October 8, 2007

This Is What You'll Get

“He wants you to translate for him. What does it mean?”

“You mean the words? He wants to know the words of the song?”

“No. he knows the words. He wants to know what they mean. He doesn’t understand what they mean.”

We listened for days in a tiny basement apartment in Warsaw. Karma Police in particular was on a constant loop that should have burned a hole in the pirated cassette. All of us transfixed, none of us really understanding Thom Yorke’s verbal message. I was the native speaker – what was my excuse? But we all felt it in the chords. The urgency, the indescribable yet delicious pain, the immediacy of the moment. This moment. Right now. It would never happen again.

In Poland almost everyone lived at home with their parents, so if you had a flat of your own, it was fair game. You may have had the great idea to host the after party when the clubs closed. Days later, you would still find partygoers on your couch and rifling through your fridge as you were getting ready for work.

That’s what happened to Frank, a French expat who was never clear about his “job” in Poland. That weekend, I was one of the stragglers. But my train back to Wroclaw wouldn’t leave for several hours and I was supplying the soundtrack and making tea so he didn’t complain.

I didn’t know that Ok Computer was a worldwide hit. Even when the Polish Tower Records, Empik, carried them, the NME and Melody Maker were rare and expensive indulgences. And the only use I had for the Internet was in the ten minutes it took me to check my newly created hotmail account at the internet café. I knew that I loved The Bends and that the guy outside the train station had the new Radiohead tape for 10 zloty (a steal! Literally).

When our ears were still ringing with bad techno, I had offered up my new purchase as a sound alternative. That was early Saturday morning. By Monday afternoon there were just a few of us still lingering, still listening. Frank had given up hope of throwing us out. Kaczor and I shared the space closest to the stereo.

Kaczor was beautiful. A confused thug who thought he needed to look tougher so he shaved his head earlier in the weekend. Only it had the opposite effect. He now looked angelic, naïve, and more desperate, if that was possible. It was a desperation that could get dangerous, particularly after sleepless nights. Despite his beauty, if I hadn’t known Kaczor, I would have crossed a dark street to avoid him, especially if he were surrounded by his peers. That morning, he was alone and he looked it. I knew he had nothing to go home to and would have liked, more than anything, for those moments safe and quiet in the basement flat, to last a little longer.

Kaczor asked me again, directly this time, “So what does it mean?”

I did what I always did as an inexperienced English teacher. I made something up, something that would fit the limited Polish I would have to use to explain it.

“He’s bothered by people that don’t make sense. He doesn’t want to be around people that make him miserable. It makes him crazy.”

Sweet Kaczor. He nodded at my translation. Completely satisfied.


Eurowags said...

I think it's rather interesting that 3 of us associate OK Computer with our international living experiences. Also, interesting to see how embraced the album was internationally.

venerableseed said...

Some bands are just loved everywhere, regardless of language. Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and Queen are the first three that come to mind as far as my experience.

Its also odd that Radiohead are one of the few British bands to be really successful (critically and sales-wise) in the American market in the 90's-00's.

I think its Thom Yorke's vocals but who knows.

Dave said...

I think it is because you were all overseas at the same time as when the album was released and popular.

venerableseed said...

not me.

polchic said...

I can't speak for the entire world - oh, if only - but I think it is the epic nature of the musical arrangements more so than Yorke's vocals. When I think of songs that reach that mythical worldwide appeal - like Robbie William's Angel, for example - they are usually epic, and incredibly singable while drunk. In any language.