Like many of you, I too was enamored by Radiohead's smash hit "Creep" and quickly grabbed a copy of their full-length Pablo Honey hoping for more of the same. While the album was a decent enough debut effort, there was no other song on the album that had the same visceral, grab-you-by-the-short-hairs demeanor as "the hit". As a result, my copy quickly found its way to the used record store.
Sadly, the buyer wouldn't take it. I looked at him incredulously until he pointed to a teetering stack of used copies of the album in cassette and CD formats. "We've got enough for now," he commented wryly.
This is the risk you take as a band when you write that one undeniable song and then place it on an album surrounded by songs that share absolutely none of that immediacy. The Verve did it with "Bittersweet Symphony", Semisonic with "Closing Time", Fastball with "The Way", and so on.
So when a few of my friends started raving about The Bends a couple years later, to say that I was reluctant to take them at their words was an understatement. As if pleading its own case, the CD was literally on-sale everywhere at the rock bottom price of $7.99, but even that couldn't budge me from my ambivalence.
Additionally, the tune I'd heard on the radio ("Fake Plastic Trees") did little to sway me. After all, I'd been burned too many times in the past and was still crispy from my recent purchase of Wilco's A.M., but I kept an eye out for it in the used bins anyway. I figured that if it was anything like its predecessor, used stores would be giving it away, but weeks passed with nary a sighting of a used copy.
"Hmm, that's weird," I thought aloud.
With a long drive ahead of me and a desperate need for some new sounds to keep me awake, I finally plopped down my $8 at Tower one night and drove back to L.A. from Vegas with the volume set to "STUN".
After playing "Planet Telex" about eight times in a row, the CD player cut out and the radio took over. It was Art Bell talking with a guest who'd been abducted by aliens six times and warned of a pending visit from the "butt touchers from outer space". For those who might not believe in UFO's, try listening to Art Bell at 3AM in the middle of a perilous, mountainous and seemingly endless desert that you know is out there but you'd be heard pressed to prove it on this night. Past the puny glow of your head lights, the desert could just as easily be a blank slate stuck in a closet by God along with an old lamp, a toaster that burns on the lowest setting, and some post-Comes Alive Frampton albums.
Many a night on this long stretch of lonely road, Art Bell's voice is the only proof that I am not alone in this world, which makes each appearance of headlights on the horizon all the more alarming.
Cursing myself for buying a Panasony CD player just to save a few bucks, I re-hit PLAY and, again, my cabin was awash in Radiohead.
Halfway through "Fake Plastic Trees"(!), the CD player cut off and Art Bell's voice replaced Thom Yorke's.
The road in front of me came alive with light and I could see every detail of the road and the jagged mountains on each side of me. Upon realizing the light was coming from above me, I just pulled over. There was no outrunning whatever it was in my P.O.S. four-banger on this steep incline.
I got out of my car and looked up at the source of light, but the brightness was overpowering. I fell to my knees, awaiting the cold metallic anal probe that Art Bell's guest had been describing, but all I felt was a strange, warm calm wash over me.
"We're just looking for some good jams," spoke the mechanical voice from above. "We've got a long trip ahead of us and could use something new to keep us awake."
It was then that I saw my copy of The Bends sucked clean out of my CD player, into its jewel case on the passenger seat, and up through the sunroof. The import copy of Sparks Kimono My House left untouched
A second later, the brightest light I'd ever seen was just...gone, I didn't get up for a good five minutes, until my eyes adjusted. By then, my cheek bore the same texture as the pavement.
I drove the rest of the way back in absolute silence, with Thom Yorke's plaintive wail in my head on an infinite loop:
"Don't leave me high...don't leave me dry..."