The Makings of a Rock Star
Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, is 45 today! Celebrate with this excerpt about a precocious young Thom from Exit Music, by Mac Randall.
For his eighth birthday, Thom’s mother and father had given him a cheap Spanish guitar as a present. He’d discovered rock music not long before, and his parents, encouraging the enthusiasm, no doubt hoped that learning to play an instrument could help boost his overall confidence. (Four years earlier, Yorke had had a steel-string guitar, but his initial music experimentations were short-lived; the strings hurt his fingers, and so he impatiently threw the guitar against the wall, breaking it to bits.)
Tellingly, it wasn’t the raw three-chord punk sweeping the English scene at the time, but the far more ornate, theatrical and conspicuously accomplished stylings of Queen, that first ignited Thom’s passion. In particular, he idolized the perfect mix of melody, bombast and campy humour in the playing of their guitarist Brian May, which he first heard on a friend’s copy of the band’s 1975 album A Night At The Opera. “I wanted to be Brian May,” he alter recalled. “I went into a guitar lesson when I was eight and said, ‘I want to be Brian May.’ I’d never wanted to be anything else. Before that, it was Lego.” Though certainly diluted by exposure to other music over the years, that early influence of Queen can still be heard in Radiohead’s work, particularly more ambitious sons like ‘The Bends’ and ‘Paranoid Android’.
Legend has it that Thom was convinced early on that he would be a rock star, perhaps not exactly like Brian May but close enough, and that he advised his parents to this effect. His father duly passed the information on to his friends, who no doubt got a chuckle or two out of it. At this point, the only song the youngster could play on the guitar was ‘Kumbaya’.
Wasting little time, Yorke formed his first band at age ten. (Actually, it wasn’t a band but what might be more aptly described as an experimental duo, consisting of Thom on guitar and another Standlake student whose primary duty apparently consisted of miswiring TV sets so that they’d explode.) By age eleven, he’d written his first song, a cheery little number about the atomic bomb called ‘Mushroom Cloud’. The composer has since explained that the song was “more about how [the mushroom cloud] looked than how terrible it was.” Still, it stands as evidence that the morbid world view so commonly found in the songs of Radiohead was already well in place at a tender age.
In this new, updated, and revised edition of Exit Music, 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.