I am inside the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. It is a remarkably beautiful and intimate auditorium with a magnificent, ornate ceiling. Its aroma vaguely reminds me of an old Sivan temple in my college town that I used to frequent back in the day. The temple was a kaleidoscope of distinctive smells: of vibhuti and camphor, multitudes of agarbattis and of bats clinging to the dark ceilings, as if to remind you that the temple was first built sometime in the second or third century. What is of significance at the moment, however, is neither the ceiling nor the nostalgia. It is, in fact, the people who have just walked on to the stage: six odd English men who make gorgeous music that is, at times, out of the world. I follow them with an embarrassing passion and dedication; they are called Radiohead. With a bit of careful planning, the help of very kind friends and an enormous amount of luck, I’d laid my hands on a ticket. After weeks of intense anticipation, here I am, at last, sharing four walls with the band and a few thousand like minded fans.
I spent the past two hours roaming around by myself and lost in thought. At the pre-party I met a group of fans from the Radiohead subreddit, some of whom I had only known as usernames and flairs, and others I hadn’t known at all. Armed with a drink, my awkward and insecure fan girl self plodded on through discussions on favorite albums, past live shows and best Thom dance moves, and was intimidated by those who were fans since OK Computer and had been to several Radiohead gigs. After we had clicked a photo together, we dispersed to our seats, the lucky ones to the pit. Mine is the right most seat on the first row of Loge, incredibly close to the stage. I’m now trying to create a makeshift stand for my phone in hope of live streaming the show on Periscope as a token of gratitude for all the fans who had streamed the previous gigs on this tour, but this would later turn out to be a massive failure. My thoughts wander to the forty thousand fans on the subreddit, especially some of the regulars on the live stream threads. I ponder over what I have in common with this disparate group of individuals “on the internet” whom I have been on a virtual tour with.
Why are we fans? What do we get from this collective adoration of musicians and sportsmen and actors whom we hardly know? Why do we obsess over their scribbles and words and interviews from the past? We are deeply convinced of our undying love despite knowing that it is not their real selves that we love, it is only an image of these artists projected by the media and our own selves that we love. We buy posters for our walls and decals for our cars. We are shouting at the top of our lungs, but what exactly is our message? Is it acceptance and belonging that we crave? Or are these displays just a manifestation of juvenile arrogance? I recall what Carrie Brownstein wrote on being a fan and it slightly warms my heart.
My favorite kind of musical experience is to feel afterward that your heart is filled up and transformed, like it is pumping a whole new kind of blood into your veins. This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness.
I snap back and focus on the present. The first big surprise of the set is the proverbial True Love Waits. This elusive fan favourite has finally found its place on a record and is now pervading the room in all its glory. I am shocked and thrilled beyond words. Staring at the stage, mouth wide open, hand on my chest as if I’m trying to clutch my heart. Out of nowhere, there is an arm around my waist. It belongs to the girl next seat who just arrived with her partner during the last song. She has exactly the same expression of disbelief on her face. She pats my back gently and I hug her, overwhelmed.
I have only read about the legendary fans of jam bands like Grateful Dead and Phish and have always wanted to be a part of such an accepting and tolerant group. I get to experience a mild taste of it today thanks to this amazing, drunk couple who proceed to share the rest of the concert with me. As his favourite song starts, the guy screams in joy and together we yell “Weird Fishes”. As Jonny is banging the drums with fervor during Bloom, Thom pauses for a moment to shoot a fond and amused look, I turn to look at the girl and she laughs. We both get it. And as Idioteque starts, the three of us collectively lose our shit and dance and jump and flail following the path carved by our glorious leader. I do not know these two people, I do not even know their names but I will always remember them and be forever grateful that they let me share this precarious joy.
The last song of the day is Street Spirit, quite possibly their darkest song; one about looking at the devil in his eyes and knowing that he will have the last laugh. Once Thom famously said that it is a song that has no glimmer of resolve. I have the balls (well, metaphorical) to disagree. Call me naive, but I do think that it has the vaguest hint of redemption. It lies in knowing that you are facing death but calling on love to give you the strength for acceptance. The terror of the certainty diminishes when confronted by the power of love. We are not afraid because we are not alone. As we sing along to the refrain, the auditorium echoes with the voice of all of us, the fans, who have immersed our souls in love. In our love for the band, for music, for humanity, and for hope.
Edit: Bwahaha, I found another person with a similar opinion on Street Spirit. WE ARE NOT ALONE!
Now Playing: Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead