This simple bookworm has a serious earworm. A certain song has been on instant mental reply for months now. Months! Nothing’s ever stuck so tenaciously before, but it looks like “Creep” is in for the long haul.
I never even saw it coming. I mean, I adore Radiohead, but “Creep” always felt so whiney and so 90s. Whenever the opening notes came on the radio, I automatically changed the station. Its popularity made me seethe. There are tons of more interesting songs in their discography! Why did people love this particular song so much?
I can trace my updated “MMMBop” back to mid-September when I went to see the A.R.T. production Alice vs. Wonderland. Written by a fellow Tufts theater alum, the show promised “Lewis Carroll meets Lady Gaga” in “a fresh, funny, and emotional remix of Carroll's classic coming-of-age tale.” Children’s literature with an experimental dose of musical camp? I was so in.
When the house lights dimmed, I settled into my seat and prepared for a crazy psychedelic glitter explosion. Instead, I heard some familiar opening bars and instinctively reached for my radio dial. The theater tittered with people just like me, too cool for “Creep.” Then we all stopped to listen. Alice (our Alice, my Alice) sang that stale song so earnestly, I heard it with new ears. It was poetry!
All in all, “Creep” was sung through three times. The second time, Alice was joined by her double Maryanne. On the last, all of Wonderland joined in, and an understanding came. Hearing it with a female voice, two female voices, a full chorus made the song finally make sense. I identified with it in a way I never had before, feeling the longing and the aching and the isolation and the defiance. (This was around the same time that The Social Network trailer came out with its awesome choir version.)
I still don’t love the original. I’d much rather listen to Idioteque (or Amanda Palmer’s brilliant cover of it on the ukulele) and I’ll always prefer the electronic sound of In Rainbows, but I get it now.
I guess that’s why I love covers. Some people can’t stand them, claiming they’re a blasphemy of the original, but I love when people riff on songs I love. (See: Robyn go at The Teddybears’ “Cobrastyle,” a Broadway star’s take on Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” or this Youtube user’s version of “Little Lion Man”). I love it even more when people cover songs I don’t immediately appreciate and make me love the original. (Like this cover of The Talking Heads.)*
That’s not to say that there aren’t bad covers. There certainly are. (I can never forgive Glee for murdering “The Dog Days are Over,” but they do redeem themselves with a male/male version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”) On the whole though, I find the practice thrilling. The best covers can breathe new life into a song, retelling a familiar tale in a different voice and adding something of their own. That, to me, is something worth having stuck in your head.
*Movies can do this too. Middle school me thought Romeo and Juliet was a beautifully-written play with a silly plot. (Why did they kill themselves? That’s so dumb!) Then, I saw Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and got it. The play’s language makes the lovers feel like they’re 30, but after seeing baby Claires Danes and Leo DiCaprio onscreen, I realized how young R+J actually are. I finally believed the breathless, heady cocktail of young love and misunderstandings could lead to such tragic consequences.