After college, the members of On a Friday regrouped, in 1991, and renamed themselves Radiohead (the band name comes from a song on Talking Heads' True Stories). Following a few gigs in Oxford, they landed a record deal with Parlophone. The rage that had been seething within Yorke since childhood found its way into his tortured lyrics on Pablo Honey. With songs that were more musically focused and cohesive, Yorke's anger and disgust only intensified on The Bends.
In 1995, Yorke said in an interview in Rolling Stone, "People ask me if I'm happy, and I tell them to fuck off." The singer was promptly anointed in the U.K. press as the Next Artist Most Likely to Put a Bullet in His Head. Now, he is more reflective. "The downside [about The Bends] was that everything I wrote had this significance to it," he says. On OK Computer, Yorke has replaced his earlier raw, confessional lyrics with a more oblique, universal discomfort; the songs seem to come from the perspectives of different characters, who comment on society. "I'm not trying to fight people in the same way [that I used to]," he says. "A lot of that was misplaced anger directed in the wrong way – toward myself. You say all these things, and you realize that you're revealing things that you really shouldn't be saying to anybody, except the people you really, really love."
Yorke's band mates defend him, saying that his misery has been overemphasized. "People try to pin this persona on him that has nothing to do with him," says Colin Greenwood.
A self-described perfectionist and control freak, Yorke is also a moody codger. In a matter of minutes, his demeanor can run from caustic crankiness (often displayed by burying his head in his hands) to unexpectedly charming. It is this unpredictability that drives his band mates, who feed off the singer's mania and channel it into an explosive, complex and melodic mix of guitar rock and electronics.
Yorke's control is not lost on the rest of the group. "Thom uses a great analogy," O'Brien says. "We're like the U.N., and he's like the U.S. He is the communicator, and the pressure on him is enormous."
The members of some bands might be resentful about such behavior, but Yorke's mates tend to stand by their man. They are a tightknit lot who all live within minutes of one another in Oxford. Yorke is also supported by a group of close friends from college, including his girlfriend of more than six years. "She's doing her doctorate in Dante's illustrations to The Inferno," he says proudly. He recently bought a house in Cornwall, England, that he uses as a sort of clubhouse. It has plenty of beds to accommodate his friends, who are not overly affected by his stardom. "When I go home, we talk about what's going on for five minutes, then everything's back to normal," he says. "It's as exciting for them as it is for me. They see me as happy, and that's cool."
Under a hot sun in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, the members of Radiohead are sitting in the production lot of Burbank's NBC Studios, waiting to perform on The Tonight Show. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. "I am so fucking bored," announces O'Brien, thumbing through the New York Times. The only member who is not going out of his mind is Colin Greenwood, who plops down on the curb and rummages for a cigarette. "I'm quite enjoying not thinking about anything at the moment," he says. Colin is two years older than Jonny, and the two could not be more different. With his big brown doe eyes, pouty lips and flailing, chain-saw-starting guitar moves, Jonny exudes the most onstage rock-star charisma, while Colin prefers to anchor himself by Selway's drum kit, delicately chugging to the beat. Offstage, the roles reverse. Colin is open, friendly and chatty, the one most likely to go out on a bender, while Jonny is quiet, self-absorbed and often in bed by 11. Despite their opposite personalities, Colin and Jonny remain close. Colin recalls only one fight in their relationship. "Jonny is colorblind," he begins, "and when we were young, I gave him a red crayon to use for the grass he was coloring. It was a blood bath." Their father died when Colin was 7, leaving Jonny and him to look to their older sister, Susan, as a role model. "She's responsible for our precocious love of miserable music," Colin says. "The Fall, Magazine, Joy Division. We were ostracized in school because everyone else was into Iron Maiden."
Colin is nonchalant about Radiohead's success. "Enjoy it while it lasts," he says as he spots a giant limo carrying another one of Jay Leno's guests, Evander Holyfield. "The record company always wants to send us limos," he continues. "I hate them. It's much better to have a van. There's no cachet anymore with limos. What's the point?" The band's tour manager hands Colin an itinerary for his girlfriend, who will visit him in two days. "One of the benefits of being successful," he says with a crooked grin, "is flying someone you care about across the country. That's nice."
After the band's abrasive performance of "Electioneering" on The Tonight Show, the hallway of the NBC studio degenerates into a hellish fun house of celebrities. The group retreats to its dressing room, dodging Ed McMahon, Arsenio Hall and Magic Johnson. The Arsenio sighting brings up a discussion about which talk-show host gives the better gifts. "Arsenio gave us great bathrobes," says Colin. "We get food baskets from Jay."
All the band members leave the dressing room except for Selway, who stands and looks at the baskets. "I suppose it would be rather rude to leave them," he says. The comment underscores Radiohead's greatest collective character traits. They're polite, thoughtful and charmingly down-to-earth – the exact opposite of fellow Brits Oasis, whose bratty, headline-making antics far overshadow Radiohead's in the U.K. Thus, Selway gathers up the baskets, heads outside to the parking lot and gives them to the limo drivers.
In the lot, things get off to a strange start. Kato Kaelin – remember him? – is milling around the parking lot with a woman at his side. "Oh, yes, that guy," exclaims O'Brien rather loudly. "Should I go get his autograph?" Kaelin shoots a glare in the band's direction. Everyone stares in silence. After a few tense moments, Jonny mutters, "Nice hair, though."
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