Comfortably Numb

The road to music snobbery is paved with the music of Radiohead

That appeal had its own problems. The Bends was released in April, and by the end of summer Radiohead was playing huge concert halls. It was getting harder to like the group because, after all, everyone else did, too.

Then came OK Computer, a near-catastrophe on my radar. It was this record that prompted critics and fans to vote Radiohead the "best band of the '90s." Hell, the readers of England's Q magazine went so far as to call the album the best of all time. Suddenly the band wasn't selling out mere concert halls, but stadiums; its songs were being transposed and performed by classical musicians. I bought the album, of course, cherished it for about 10 minutes, then set it aside as some kind of symbol -- to myself -- that Radiohead was no longer something I wanted to have anything to do with. By the time the band surmounted what may have been the highest expectations ever with OK Computer's follow-up, Kid A, I was officially boycotting Radiohead. But watch this:

In college I had a friend who enjoyed accusing me of being a music snob, but who was, in truth, an aspiring music snob himself. He would arrive at my door with new music he'd bought and try to stump me. He always failed. In the fall of 2000, however, he invited me to his apartment, sat me down on his couch, handed me a joint, put on Kid A, and forced me to listen to it all the way through.

"Hmmmm," I said, scratching my newly stubbled chin. Then I asked him to play the record again.

Today I can say, and will happily argue, that Kid A is my generation's most vital album, that it's every bit as important as Nirvana's Nevermind, Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, and so on.

This past May, Radiohead released its latest record, Hail to the Thief, in my opinion not its best work. While critics have widely praised it as the union of the grating-yet-accessible OK Computer and the grating-yet-inaccessible Kid A, citing its freshly upbeat tone, I see it as a collection of half-baked arrangements that don't support Yorke's caustic worldview. Sure, I listened to the release occasionally throughout the summer, but it didn't change my life.

But that's not the point. The point is that I listened to it. Shit, I even listened to the new Dashboard Confessional album last week (it sucks). Granted, I still go to record stores and quiz the clerks on obscure releases, but I'm also not afraid to dabble in Top 40, to do something that had previously seemed as taboo to me as voting Republican: hop on the bandwagon. Because what I've finally realized after all these years -- what Radiohead ultimately taught me -- is that art thrives at all levels of pop-culture strata, and to ignore something just because it's popular is, well, as dumb as dating a cheerleader just because she's got a nice rack. Life is short, art is sparse, and we've got to take our transcendence wherever we can get it. So please forgive me if you hear the new Strokes record blasting out of my car: My name is Garrett, and I am a recovering music snob.

If you can find a ticket, you can catch Radiohead on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre (at Rengstorff), Mountain View. Tickets are $40.50-47.50; call (650) 967-4040 or visit www.shorelineamp.com.

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