Key moment in a rock documentary:

Scene: Thom Yorke turned away at New York club in Meeting People is Easy (1997)

The background details are a mystery. Is Thom lost? Late? Somehow he ends up on a New York sidewalk trying to get into some apparently exclusive club. He tells some men at the door he’s from radiohead. They don’t know anything about it and don’t care and when he starts getting pissed off, they laugh at him. A short-tempered Yorke storms off down the sidewalk, turning briefly to flash the old up-yours gesture, and they laugh even more, and THEN -- a voice calls out, the voice of one of the doormen, in clear strong American English:

      "Dude, write a song about it. Come on, man, write it right now."

That voice, that pure American voice, and the confident articulation of the words, the devastating pointedness of each of them straight to the already shaken ego of poor Thom -- the scene stuns me even now.

In this scene first we see an illustration of how the British vs. American culture conflict stands. Thom Yorke is Britain -- inarticulate, out-of-date, wimpy. The voice calling out to him is America -- quick, potent, smart. In light of this scene, we can see Yorke’s tortured anti-Americanism for what it really is, springing not from his sense of the political injustice, corporate greed and pushy bad taste he thinks America stands for, but rather from his damaged cultural ego as both a British man, and more importantly as an unattractive, artsy guy with unacceptable bad teeth and a side of minor facial deformity. America tells him he’s nothing. Therefore America is bad. Just like for millions of Europeans, it’s personal. It’s not philosophical. It’s not moral. It’s an ego cocktail half cultural, half personal, all pettiness, all resentment. My opinion. One man. Billions could differ.

Meeting People is Easy features Thom Yorke as one of the most grotesque, unpalatable human beings imaginable. I can’t help seeing him as a disaster for Britain, and I can’t help comparing him to Oscar Wilde, who came to America as Britain’s cultural emissary at a similar age a hundred years ago, but who appeared (unlike Yorke) in the full regalia of his huge personality. We can be sure no New York doormen got the better of Wilde in a verbal exchange. Were there hidden cameras back then, we would see a different outcome -- British culture victorious on America’s streets. But Britain no longer produces Oscar Wilde’s or anything like him. Of course I don’t expect Thom Yorke to be like the incomparable Wilde, but couldn’t he be kind of like him?

How cultures change. Today’s British stars are petty and dull, as ponderous and politicized as Yorke. That English once so cutting and artful now sounds phony, unsure of itself, ruined by a muttering slang. That accent is sickening. Wilde would weep.  Britain’s artists don’t know how to speak, or how to respond to the voice of America.

      "Dude, write a song about it. Come on, man, write it right now."

They can’t. How could Yorke respond to that? He’s exposed. The voice is on to him. To see someone’s existence disappear before you, that’s what this scene has to offer. Swallowed up in two short statements by the knowing, debunking voice of America. Yorke's songwriting is simply a ritual of embarrassing, exaggerated self-exploitation driven by a sensitivity so feminized that such a minor street conflict (the scene under discussion) can self-multiply into a cosmic psychological standoff ready-made for next album's swelling acoustic slow one. Specifically, the voice says about songs: they are nothing; songs are the wimpy wailings of the weak (such as the feminized Yorke) produced by the weak to compensate for their impotence as physical beings -- a limp-wristed, retreating counterattack comic in its wimpiness and futility. The voice says songwriting is for little turd-humans like little Thom who need a higher form of self-pity than the self-consoling tear-squirting of the rest of the wimps. A higher form -- of self-pity. More of what we don’t need. No matter how wonderful or interesting the songs sound, to the knowing voice of America it’s still just the sound of a weak man’s self-pity.

                 "write it right now"

The brilliant mockery of that statement. Exploit those feelings while they’re still fresh, Thom, you joke. That’s the paraphrase in all its beautiful and brutal accuracy. I love it. Sometimes the voice of America is just too loud enough.