Grant Gee – Meeting People is Easy

Avoid peril. Hands on the wheel. You are a target market. Calm, fitter, happier. Enter the visual nerve-storm of the modern rock-god-celebrity experience with your pals Radiohead. And whatever happened to all that Pre-Millennial Angst?

It was a while before I could get my mits around this side-promo-rockumentary filmed in the immediate aftermath of OK Computer’s release. No commercial broadcaster would play a doco whose promotional time-frame has expired the way this has, but it’s still a highly revealing and slightly disturbing look at the chaotic miasma and flashing hypermedia of the modern pop success phenomenon.

I realised in watching that musically (I mean guitar-song-ability-wise) Radiohead aren’t the most sophisticated or accomplished band (indeed, that would kinda go against the grain of pop music and guitar bands generally. I mean pop-guitar-perfection is kind of a contradiction when faced with the ProTool’d veneer and blandness of current radioplay. Especially structural-melodically — that musical magic of The Beatles and XTC and others seems to have gone for good. That innate feeling for canny arrangements etc). But they were fundamentally adept at expressing the peculiar alienation and cultural estrangement/powerlessness of the late 90s, expressing it subjectively in a way that crept under your skin. That by combination of Thom’s voice, his laconic lyrics and slightly dissociated, whining singing style (quite apparent here), spread over a chordal approach already distinctly Radiohead (musically, OK Computer was pre-empted by The Bends) which tapped right into that ennui/hopelessness of a certain mood and disenfranchisement with the world, pop music and modern ironic culture generally, all that pre-millennial shit which had us steepling our fingers so many years ago (which reminds me: where did all that ennui/angst go? Was Tricky’s paranoid album of the time the last expression of the pre-millennial jitters? Or was it the last spasm of our sense and awareness of a future? Surely Brittney didn’t fill the vacuous gap? Surely Reality TV and 9/11 didn’t either, though each might’ve displaced the feeling. If anyone would like to address the issue of Pre-Millennial Angst in essay form, send me a wire).

I’m talking about the mood of the time, with all that unavoidable irony and repetitive/mediated spin-perspective. Grant Gee tapped right into it with his visual sensibility — I liked the deliberate fragmentation and cross-mediation and scenic shots and the visual commas and stops and the motorways and tramlines. Never has a rockumentary concentrated so much on the back stage, the behind the scenes mood of a band about to make it behemoth-big. Never has the true human, dazzled and dazed side of celebrity and media onslaught been rendered with such honest confusion. {mospagebreak}

I liked the performance of the b-sides, from sound check to mediation. I like the despairing monotony of the journalist questioning (even the perennial Richie Kingsmill of Triple J comes across like a tired hack with his tape machine). And it was fun to see the fans, and the concert which I attended many many years ago in Sydney. And also, well, not really fun, but disturbing to witness: the growing disenchantment with the whole media push / interview process: the band at first engaging with the interviewers on a basic level, eye contact and dialogue; and by the end completely stun-mulleted and absent, reticent and platitudinous, completely unengaged body-wise, almost babbling in a monologue of what seems like emotional venting and discussion of the world and music in a way people won’t understand anyway: above all the emotional fatigue and over-demandedness and all the bollocks of media stardom.

At times the sound quality is truly hopeless, and guff that sounds like it could become the big statement of the movie ends up truncated or lo-fi’d down to meaninglessness. The band don’t have answers, that much is clear, and the movie doesn’t provide any (like Kearney says: ‘Hey, we’re complex’). The band is totally stunned by the weirdness of their new reality and often seem incoherent in their attempts to hold on to the scraps of truth/humanity they are at least certain of. As they record the 200th radio promo in a row. As they stumble and struggle with the meaninglessness of a situation they slowly come to realise might not be desired at all.

There’s something almost perversely whorish in the way the media demands its answers, in its treatment of celebrity and that undisguised hunger for the Next Big Thing. There’s a sense that the band use music to crawl away and sanctuarise the soul (I’d like to know what Thom is listening to on his headphones). There’s a taste of this seclusion when the band record some b-sides — the slow pace of studio recording nicely accentuated by Thom’s disembodied voice floating over an unpopulated mixing board and studio window. Also in some of the cutting room footage of the film clips — Thom detaching himself from the filling globe of water around his head.

Ultimately it’s a study in reaction and modern alienation. No answers, just (intensely visual) experience. And a great emotional-contextual lead-in for Kid A and Amnesiac.

Meeting People is Easy. A film by Grant Gee about Radiohead. (DVD) 1998

Author: Rino Breebaart

Editor. Writer. Secret bass player.

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