So what are Radiohead so bummed about, anyway? In their new documentary, Meeting People Is Easy, the Brit rockers expose the torments of modern life: tour buses, airports, photo shoots, the works. Video director Grant Gee, who made Radiohead's "No Surprises" clip, followed them on their 1997-98 world tour for their excellent OK Computer, the headphone opus that dared to imagine Morrissey and Pink Floyd trading conspiracy theories in one of David Bowie's space capsules. It's not exactly news that rock stardom is a tedious gig, but it's never looked this bad before, and you can't take your eyes off it. Gee uses all of his technically stunning effects to turn the tour into a jittery, nearly colorless blur of images, a ninety-four-minute psychedelic collage of road fatigue. There's no sex or drugs in Meeting People, and precious little rock & roll – even the concert footage rarely gives up a whole song at a time. The music just weaves in and out of the background as the lads stare out of hotel windows and contemplate the depths of their existential despair. They don't meet any groupies (sub-prize!), but they do get some reading done, especially their own reviews. You don't feel sorry for Radiohead, exactly (that's their job). Instead, you just marvel at – and envy – all the rock-star ego on display, the kind of ego that inspires five rich and famous young men to commission a feature-length art film about how bored they are with their work. Boredom has always been a key rockumentary ingredient; we love to see our rock gods suffer for us, and we love to see them get bored on an epic scale. Think of Bob Dylan in 1966's Eat the Document, battling morning sickness in the back of a limo with John Lennon, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else. Think of the '72 Stones in Cocksucker Blues, trying to score a measly little fruit salad from room service. Usually, though, there's some release in the music. Even Cocksucker Blues has that scene where Keith Richards blisses out hearing the 45 of "Happy" for the first time, turning into an innocent fan right before our eyes, until the record skips and he snaps back into his own evil Keithness. But there's no bliss or evil in Meeting People, just the numb routine of professional minor celebrity. By the end, these guys look like the TV could throw them out the hotel window.
Meeting People's strangely touching highlight comes in the back of a New York cab, rolling from a meaningless gig to a meaningless afterparty, as Thom Yorke starts dreaming out loud about his fans, wondering whether they hear his music the way he hears his favorite Smiths and R.E.M. records. "The idea that you would be one of those bands to somebody," Thom muses sleepily. "That thing of it being imprinted on your heart, you know? Every note of it." Then the cab arrives at the club, where the bouncer won't let him in. "Dude, write a song about it," the bouncer taunts as Thom staggers away. "Radiohead! Creep! Dickhead!" You can't tell whether it's the wrong club or whether the bouncer just won't let Thom into his own party, but either way it's a hilarious moment, full of urban energy and the threat of violence – it feels almost like rock & roll. And then, of course, it's back to work.
This story is from the April 29th, 1999 issue of Rolling Stone.