innocent

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One Response to facebook and a long line of Radiohead

  1. Lauren says:

    Nice post, Shu.

    “No Surprises” makes me think of Xavier wandering the streets of Paris in tears, yearning for his friends and life back in Barcelona. I play it when I am feeling nostalgic for my time abroad in Bordeaux…. I associate “Nude” with nighttime trips down the winding 17, on my way to visit friends in SF…. “Creep,” is sung, in my mind, not by Tom Yorke but in my mother’s pitchy voice (Which you would think would ruin the song but in fact just makes me smile). “Idioteque” encapsulates my hazy senior year of high school..

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