While preparing for the upcoming Furillen @ Radiohead Weekend, it was inevitable that I would eventually find myself ruminating on what it means to be a geek. And/or a nerd.
When you start taking pleasure in making an inworld ad for the Radiohead event …
… look as similar as possible to the ads the band are using for the forthcoming round of festival appearances …
… you obviously have some geek issues going on. Especially when you get really pissed because you can’t find the exact same font.
As I said yesterday, there seems to be something about Radiohead that invites geekishness.
To test the theory, I turned to the totally unscientific method of trying out Google autocomplete – and if you’re interested in how this actually works, go here.
When I typed in ‘Why are Radiohead fans’ … I got this back …
… which intrigued me because I didn’t get geek.
I got nerd.
And then I realised that I don’t actually know – for sure – what the difference is between a geek and a nerd.
According to this page, a geek is obsessively knowledgeable about a particular topic – but crucially, they also tend to be quite social.
A geek may enjoy board games, film (and may follow directors, composers, or key grips obsessively), tech gadgets, hacking, and techno music. They have their fascination in what makes them unique, but you probably wouldn’t know of their geekitude unless they told you about it.
A nerd is also super knowledgeable, but according to this wiki page on the subject – written, by a geek, surely! – the nerd lacks social skills.
many nerds are described as being shy, quirky, and unattractive.
To be fair, the wiki page on geeks also mentions social skills when referring to …
… the general pejorative meaning of [geek as] a “peculiar person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual, unfashionable, or socially awkward”.
This kind of exercise can easily send us going around in circles. But on the whole, it seems fair to conclude that geeks are always techie and can often be cool, while nerds – generically – are not necessarily techie and not so much cool as just plain funny.
So while this page on how to be both smart and cool ends by concluding – more or less – ‘just don’t be a nerd, asshole’ … you will find plenty of material out there about why geek is the new cool.
So where does that leave Radiohead? Well here it gets a little bit deeper, because Thom was – by all accounts – something of a nerd himself at school. You’ll find plenty of material out there about Thom’s ‘small man syndrome’ – and about his wonky eye.
Not that he cares these days …
Being something of a lazy geek-nerd myself, I have read just one book about Radiohead. It was written by someone who knew Thom at university and it starts by describing his genuine shock on seeing this awkward, weird guy from his younger days being elevated to the status of the world’s coolest cat.
I am focusing on the shock here, not on the cool.
Then you listen to Creep – that song the band really hate to play – which goes …
I wish I was special…
But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo,
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here,
I don’t belong here.
… and you begin to understand how this band might appeal to geeks – and/or nerds – in ways that only their therapists – or Nietzsche, perhaps – would understand.
It’s about self-transcendence.
Still with me?
Joking aside, I’m not sure that Radiohead fans are more geeky – or nerdy – than any other group of dedicated music fans. Sure, you need to be smart to ‘get’ them … but you could say that about quite a few bands.
Except … I wouldn’t have written a post like this about another band.
Slipknot for nerds?
Bowie – the man from planet geek?
No, I don’t think so either.
But wait! … the Bowie reference is a dead give away. He was ‘weird’ too. He stood out at school, and was so ‘annoying’ that someone hit him when he was just 14 – so hard that it damaged his left eye permanently.
Ah yes … the eyes. Compare and contrast.
Bowie’s damaged left eye made him look like a sexy alien …
… whereas Thom’s wonky left eye just makes him look, well, weird …
I’d like to say this nicely, but I can’t. So I’ll just say it.
There is beautiful weird. Bowie.
And there is creepy weird. Yorke.
Or to put it in another way. Bowie gave us …
a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds.
… whereas Yorke and his friends gave us a creep and a weirdo who comes over as faintly stalkerish …
When you were here before,
Couldn’t look you in the eye,
You’re just like an angel,
Your skin makes me cry,
You float like a feather,
In a beautiful world,
I wish I was special,
You’re so fucking special.
Perhaps it’s this career-defining song, and the techno-dystopian themes of OK Computer! – that have fed the more general association between Radiohead, techie-geekish-nerdiness and pretentiousness.
So blame it on Creep. What Radiohead did with that song was to celebrate the kind of weirdness that – like the weirdness of the nerd – easily leads to low self-esteem.
And they turned it into an art-form.
In writing this song – the very song that made them super-famous – they showed how you could be so uncool that it was, well, cool ….
No wonder they hate playing it now.