Friday, December 18, 2015

Song of the Day #243 - Radiohead - Last Flowers

Too much, too bright, too powerful...

It is December 18th, one week from Christmas, and I live in Canada, so usually around this time of year I am... complaining a lot, and wondering why people would ever choose to live in a place where you can't comfortably go outside certain times in the year, and coming up with crazy programs of loathing to enhance spring, and generally being miserable... but not this year! No, right now our temperature is sitting somewhere around freezing, and there's no snow on the ground, and we might even see a green Christmas. It's... pretty fantastic, I have to say, albeit maybe a bit "wrong"-feeling wrt "tradition" and all that, but there's certain things I might miss, like snowmobiling, or the absolute best thing about winter, which is...

Huddling up in blankets in the dark listening to winter-core music while listening to the wind howl outside!!! Yes, it's that old wintertime classic, the way to aestheticize terrible weather that only a masochist could love, HUIBITDLTWCMWLTTWHO!!! I'm sure you've all done it, although maybe you had never considered that you were in cold-weather communion with millions of others. And maybe you haven't given thought to what music particularly suits this activity, what works well as "winter-core", which is fair enough because that term doesn't really exist. Don't worry, though, I am here to curate a collection for you. What we're looking for is something that reflects the two major emotional states of the activity: "oh my god the world is a bleak and inhospitable place, and it seems ridiculous to imagine that life is attempting to continue on" and "I'm sure glad I'm warm and snug in here, and not out there".

This song does both masterfully. Originally dreamed up during the OK Computer sessions, like "Nude", it took almost a decade to get a proper studio release, becoming the (imo) masterpiece track of In Rainbows disc 2. The title comes from a sign Thom Yorke saw on the road to a hospital - "Last Flowers Till Hospital!" - i.e., if you're planning on taking flowers to a sick person you're visiting, this is the last chance to pick them up. Just really sit and think about that one for a second. Is it beautiful or abhorrent? The situation is pretty sad on one hand, like, there's someone you love in the hospital, but the specific facet we're focusing on - that you're visiting them, with flowers! - is probably one of the nicer parts of the whole ordeal. And then, on the way, you're besieged by this advertisement, one that basically says "most convenient flowers", not "best flowers" or even "best value flowers", with a knowing, shameless acknowledgement of... like, I guess, all the imperfections in the world that lead you to maybe forgetting flowers up until this point, realizing only at this stage of the journey that you ought to get some, and here is good enough, right? Is that OK? Is that an okay way to advertise? I don't know. It seems to be both yes and no. It is irreconcilable. That is the cold bleak world we live in: people can do nice things but maybe not perfectly, and you will get sick, and you need to make money.

But the song isn't "Last Flowers Till Hospital", which was its original title, it's "Last Flowers", and the truncation opens up another meaning: these are the last flowers you'll buy for someone who will die soon. Of course it's an even sadder meaning. This is Radiohead. The lyrics seem to tell the story of someone with a terminal disease, or maybe someone with a devastating addiction? Or both? Detoxing in hospice? Jesus. "Appliances have gone berserk" and "Houses move and houses speak" are classic "the world is unbearable" Radiohead lines, up there with anything from "Street Spirit".

Then we get the inter-verse segue of repeating "Relief", in classic Thom Yorke wailing despair... I love how the functions through having the "external" lyrics of the suffering in the world be complex and progressing, whereas the internal resolutions are repeated and languid... also nicely accompanied by the distant and precise piano, and the warm strumming acoustic guitar, respectively. And then the outro! Oh man, the outro! If there was ever an anthem for what the entire world seems like on cold winter days, it's "too bright, too much, too powerful". There is something extremely beautiful about that acknowledgement, I think, something peaceful and whole. You take a good look at everything out there and conclude that it is too much and curl up into a warm soft ball indefinitely. That's what winter is.