This weekend I decided to revisit Radiohead’s stylized 1997-98 tour documentary, Meeting People Is Easy–or as the DVD’s packaging reads: A film by grant gee about radiohead.
Over a decade later, the look of the film still holds up, with its audio bleeps and blips artistically edited together with performance footage, surveillance camera shots, and random cityscape still frames. Its fuzzy video and fan-perspective-concert-views predate YouTube, so not only does Meeting People is Easy feel current, we can see it was years ahead of its time.
Gee’s film takes us behind the scenes as Radiohead tour behind their critically gushed over OK Computer album, the musical equivalent of a good-looking teenage girl finally realizing she’s good-looking–with the rest of her classmates (especially all the schoolboys) thinking the same thing. As expected, Radiohead have a hard time dealing with all of their newfound attention.
A few minutes into the film we realize that its title is used for the sake of irony. Meeting people–especially for Radiohead–is anything but easy. Bassist, Colin Greenwood accepts interview after interview only to awkwardly discuss how awkward he is during interviews. His brother Johnny is even more reluctant to speak, as he uncomfortably tells the documentary cameras that he doesn’t like to do interviews at all, and then there’s drummer, Phil Selway, who only appears in the film during the band’s performances and photo shoots. Guitarist, Ed O’Brien, is the most personable member of the group, and finally we have the star of the film, frontman, Thom Yorke–Radiohead’s most tortured soul.
Yorke grumbles about problems many bands wished they were lucky enough to have. He looks miserable performing on the Late Show, can’t sing his band’s hit song “Creep” without a look of scorn tethered across his face, and responds to having a #1 critically acclaimed album by calling it a “head fuck.”
One of the most painful parts of the film to watch is when Radiohead tape various acceptance speeches for awards shows. (“Sorry we couldn’t be there, but thanks for voting us _________!”) Yorke–almost as if he’s being tortured by having his fingernails ripped out one by one–struggles to simply thank the NME for giving Radiohead the award for Best Album. After one of the takes, Yorke turns to his bandmates and says, “I fucked up.” The guys quickly reassure him, “Oh no, that was good.” It wasn’t good, it sucked! Just thank the fans like a normal human being! My wife, who was casually watching the film while doing work around the house, turned to me and pleaded, “This is so miserable, do we really have to watch this? Please turn it off.” (Ironically, she bought me the DVD years earlier.)
There’s another scene where a black-and-white surveillance camera catches Yorke all alone in Radiohead’s dressing room while the rest of his bandmates are enjoying a post-show after party. The back-and-forth editing makes it appear that Yorke is some type of rat locked in a cage, but considering his discomfort in front of people, you’d think that being all alone in a dressing room would be an ideal location? The only time Yorke seems at peace in the film is–surprise–during sound-check (when he doesn’t have to meet or interact with people).
Watching Meeting People Is Easy can actually make you feel guilty for being a Radiohead fan. Considering I bought OK Computer on the first day it came out and also saw Radiohead tour in 1997, I guess there’s some blood on my hands too. I–like many of you–helped to create the band’s seemingly miserably existence. I just thought they made really good music, that’s all. I didn’t intend on ruining anyone’s life.
If Radiohead thought the media scrutiny was tough back then, you could only imagine what a sequel to this film would be like today. Not only do you have music journalists both praising and slamming you, but any smart-ass kid with a keyboard and an internet connection.
Though revisiting Meeting People Is Easy did make me roll my eyes a lot more than the first time I saw it, it is refreshing to watch a tour documentary where dudes aren’t getting shit-faced-drunk and telling fart jokes on a nightly basis. It also does provide a very interesting insight as to why Radiohead never made an album so mainstream-friendly again. Their next two releases, Kid A and Amnesiac, were obvious reactions to the public’s response to OK Computer.
With subsequent releases, Radiohead managed to shake off some of the johhny-come-latelys, but they still couldn’t out run the love of music critics (like I said before, if only every band could be so lucky to have these kind of problems).