Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why I Go to Conferences

Sometimes I wonder why I go to conferences. Listening to people read their papers at you all day can be mind and behind numbing. Also, conferences are usually held in enjoyable cites, but you are so busy with the conference that you don't get to enjoy the city. In some ways, conference attendance seems masochistic. But today I was reminded of why I go to conferences. Sometimes you hear a paper that startles you with a new way of looking at music or music and film.

Earlier this afternoon, I had such an experience. Steve Allen of Rider University presented a paper on this video:

I'm a fan of Radiohead, but I hadn't seen this
particular video before. Seeing it I was immediately reminded of this image of 2001: A Space Odyssey and expected Prof. Rider to go in that direction with his paper.

He didn't.

Instead he began to dissect the music and its video through the Christian symbolism inherent in it (and telegraphed through the collage of images that interact throughout OK Computer's CD booklet). Taking apart the lyrics first, he demonstrated how the entire work is divided into threes: a list of three items in every line (a landfill, a job, and bruises in the first verse, for instance); three repeated lines in the chorus (no alarms and no surprises) that is repeated three times during the song; and so on. He then referenced Romans 6:1-4 as an analog to the lyric's progression:

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The lyrics paint the picture of a man who, through despair, through sin, attempts to kill himself. But he doesn't die. In the instrumental interlude between the second chorus and the final verse the man is raised from his death through baptism to new life in "such a pretty house, such a pretty garden." Combined with the harmonic analysis that he completed (just notice how the vocal line slowly flattens until a second voice in harmony is able to join in), this was a persuasive reading and a refreshing one, given that most readings ignore any Christian allusions. In fact, one respondent even remarked that it could be celebrating secular humanism because she was obviously uncomfortable with the Christian reading. I suppose she's right, but most secular humanism doesn't refer to death through water and new life afterward.

So you've seen the video and read this particular interpretation. Thoughts?


Etta said...

I really hate to be the first one to comment because, BIG SURPRISE, I don't get it. No big shock since I did not, shall we say, "excel" in the areas of theory, analysis, or, for that matter, any other music class we had in college. There's a reason YOU have the PhD and I have, well, I have 2 little boys and no job! :D Still, I find your posts interesting, because they remind me of my good friend YOU.


Taliesin said...

That's a very cool interpretation of one of my favorite Radiohead videos! It just reminds me once again how packed with meaning and symbolism everything on OK Computer is. I'm sure there are other takes on the song, but there are no surprises to me that the underlying symbolism meshes so well with the Christian life: It's just another example of how so many beautiful works of art reflect deep spiritual truths, consciously or unconsciously. I'd love to read the paper if you find a link... :)

alicia said...

Fascinating. And by practicing my backwards scrolling reading skills, I now finally know what they're singing! I love Radiohead, but I can rarely understand them.

I think we should add the 2001 layer onto the interpretation as well, just to make it more interesting. That movie's got lots of crazy death and rebirth imagery, too. Although 2001 is more clearly aligned w/ the secular humanists, and nary a drop of resurrecting water that I can remember.