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Dec 11

Radiohead: “Go to Sleep”

Radiohead

Like a lost scene from “The Phantom Tollbooth”: The Mountain of Modern Mayhem, maybe?

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By title alone, you could almost fit Radiohead’s “Go to Sleep” into the Christmas season: “Go to sleep, child — Santa will be here soon,” or something like that. However, when you look at the actual lyrics of the song (and really, when you consider that it’s by Radiohead, you probably don’t even need to do that), it just wouldn’t work, unless you happen to be one of those parents who prefer having their children up all night on Christmas Eve with nightmares of monsters and crazy folk rather than visions of sugarplums:

We don’t really want a monster taking over
Tiptoe around, tie him down
We don’t want the loonies taking over

Not exactly Christmas carol material, I’d have to admit.

The full title of the song, as it appears on Radiohead’s sixth studio album, 2003’s Hail to the Thief, is “Go to Sleep (Little Man Being Erased),” which maintains a pattern that the group establishes throughout the album of ending each title with a parenthetical phrase that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the song lyrics. “Go to Sleep” seems to be about the threat of world domination and/or war, particularly in reference to the America of George Bush, still president when this album was released. (Quite clearly, as the album title implies, Thom Yorke and company were no fans of Bush.) So “(Little Man Being Erased)” probably refers to feelings that the average person was becoming a nonfactor in the world political scene.

But it’s not the meaning of this song that I like so much, it’s the music. It’s one of my favorite songs of the past decade, one of those songs that uses acoustic guitar in a rock setting with superb results. The texture of the strumming creates a mood of introspection and a bit of claustrophobia that might not have been as palpable if it had all been electric. The middle part with the “monster” and “loonies” is my favorite part — the guitar breaks away and grows in intensity. It’s as if the group had called me up and asked how I’d like the song to sound, because it doesn’t get much better than that: strummy acoustic guitar right up front, the way I like it. (Just to set the record straight, they did not call — unless that explains the odd answering machine message I got back in early 2003 with nothing but nasal humming and uncomfortable throat clearing.)

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