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Meeting People is Easy | Documentary Review

Release Date: 11.24.98
Record label: capitol
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.


It Ain't Easy Being...
by: bart blasengame

Like every kid who grew up watching Kiss and wondering if the rumors about Gene Simmons having his tongue cut off and replaced with a cow's tongue were really true, I've always been transfixed by the magical, mystical aura that surrounds rock and roll.

What must it have been like to have been in the studio when Roger Waters and David Gilmour were connecting their creative madness to create Darkside of the Moon? How amazing would it have been to have been eavesdropping on Led Zepplin's sessions for IV, or been in Berlin when U2 were transforming from holier than thou street preachers to slinky, sleazy street hustlers in the early '90s?

But what happens when you take a group out of its four-walled element and expose them to the rigors of the road?

Right. It's called a tour.

But what if it's more than a tour? What if you're Radiohead and you've just released the most critically acclaimed album of recent history - OK Computer - and the world wants a piece of the genius behind the music.

How do four blokes from Oxford, England - Thom Yorke, Colin and Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway - handle the pressure of being the most important thing to hit rock since Nirvana.

In Grant Gee's tour documentary, Meeting People is Easy, we're taken on a disturbing, moody and atmospheric journey through the flip side of rock and roll - far away from the groupies, parties and glamour. Call it the music world's answer to 'Heart of Darkness'.

The film follows Radiohead from their first anxious moments before the inaugural show of the OK Computer tour - May 22, 1997 in Barcelona, Spain - to their final triumphant performance 104 concerts later in New York's Radio City Music Hall.

In between we watch our heroes go from wide-eyed lads anxious to conquer the world, to ragged road warriors stretched to the breaking point by internal and external strife. Or, like the droning computerized voice on "Fitter, Happier" says: "a pig in a cage on antibiotics".

Instead of taking the usual tour documentary approach and dwelling on individual concerts or behind-the-scenes banter between the band, Gee's film focuses on the absurdity of being an important rock band in the current musical landscape - the shallow marketing of the band, the endless stream of redundant interviews, the blinding photo shoots and awkward television appearances.

"We were the most hyped band in the world, number one in all the polls," snorts Yorke at one point. "That's bullocks."

We're there for the mundane moments, like when a Japanese journalist notes in broken English that "the album is called OK Computer but there is no song called 'OK Computer'." Or when Gee gives us an outside-in look at the Paris show - only to point out the borderline fans meandering back and forth from the beer line, while the band is pouring its guts out on stage.

The film's most telling moment, however, comes in Berlin, when guitarist Colin Greenwood nearly breaks down during an interview with England's NME Magazine. "I used to really like doing these pieces but I hate them now," says an obviously exhausted - but still polite - Greenwood. "I'm talked out. I feel like a vacuum without a brain. I'm just so tired."

In fact, the only time the band seems safe and confident is on stage. Free from swarming media, video directors and other time leeches, Radiohead prove beyond a doubt in the handful of live performances in the video why the mantle of "rock's best band" was bestowed on them by Rolling Stone, Spin and Q.

Look no further than a soundcheck in Fukuoka, Japan, when Yorke's innocent strummings on a freshly written song build into a churning behemoth of a song that would sound perfect on a new album. Somehow, though, between the dehumanizing tour schedule and whistle-stop performances, Gee does manage to squeeze some bit of uplifting humanity out of the film in a New York taxicab interview with Yorke.

"The freakiest thing about this is realizing that you could be one of those (meaningful) bands to some people," Yorke said. "I remember listening to The Smiths and REM and having every note imprinted on your heart. I know how much of a big deal it is - the rest of this is bullshit."

"That in itself is reason to keep going."

And that's really the point of Meeting People is Easy. Fame is a trap, and when you're actually doing something worthwhile - which Radiohead is - the burdens on your personal and professional life is some-times maddening.

But as long as the music keeps transporting you to another place, there's always an escape.