Tag Archives: Clare Kleinedler

No more heroes anymore – thankfully

Radiohead, 2006. Pic: Drown

Remember when rock bands really, really mattered?

When new releases were presaged by weeks of publicity, when liner notes were pored over, when tracks were listened to dozens of times to figure out just exactly what that lyric was?

A newly-published anthology of writings about Radiohead, “Present Tense: A Radiohead Compendium”, takes me back to that time.

The book, which (full disclosure) features a great interview with the band by my other half, Clare Kleinedler, documents 25 years of journalism about the group, from their earliest incarnation as On A Friday to global pop domination and beyond.

Reading the articles, what stands out less is their substance (although features like Clare’s, and Will Self’s, built on solid interviews as opposed to opinions drawn from lyrical or musical clues, stand the test of time) than their context.

Almost every one, at least those from the “Pablo Honey” era onwards, is written on the assumption that Radiohead matter, that they are necessary, that they have Something To Say. Reading many of these pieces at the time, from defunct (and missed) publications like Select, I’m sure I concurred.

After all, what else was more important in the year 2000 that the release of “Kid A”? Weren’t the scraps from the floor of the studio used by the creators of “Paranoid Android” worth more than the greatest political, sporting or literary achievements of the day?

Well, so we thought. Now, of course, the idea seems quaint. Other music, other writing, other points of view, all of it available online ad infinitum, along with the passage of time, served to place Radiohead within the cultural context, instead of above or before it.

Reading “Present Tense” is as much as act of nostalgia as anything else, then; I felt a warm familiarity with some of the mundane facts in the articles (mundane now, at the time, revelatory – like how the band was named for a song on Talking Heads’ “True Stories” album).

It also reminded me of a period in my life when I had more free time, and less distractions – enough to allow me to spend whole afternoons picking over the inner musical workings of “Lucky”.

I can’t say I miss this (and I’ve long forgotten the arrangement of that particular song), nor will I miss the last era of the Single Important Rock Band – a strangely reductive concept.

But it was enjoyable to read – for a few hours at least – about how things were. Everything in its right place – in this case, the past.

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You say tomato, I say heuristic cultural device

Shopping a la cart.

Shopping a la cart.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

TURNING on a red light.

Slicing ‘toMAYtos’.

Answering ‘cell’ phones.

Rarely seeing, let alone using, public transport.

All things you do in the US, which you don’t in Ireland. And all of which I encountered on a visit this month to my wife’s hometown of Los Angeles.

These differences are usually small curiosities (unless I forget to look before turning on that red).

Like the way I stare blankly at voluminous LA coffee menus, or in wide-eyed wonder at the Whole Foods’ shopping cart escalator.

They’re just tasters to a deeper difference between American and Irish people, which is far more engrained than the rules of the road or in-store trolley conveyance.

In my experience this difference comes by way of a simple question: is the coffee cup half full or half empty?

Americans are often accused of being glibly optimistic, if not naive, in their world view. Many are, I’m sure, and many are not.

But they are considerably less cynical than the Irish, something that is impossible not to notice when you some spend time each year in both countries.

Cultural differences.

Cultural differences.

My other half is the perfect example. A music journalist, she cut her teeth in the first dot-com boom, before launching a catering business, returning to journalism for a number of major US publications and then, in her mid-30s, deciding to leave it all behind and move to Ireland.

At every turn her question was not (as I would have asked) ‘why?’ but ‘why not?’

Where I would seek out flaws in a plan she would see speed-bumps; where I might see regrets for past decisions she sees experience.

This faith in reinvention is not an exclusively American trait, of course. But I’ve seen more of it in citizens of that country than most others.

It’s been fodder for commentators, artists and academics for years. One New Yorker recently tried to explain it to me using, as he put it, ‘heuristic cultural devices’.

Tonias Wolff. Pic: Mark Coggins

Tobias Wolff.
Pic: Mark Coggins

But I’ve come across a simpler description. It is contained in a collection of Tobias Wolff’s short stories, gifted to me by my LA-based father-in-law on my visit earlier this month.

In one of the stories, A Mature Student, a Czech-born immigrant says of her adopted home: “Americans…such faith in the future, where all shall be reconciled. Such compassion toward the past, where all may be forgiven.”*

How much faith do you need, how much compassion can you have? That’s the $64,000 (or €45,000) question.

That, and ‘tomato’ or ‘tomayto’.

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*Tobias Wolff, “A Mature Student”, Our Story Begins (Vintage, 2008), p 315

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