Friday, April 2, 2010

Seven Songs: Song 3 - "No Surprises" by Radiohead

Despite the fact that I'm not exactly your average human being, I spent my high school years wanting to be with a girl. I wanted to be touched, held. I wanted to get laid, for Christ's sake. About halfway through my sophomore year, I would finally find someone not completely creeped out by my dour demeanor.

It was a typical teenage relationship. We didn't go out on dates so much as we spent most of our time together making out on somebody's floor or couch. It was great for what it was, but at the same time there was really nowhere to go with it. Is there anywhere else to go when you're sixteen?

Like all good things, the relationship eventually had to come to an end.

It was late summer in my parents' basement. She said it was over and handed over her copy of OK Computer by Radiohead and started to cry. I bawled my eyes out in front of her, perhaps more vulnerable than she'd ever seen me. After regaining my composure I think she kissed me for the last time and left.

I can remember my mom asking me if I was okay – I don't remember the answer – and retreating back down to the basement and putting the CD in. After listening to “Karma Police” I switched to “No Surprises” – her favorite song – and the rest is history.

The song isn't affecting simply because it was a favorite song of my first love. Certainly that resonates with me, but there's more to it than that. With “No Surprises,” Radiohead completely nailed what it feels like to be numb.

A heart that's full up like a landfill
A job that slowly kills you
Bruises that won't heal

Those first three lines, sad but sung with such a lack of palpable emotion. Certainly I felt something; but I didn't know what I should be feeling. Sadness? Anger? Indifference? All of the above?

You see, this was my first break-up. I wasn't sure what went wrong or what I could do to make things right. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it through all right. All I could do was throw up my hands, shed some tears, and sink further into my music. I searched for answers but came up blank, much like the narrator in the song.

Common sense would indicate that I should have grieved for an appropriate amount of time, but gotten back up on that horse and find some other girl to make out with. It was high school! But I didn't. I listened to songs like “No Surprises” and slipped further down that fucking rabbit hole. I surrounded myself with walls, some of which are still up to this day.

That relationship – for better or worse – fucked me up. I opened myself up to someone for the first time and got burned. I would not be hurt like that again. Thom Yorke spoke to me at the time (and times to come): “I'll take the quiet life / A handshake of carbon monoxide / No alarms and no surprises please”

Now, in a bit of irony that only took me 10+ years to realize... “No Surprises” was an apt title to begin with. The relationship was going nowhere and had to end at some point. I think, at that point in my life and for some years to come – that the song was to me as “The Wall” was to Roger Waters. It was my way of saying to the world, “that's enough of this bullshit!”

Years later, in a happy, contented, mature relationship I don't need the song, at least not in the way I needed it then. But I would be a liar if I said there weren't days when I wouldn't mind taking that “quiet life,” to melt away in a calm, numb world where there aren't any surprises.

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