My Year With That One Radiohead Song

It was a boyfriend who first told me about Radiohead in 2014.

Back then I had nothing to my name. “Too watery,” said a friend, who was an astrology enthusiast, about my Pisces-heavy natal chart. I did not know what she meant but I agreed with the sentiment. I hoped to add something to myself through the music I listened to, desperately wanting someone to say: “Oh I know them! They listen to x band all the time.”

 First came Karma Police and I despised it instantly. 

I had no patience for that kind of droning, unearthly croon that is Thom Yorke poured over various instruments. I was repelled. The boyfriend shrugged with distaste at my plebeian sensibilities and left me to my achy-breaky, girlpop.  

In 2019, I nervously applied for a postgraduate program after a rather traumatic year left me emotionally paralyzed. That summer, I played music as I drew, read books I never finished, and waited to hear back from the university. When the song played, I frowned.

Radiohead – Decks Dark.

I was ready to press skip. All these years later, my ears were no better used to Yorke’s voice. I could also barely ever tell what he was singing anyway. 

But when the first verse dissolved into a roiling church-chorus, I froze. I have always been prone to the chokehold of that sound, ancient, resigned, indifferent.  

I sat down to listen. Now, the next verse was easier to make out. I felt my nerves fray, every artery splitting open, the shell of my ear primed to receive words that had earlier sounded like they came from a kingdom of water. 

It was a harrowing experience. 

“There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky,” Yorke said in his indifferent, yarn-waving-in-the-wind voice. I sat there like the lone survivor of a car crash. I remember feeling an immense sadness, like a whale, resting at the bottom of the ocean, singing its whalesong. I remember thinking it was counterintuitive, to be thinking of the ocean in a song referencing space. It felt like I was desperate to maintain distance. 

The boyfriend and I broke up a month after I first heard Decks Dark. We had weathered 5 years and nursed various grudges together. After he left, I tried to reevaluate my relationship with pain.

“You’re wrapped in it,” he had said in his final text to me, “I can never tell when you’re telling the truth anymore.”

I think back then I felt enabled by the song. I like being led by the music I listen to and where Decks Dark led me was a place post-pain, post-hurt. The boyfriend’s words stung. I thought I had transcended pain. 

When lockdown forced me out of my cloister-dorm and back home, I looked at the time stretching before me and told myself I needed nobody. Music was there, music could become whatever I wanted it to be because it only spoke one language, when I knew several to translate it into.  

At the end, I have not arrive at a grand alternative for indulging in my own pain but I like to think I am not captive to it. As it stands, I do not know what to do about the sense of an ending Decks Dark instills within me. Every day it reminds me that peace is a precarious arrangement with pain, that there is a price to be paid for 8 full hours of sleep uninterrupted by the fear that someone forgotten is trying to claw their way back into my life. I have been primed by things that have happened to me, to expect the worst at all times, a casual death-knell on my self-imposed hermithood.                          

On top of it all is this song egging me on. It makes me feel like I am skirting the edge of a deep pool of unfathomable sadness, at the bottom of which the sorrowful whale waits. I am inches from ruination when the opening bars sound in my ears. I do not know what to do with it. The song sounds both unfinished and excruciatingly long. It may speak a language, but it is the language of Babel before its fall, what God himself fears; the language of sadness and its magnetic pull toward the implosion of self.    

I am startled by the slightest noise. This year and more of total isolation has debilitated my desires for the lighter things in life. At least, I think, as I click on the loop button, I am alive. I am alive. I am (somewhat) alive.


K.S. (they/them) is an aspiring writer from Pakistan. They have always written stuffy academic papers, and are trying to slowly transition to writing for pleasure. Aside from published papers in local journals, their work has twice appeared in The Daily Drunk and The Sparrow’s Trombone. I have more forthcoming with Warning Lines, as well as Koening.