Excerpt from Exit Music
The day was Monday, June 9, 1997, and a concert was about to begin near New York City’s Union Square. Over the weekend that had just ended, thousands of music fans had made pilgrimages much further uptown, to Downing Stadium on Randalls Island in the East River between Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens, to witness the second annual two-day Tibetan Freedom Concert. An all-star event organized by New York’s own hip-hop kings the Beastie Boys to focus world attention on Tibet’s plight under harsh Chinese rule and to raise money for the cause of Tibetan independence, the concert had featured such rock luminaries as U2, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe and Mike Mills from R.E.M., Alanis Morissette, and the Beastie Boys themselves.
Another band in that distinguished line-up was set to play again on this evening, in the far cozier confines of Irving Plaza (capacity approximately 1000 people). Their Tibetan Freedom performance had been one of the festival’s highlights. Their name was being mentioned more and more in the same breath as those of rock’s most lauded superstars. And whereas over the weekend they had played a short set, sharing the stage with several other artists, tonight would be theirs alone, without even an opening act. They were a quintet from Oxford, England, and they were called Radiohead.
Earlier in the year, the band – made up of singer and guitarist Thom Yorke, guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood, guitarist Ed O’Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood, and drummer Phil Selway – had put the finishing touches on its third album, OK Computer. The album wouldn’t be released in the United States until July, almost a month after the Irving Plaza show, but many of the music-industry types in the audience had heard advance copies; some were already using words like ‘masterpiece’ to describe it. And nearly everyone in attendance had either heard the album’s leadoff single, a six-and-a-half-minute, three-part epic called ‘Paranoid Android’, or seen the quirky animated video accompanying it on MTV. That June night, Radiohead planned to air several songs from the new album. They may not have been fully conscious of it, but they were also preparing to join the ranks of the rock aristocracy.
The VIP section of Irving Plaza, on the right side of the balcony above the stage and roped off to prevent anyone without a special pass from entering, was overflowing with some of the most respected and successful people in popular music. Michael Stipe and Mike Mills hobnobbed with Bono, the Edge and Adam Clayton from U2. Oasis’ Noel Gallagher quietly sipped his beer while his brother Liam pranced goonishly through the crowd. Blur’s Damon Albarn sat sulkily by the bar, at a distance from his bandmate Alex James.
Most of these artists, like Radiohead, had performed at the Tibetan Freedom Concert and had stayed over into the following week. But many other celebrities who hadn’t played during the weekend had caught wind of this particular evening’s mega-event and had got their names on the guest list too. Madonna showed up; so did Courtney Love. Lenny Kravitz made it, along with Marilyn Manson. Sheryl Crow was supposed to have been on the VIP list, but wasn’t for some reason or other, and when she got to the club she was nearly turned away at the door before somebody recognized her and let her pass. Ben Folds, all four members of Teenage Fanclub . . . it seemed everyone who was anyone wanted in on this party. Of the less distinguished crowd standing on the floor downstairs, quite a few spent more time during the show ogling the celebs in the balcony than watching the band onstage. As Ed O’Brien later cracked, “If a bomb had been let off in that building, we’d have seen the resurrection of Jim Kerr from Simple Minds.”
Of course, the five members of Radiohead had known in advance about all the special people who’d be watching them that night. And the most special of them all was Ed O’Brien’s mother. “It was the first time she’d seen us in four years,” Ed says. “Before the doors opened, I went round looking at the VIP section, as it were. Madonna had the best table in the house and my mum’s table was way in the back. I thought, ‘I’m not having this,’ so I swapped my mum’s and Madonna’s tables around. So,” he continues with a giggle, “Madonna was at the back, and my mum had the best table in the house, sandwiched in between U2 and R.E.M. And that’s exactly how it should be – I’m sure Madonna would have done exactly the same. You know, it’s great that all those people are there, but if your mum is there, your mum is the most important thing.”
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Exit Music: The Radiohead Story by Mac Randall
In this new, updated, and revised edition, author Mac Randall follows the band from its beginnings in suburban Oxford, UK, through the success of Creep and OK Computer to the traumatic recording sessions that spawned Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief, on to the award-winning In Rainbows and beyond. This new edition also includes coverage of the band’s most current release and eighth studio album, The King of Limbs.
Posted on March 9, 2012, in Music Fans and tagged Alanis Morissette, Backbeat Books, Beastie Boys, bookgasm, excerpt, exit music, mac randall, MTV, R.E.M., radiohead, U2. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.