Tonight is Saturday night. It’s an evening pretty much like any other weekend over the past 15 years. Like a waltz or a country song, the evening always seems to take on a specific pre-set rhythm. Early game on Hockey Night in Canada starts at 5 pm. Make dinner and take in the Hot Stove segment around 6:45 pm. The late game (Flames vs Oilers tonight) kicking off around 8 pm. If I was a social butterfly I’d surely find something more invigorating to do. But you play the hand you’re dealt in this world, so microwaving some left over baby back ribs and putting up the Christmas tree is in the works for me.
The company Christmas party is tonight. Going by attendance, it sounds like it was a huge success this year. 160 tables with 10 people per table, a four-course plated meal at the biggest venue in town, sold right out for weeks in advance. Most music groups would be thrilled to be playing a 1600-person sold-out gig. But I’m not there, and the reason is pretty simple. A single guy, hanging out for an evening with 800 couples, is pretty much my definition of hell. I think it’s great that my friends get a night of semi-formal frivolity on the company’s tab, but I just can’t summon the courage to walk the gauntlet myself.
Tonight I’m settling in for the evening back at the Fortress of Solitude. The Christmas tree decorating is well under way. It’s always fun to dig the boxes of decorations out from under the stairwell, with the traditional soundtrack of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas album augmented by a tumbler or three of Atomic Baileys (2 shots of Baileys, 2 shots Crown Royal, over crushed ice). You haven’t seen LED lights until you’ve seen them through the diffracting lens of Atomic Baileys.
The search for vinyl versions of my favourite albums continues. This week’s big score was Radiohead’s Kid A album:
I have had a tempestuous relationship with this record since the day it was unleashed on the post-millennial world in 2000. I wrote during the 30 Day Music Challenge about how much I loved the preceeding OK Computer record. I loved how it blended brilliant new musical ideas with (relatively) straightforward lyrical themes of isolation, loneliness, desperation, and discenchantment with the New World Order.
My first impression of Kid A, on the other hand, was “What the hell?”. Everything was obfuscated; the music establishes a sense of gloom and isolation and despair, but the vocals are so oblique and electronically processed that they are almost impossible to interpret. You get the sense that Thom Yorke is miserable about something, yet you have no idea what it’s all about.
At first, I was really frustrated by Kid A. I think I was expecting OK Computer Part 2, which would have been the easy way to capitalize on a breakout recording. But, like all great records, it took months, perhaps even years, to unravel the multitude of layers and really start to appreciate the artistic statements being made. The melodies are gorgeous; I defy anyone to listen to the title track and not start humming the bass motif. “The National Anthem” is likewise a toe-tapping call to arms, once you let your preconceptions go and allow the layers of noise to wash over you and rock your soul.
This sort of emotion plays itself out over and over again while listening to Kid A. The Fender Rhodes that ties together “Everything In Its Right Place”. The brilliantly detached & disillusioned beauty of “How To Disappear Completely”. The edgy melodicism of “Optimism” bleeding into the trippy elliptical rhythms of “In Limbo”. The hyper-compressed paranoia of “Idioteque”. I certainly didn’t get it on first (or second, or third) listen. It took an extraordinarily long time for this album to meet me half-way. But once it connected with me – wow. Today I can’t imagine the Radiohead canon WITHOUT this recording. I would be furious if I left a gig where they didn’t play “Idioteque”. And I’m happy to report that it sounds even better on heavyweight vinyl.
Tonight is an unremarkable, quiet, and solitary evening in the Craven Hermit household. But bathed in the subtle glow of Christmas lights, Kid A is spinning around at thirty-three & a third to keep me company.