The Science of Radiohead. Let's see whether scientific reasoning can solve one of music's most intriguing mysteries.

I'm not sure if it's kosher to discuss article queries before they are even entertained. I'm not even sure if I spelt kosher correctly, but in any event, not being a career writer, I'll take my chances because I think the query and the question I'd like to tackle would also make for an intriguing blog post.

Anyway, the mystery involves the Radiohead video below. It's the one for the song "Just" (great song by the way), and it's a bit of cultural phenom, because of the way it ends.

Here watch it first:

Here is what Gavin Edwards (a regular at Rolling Stone writes in his newish book, "Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? Music's Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed ":

What does that guy say at the end of Radiohead's video for "Just"?

In case you've never seen the video--from Radiohead's excellent second album, The Bends--it's got two components. One is the band, looking misanthropic and unwashed, giving it their all as they pantomime rocking out in an apartment. The other is a narrative, filmed in a style reminiscent of director Douglas Sirk: A well-dressed man, an archetypal businessman, suddenly lies down in the middle of the sidewalk, curled up as if he wants his blanket. Someone trips over him, and then discovers that the man doesn't want to get up. He says he's not drunk or crazy, but despite the entreaties of a gathering crowd, he won't get up and won't explain why he's on the pavement, although he denies that it's cheap nihilism or fear of death. (This dialogue is all communicated through subtitles; Radiohead provides the subtext with the song's chorus of "you do it to yourself.") Finally, he tells the crowd why he's lying down, at which point the subtitles are abandoned and the editing becomes choppy enough to prevent effective lip-reading. The band members gaze down from a window as the people below all lie down.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, the whole point of the video is not what the man says, which is meant to be as much of a mystery as whatever it is Bill Murray whispers into Scarlett Johansson's ear at the end of Lost in Translation.

The band remains resolutely silent on the issue; Jamie Thraves, the director of the clip, has said, "To tell you would deaden the impact, and probably make you want to lie down in the road, too." You want a real mystery? Why does the crowd on a British street include an American police officer?

So basically the jury is out, which is why we should bring in good old observational/hypothesis driven science.

I mean, there's no secret that Thom Yorke and Radiohead have a general interest in the sciences (at least metaphorically). You only need to look at albums like "The Bends" (physiology), "O.K. Computer" (computer technology), "Kid A" (cloning), and most recently, Mr. Yorke's "Eraser" (global warming).

So why not use these disciplines, our most favourites of subjects, to solve it.

It may seem an odd idea, but I think it could lead to interesting places if one takes a good hard look at the evidence as supplied by the video, by the song itself, and by the empirical conjecture formed by a training in the sciences (that is my own as well as other readers of this post).

As an example, I can already see discussions that could lead to sound physics, as well as various medical angles that may be either be physiological or psychological in nature. In other words, science would presumably dictate that its very unlikely that the cause of everyone lying down is linguistic in nature. There's presumably something else else going on that might court the physical or life sciences.

In any event, it would make for an interesting read, and more intriguing to me, it gets to double as a sneaky way to talk on a variety of different scientific concepts. Ta da - Another example of "covert science communication."

So what do you think? This, by the way, is a two fold question, i.e. what do you think of the idea as an article; and also what do you think is going on?

More like this

Last week, I proposed the writing of a piece that aimed to look at the music video for Radiohead's "Just" in a scientific way. Here, I just wanted to note that Bill Benzon over at The Valve picked up on it and generated some interesting reader feedback - feedback that was distinctly different from…
Well we are happy about last night. This afternoon I'm taking off for northern Idaho. I'll somewhere in the mountains for about a week. Between the meeting, skiing and working on the grant I don't know how much blogging I'll be able to do. For the past two week's songs from Radiohead's new album…
Wilco is good, sometimes exceptional, but often inconsequential. So it would appear that the above statement is up for discussion. I'm speaking specifically about statement number 9 of the truth, now that Ben has noted that Wilco has relinquished one of their albums to Volkswagon. Of course, the…
Well, I have to say that this radiohead fellow has me quite impressed. Not only did his band, Radiohead, at one point, propel a song about human cloning to the #1 Billboard Chart spot (no mean feat), but now, he's bringing his eerily and hauntingly beautiful musical prowess to the debate…

Not a blessed idea what he's saying, but I think it's a fantastic idea for an article. Could you write it right now, maybe? Please?

I agree with Martha. That kind of article would be so interesting to read at so many levels.

"George W. Bush has become President"

John: you may have just singlehandedly destroyed my "can't be linguistical in nature" proposal. Good one.

I think I know... although they're right... You don't want to know. It'll make you want to lie in the street like a baby and stare.

I'd say the issue is really philosophical in nature... although perhaps having some root in the psychology of reproductive behavior. (See Freud; it's all about sex.) Actually, my theory is inspired by the works of Milan Kundara, or at least my interpretation of them.

The science-themed title: "Just" = Gravity

What the man says: "You're all standing there, because you live for control, understanding, and pride. But those things are just illusions, based on ideas, which have no actual weight."

Kundara's argument: Such illusionary ideas leave us feeling "unbearably light"

Why they're on the ground: They're seeking the opposite of lightness, the opposite of control (helpless, lying prone like a child,) the opposite of understanding (mystery, eyes wide open, as if to see past the illusion,) and the opposite of pride (humiliation, lying on the pavement, or to more more blunt, in the gutter).

Why they won't tell: If you took pleasure in being so down-to-earth would you admit it?


By Charles Foster Kane (not verified) on 11 Jan 2007 #permalink

Were you planning to write a humour piece (like most of your other work), or is this more a "let's have a serious look" type of piece. If you ask me, the latter would have so much potential.

all the guy actually did was tell him what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

Released 1995 recorded 1994. you can feel the 90s in the song.

These are very interesting concepts. I am almost inclined to go with Karmen's theory, but personally I am all in favor of Radiohead's stance that it should be open to interpretation... So I should come up with my OWN, right?

Any way, I have been toying with a few different concepts but my primary one is:
the businessman finally realized how he has spent his life struggling to be successful... But at what cost? To be like everyone else? To live life as a stuck record?

The only thing that has been distracting me from thinking this completely through though... Is that no matter how I see the video and read the lyrics, I can't help but get a sense that Thom Yorke is playing the role of the Devil in this... And that the businessman must have done something... sold his soul to be successful or something...

But... I guess I must be only assuming that this fella is successful in the first place. lol

By Jennie Klein (not verified) on 02 Jun 2015 #permalink

If you havent already, can you please make an article on that ^ ive wanted to know for years and if this is even a possible answer i would like to know more! :D

The guy told them Justin Bieber had been born

By Liam John Duggan (not verified) on 04 Apr 2016 #permalink

It was 2016 and the man whispers “Donald Trump just became President".

By Melissa Berry (not verified) on 12 Jul 2016 #permalink

Someone once wrote somewhere, he says "dont look up but radiohead is up there looking down". I know it sounds banal, but there u go.

By Grace O Malley (not verified) on 10 Oct 2016 #permalink

I think he is floored by the realisation his whole life.....wife, kids, religon,ideology,memories, physical all fake. He knows he is just about to wake from a dreaming state into a mystery. he tells the crowd they exist only as an extention of his dreams and he is about to waken.

By sean mcdonagh (not verified) on 03 Jul 2017 #permalink