Meeting People is Easy is surely one of the best music documentaries ever made. It covers Radiohead’s 104 gig tour following the release of OK Computer in 1997. The filming style matches the content – a bewildering montage of images, usually in roving, fly-on-the-wall mode, following the band around an endless series of promo shoots and media interviews, travelling, band meetings, rehearsals and gigs.
This was the year during which the band really broke through from being a promising bunch of spunky prog rockers who were a refreshing alternative to Britpop (i.e. the loathsome Oasis et. al.), to a group who were widely recognised as genuinely original, challenging and terrifyingly relevant.
OK Computer is often viewed as an anti-technology concept album. I hear it more as being about the fear and ecstasy of not just losing sight of but also transforming our humanity in the face of the incredibly complex and potentially alienating technologies and media that were exploding around us – and them – at that time. Consider Airbag, a song written to express Thom Yorke’s feelings about automotive transportation following a near fatal car crash in which his life was saved by – you got it – an airbag. When he sings …
In an interstellar burst
I am back to save the universe
In a deep deep sleep of the innocent
I am born again
This isn’t a concept album because there is not – cannot be – a single concept that unifies the myriad range of contemporary experiences that these songs express. To me, this movie both captures and reflects the inherent and brilliant looseness of the album itself. The other really notable aspect of the album is its soundscape, which was strongly influenced by Miles Davis’s epic, Bitches Brew.
There is some fascinating (and historic) footage of gigs in this movie, as well as of the band members suffering silently through a punishing schedule of mind-numbingly similar interviews. When one interviewer asks the band – “what’s the worst question you ever got asked in an interview” – you just yearn for them to spit back, “that’s it, right there”. That they don’t says much about their stamina and patience.
When, during a particularly low moment on the Japanese leg of the tour, Thom refers to the astonishing success of an album they fully expected to bomb as “total bullshit” – urging his fellow band members just to give it all up and begin again – you feel both heartbroken for the man and his friends … and incredibly excited about the massive creative meltdown that was about to happen to the band, leading painfully to the release of the (even better?) Kid A in 2000.
I absolutely adore this movie, parts of it are moving beyond words.
So here it is …