Radiohead is in a Catch-22. While routinely extolled as the finest group of the 1990s and the saving force of post- rock by many critics, the inevitable backlash has begun. The May issue of Mojo is running a piece imploring folks not to listen to OK Computer because the article’s unnamed critic feels it’s a mere second- rate prog-rock fantasy with frivolous lyrics. He’s dead wrong, of course, but that’s what happens when you become a critic’s darling.
It’s been a heady two years for the lads from Oxford that’s been made ever more stressful given that these are basically five shy, intellectual blokes, who seem genuinely befuddled by all the fuss they’ve created. That tension is always lurking in the background of Grant Gee’s new documentary of the OK Computer tours of 1997-98.
Meeting People is Easy is not your typical tour film, but then this is certainly not your typical band. Framing brief concert performances with interview snippets and expressionist audio/ visual montages, the film pokes at and critiques Radiohead’s growing fame. Various interview segments show a band tired and bored with an endless parade of insipid questions from uninspired journalists. Winners like, “What is music to you,” “How do you define rock music,” and perhaps the most ironic, “What is the stupidest question a journalist ever asked you during an interview?” Cobbled together as they are in the film, they all sound pretty stupid. Which is the whole point. Meeting People is Easy shows how absurd the rock star construct really is. One British critic describes “No Surprises” as music “to cut your wrists to,” which so thoroughly misses the point that it’s hardly surprising Radiohead is wearied by it all.
Musically, the film ranges from the audience sing- along on “Creep” at Glastonbury to a blistering, hair- raising version of “Exit Music (for a Film),” to snippets of new material that most likely will surface on the next Radiohead album, due in 2000. Nevertheless, there are precious few live performances– at least, far less than one would expect. Rather, the film takes a montage approach that brilliantly conveys the utter claustrophobia and absurdity of rock- star status and lifestyle, and busts the myth– if it still exists– of the glamour of the pop star celebrity.
Ultimately, Meeting People is Easy is a disjointed film with a meandering narrative that somehow succeeds despite its real lack of focus in capturing the chaos, pressure, and frequent boredom of the celebrity lifestyle. Rock n’ roll, baby!