Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has earned the right to be called a “genius” thanks to his constant innovative carousel of work over the last three decades. However, there’s somebody incredibly close to his heart which he reserved using that phrase towards.
He believes the “genius” artist in question transformed his life during his teenage years and completely changed his music taste. It introduced him to another side of life, with Yorke being able to appreciate the power of heartfelt, emotional songwriting for the first time rather than just consuming the standard bubblegum pop music that filled the airwaves.
He once told VinylWriters: “Before I discovered R.E.M. in the mid-eighties, I was listening to bands like Japan. Music to kill time with. Then I discovered R.E.M., and it turned my life upside down. Michael Stipe was singing about his flaws and weaknesses and that it is okay to be weird. I was weird.”
Stipe single-handedly thoroughly transformed Yorke’s perspective on music. It made him feel comfortable writing similarly introspective lyrics, which circumvented the trends that usually dictate what become popular.
Yorke continued: “And through his songs, Stipe spoke to me, ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.’ Shortly after that, I signed up for art school and started to take making music seriously.”
When R.E.M. came plundering into his life, suddenly everything made sense with Yorke saying that “they were the link for me between the art student part of me and the musician part of me.” Furthermore, the Radiohead frontman explained that Stipe is a “genius” because “his lyrics are like a car ride along a street full of traffic signs and billboards. A neon-coloured trip, total cinema in your head, and endlessly inspiring”.
Remarkably, they struck up a friendship following Radiohead’s breakthrough. R.E.M. even took them under their wing in 1995 and invited them to support them on tour when Yorke was going through a period of personal turmoil as he struggled with coming to terms with fame.
The frontman reflected on this dark time when he appeared on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, which invites guests to name the eight songs they’d take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. One of his selections was R.E.M.’s ‘Talk About Passion’, and took great pleasure in saying how he “was my hero, and now I’m friends with him.”
He also revealed: “He helped me through the end of that period when things just went crazy, and people started talking to me like I was Jesus in the street. I would call him and say, ‘I just can’t handle it’.”
Watch Yorke share the stage with his hero to perform a spinetingling version of R.E.M.’s ‘E-Bow The Letter’ at a concert for Tibet in 1998.