The story of the strange meanings in Radiohead’s “Street Spirit”

The extensive songbook of Radiohead it’s full of lugubrious, frenetic, melancholic, mystical tracks … In short, an exquisite compilation of material to walk through the most turbulent states of mind of the mind. If you are a fan of the band and Some of his songs have penetrated your bones, you should know it well.

However, among that extensive range of compositions made to shake sentimentality, there is one in particular that harbors a very particular madness and carelessness: “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. This song by itself -we can say it bluntly- It must be one of the most intense the band has ever worked.

Thom Yorke in the video for “Street Spirit.” Photo: YouTube Capture

And that is saying a lot, taking into account the characteristic emotional charge that Yorke and company usually print in their work. But this time, beyond that, we want to dive into the history and the meaning of this song, one that Thom himself has denied authorship … or at least that’s the rumor that is regularly talked about.

Radiohead and the era of ‘The Bends’

The second installments in any field always generate a lot of expectation. In Radiohead’s case, having experienced success with Pablo Honey (1993) and “Creep” set the bar quite high for what would be his next album. But the band, anyway, disliked going down the mainstream path their once greatest classic had cemented. The solution? Direct your efforts in a more experimental and cryptic exercise than the previous one.

Thus began the recording of the album The Bends throughout 1994 to finally release it on March 13, 1995. As essential curiosities of the material, we must highlight the cover created by Stanley Donwood, who from that moment became – to put it in some way – the enlightened official of the group. In this image one can see, in Donwood’s words, “the facial expression of an android who discovers for the first time the sensations of ecstasy and agony.”

Cover of The Bends. Photo: Parlphone

That’s a weird way to define concept art, but with a group of this stature things couldn’t be normal from any point of view. As bizarre as its cover, Radiohead he took care to combine all kinds of musical influences so that it could not be pigeonholed in a single way. “The Bends” and “Bones” have a texture very close to the britpop that dominated the time, but others more like “Just”, “Fake Plastic Trees”, “Planet Telex” and “My Iron Lung” they opted for the more experimental terrain of alternative rock, sometimes frenetic and distorted or extremely calm.

The album thus walks among various influences throughout 12 songs, the last of them being the most ‘complicated’ to define in style. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” ends an extraordinary album, but with a vibe full of sorrow and grief that goes beyond any tangible analysis.

Radiohead. Photo: .


“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, a musical and literary work

As such, “Street Spirit” it encompasses a series of somewhat strange meanings or that is the general conception of the song. As for the influences Radiohead had on her, sThey are as rich in music as in their literary attributions. This was explained by Thom Yorke in a 2004 interview with Brian Draper.

In that talk, the vocalist revealed that the song was directly influenced by a classic book by a Nigerian author and by one of the most renowned American alternative rock bands between the 80s and 90s. “The song The Bends’ “Street Spirit” was completely influenced by Ben Okri’s book The Famished Road , which I read on a tour of the United States; and also by REM “he said on that occasion.

Thom Yorke. Photo: .

As Okri himself points out in an article for The Guardian, the book was written with the aim of “giving me reasons to live. Often the wonder of living fades from us, obscured by a thousand things. QI wanted to look at life in a new way “explained the author about the book.

In that sense and taking up the song as such, that ‘street spirit’ that Thom talks about in the letter it refers to the little Azaro, a minor from an African community conceived in the book as an ‘Abiku / spirit child’, who is besieged by other spirits like him who tell him to leave his mortal life. He, on the contrary, refuses due to the love he feels for his parents. Maybe that’s where the last line of the song comes from, in which Yorke sings “Immerse your soul in love.”

Photo: Jonathan Cape Publishing

A strange and hopeless meaning (of unknown origin)

The mystique that encompasses this song by Radiohead it also encompasses a more hopeless meaning; one that is capable of freezing the blood. Thus, for example, the Ultimate Guitar site mentions an alleged quote that Yorke himself would have written in a note explaining the song under a totally gloomy theme.

While that quote is not recorded in any interview or any file as such (only some websites), has become popular with fans. Then we leave here for you to draw your own conclusions about what this track actually tells us:

… ”Street Spirit” is our purest song, but I didn’t write it. It was written alone. We were just his messengers. They’re biological catalysts … It’s about looking the damn devil straight in the eye and knowing, no matter what you do, he’ll laugh last.

I detach my emotional radar from that song, or I couldn’t play it. I would break. I would collapse on stage. That’s why its lyrics are just a bunch of mini stories or visual images rather than a cohesive explanation of its meaning … Our fans are braver than I am to let that song sink in, or maybe they just don’t realize what they are hearing …

… It hurts a lot every time I touch it, looking at thousands of people cheering and smiling, oblivious to the tragedy of its meaning, like when you are going to have your dog on the ground and wag his tail on the way. This is what they all look like, and it breaks my heart… I wish that song hadn’t chosen us as catalysts, so I’m not claiming it… I didn’t write that song.

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