With a severed head, Radiohead makes a point.

OK Computer is 20 years old. To mark the occasion, Radiohead is reissuing the album with three previously unreleased songs from that era (as well as eight B-sides). The album is now available for pre-order and will be released on June 23, but one of the unreleased songs, I Promise, is out now on Spotify, YouTube (see above) and elsewhere (via).


[Verse 1]
I won't run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise
Even when you lock me out, I promise
I say my prayers every night, I promise

[Verse 2]
I don't wish that I'm spread, I promise
The tantrums and the chilling chats, I promise

Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotten deck, I promise

[Verse 3]
I won't run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise

Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotten deck, I promise

I won't run away no more, I promise


At first, I was drawn to this video - even before I knew the lyrics - because the sense of loneliness, isolation, and lost in deep thought was palpable. I was struck too, by the thought, "None of them are on their devices. No one is texting, watching a movie, or listening to music. Everyone is there, fully, and fully alone."

Then came the severed head, and I it lost me.

"In 'I Promise,' commuters are shown numbly staring out bus windows at night." This, from a recent Rolling Stone article. "Eventually, it's revealed that one of the commuters is nothing more than an animatronic head propped up against the window, where it views and processes what it's witnessing."

There are no electronics, because they are electronic. The commuters have become machines.

"When the android attempts to drift off to sleep," the article continues, "memories and dreams of a crying woman stir it awake. In an unsettling conclusion, it causes the android to have an emotional response to his thoughts. The video ends with the robot head weeping on the bus seat."

According to Rolling StoneThom Yorke was partly inspired by how the singer felt he was "living in orbit" while on the long tour in support of The Bends. "The paranoia I felt at the time was much more related to how people related to each other," Yorke said (via).

"But I was using the terminology of technology to express it. Everything I was writing was actually a way of trying to reconnect with other human beings when you're always in transit. That's what I had to write about because that's what was going on, which in itself instilled a kind of loneliness and disconnection."

The severed head means everything now. 

I commute to work and navigate most of the city through public transportation - subways and buses mostly. And like the many millions of people around me, I tend to plug in my headphones and checkout. I innocently bump into others, shuffle seats and awkwardly smile at people, but nothing any deeper than that - there is for sure a strong disconnect. Like a severed head.

And like Thom Yorke, this bothers me. A lot. So, a few months back, I stopped. For fifty days straight, instead of listening to a Podcast or some new album, I tried to connect with people. 

Then, the strangest thing happened. People began opening up to me and talking about their struggles, their simple thoughts and desires, and their plans for the future. Or, simply, just about life. Suddenly, strangers became people with various stories; they became regular, just like me.

Yorke was trying to reconnect with other human beings who are always in transit, lonely and disconnected. So he made a promise. To stay connected.

But very much unlike computers and very much like people.


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