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Illustration by Laura Hempel
Radiohead - the disciples

How do you remember the nineties? By the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina? As a period of extremely ugly hairstyles and even uglier shoes? Or do you see the bright side of the story and remember the nineties as the years of Dolly the sheep, the very first GSM network and Michael Jordan? I must admit I could have been one of those who don't have many nice things to say about those years – blame my Eastern-European background for that – if those hadn't been the years of Radiohead as well. That five-member band from Abingdon saved the 1990s, and they would save 2000s if they needed to be rescued (or do they?).

I remember it well: the very beginning of the spring 1999, my older brother and I are sitting in his room and he is excitingly explaining to me that there is a band that it's not possible not to listen to. Radiohead. Back then, before they became THE band, in my head they were just ANY band, one of many my brother liked. Through the door of his room we could hear our parents listening to the news, someone was saying something about war and Yugoslavia and America and damage and Slobodan Milosevic and bombardment, but at this moment it all seemed so far from two of us. I closed my eyes and the melody of "Creep" was slowly showing me a way to another world – a world of music. My brother just smiled proudly and said: "told you they are the best". The next morning the first bomb fell in my town. I didn't hear it. I was listening to Radiohead.

»My brother just smiled proudly and said: ›told you they are the best‹. The next morning the first bomb fell in my town. I didn’t hear it. I was listening to Radiohead.«

Not many famous people who started their career in the 1990s have managed to survive professionally until the present day. (Whatever happened to that Macarena song plus appropriate Macarena-dance-moves? - Give me a break!). Radiohead didn't only survive, but showed us what's possible at the same time: to make good music, win awards, and still not to be a celebrity whose face is on the cover of the tabloids followed by the story of a new scandal.

Their musical success is not something anyone can question. The fact that they've won numerous prizes and their place in "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" by Rolling Stone magazine for the album OK Computer says a lot about their quality. However, Radiohead have a strong - yet not so noticeable - political message.

Everyone
Everyone around here
Everyone is so near

It’s holding on
Everyone
Everyone is so near
Everyone has got the fear
It's holding on
Turn it off

Radiohead - The National Anthem

The best example for that is the song "The National Anthem" from the album Kid A. The lyrics and the powerful, chaotic music leave a strong impression on listeners – when I first heard it I felt like screaming; I felt a sudden urge to do something useful for society mixed with the thought that I was actually a citizen of the planet Earth and not just my country, and all of this provoked very strong emotions in me. Some rumours say that the song was written to criticise the US anthem, but the band members never commented on that. The song is performed at almost every concert and is followed by an impressive audience reaction – screaming and strong applause, with cameras trying to capture every detail of the atmosphere. But their songs are only where their political activism starts: they played at the Free Tibet concerts in both 1998 and 1999 and at an Amnesty International concert in 1998, fighting for human rights and anti-war movements. That is why some compare Radiohead with U2 and their political and anti-war work.

Radiohead are well known for their environmental and "green" attitude. Thom Yorke said that not touring should be considered as an option if new carbon emissions standards do not improve the situation. Mr. Tony Blair was probably among many who thought this was an overreaction. He ignored Yorke's request to meet him and talk about ways to solve environmental problems. So the band take action for themselves and often refuse to take part in big festivals as they see it as a way of damaging the planet. They try to make their gigs as green as possible. That's why recycling stands can almost always be found at their concerts, and activists who invite people to put their empty drink bottles there. The band members prefer bio-diesel buses to aeroplanes, but what bothers them are the fans – they seem to always use cars to arrive at their concerts, and finding a solution for this problem is not so easy.

If you are Radiohead fan, you probably know how extremely happy you were when you first heard about the album In Rainbows. The happiness was even greater when you discovered the method of distribution – anyone could download the album from the internet and pay whatever they wanted. According to press reports, about one-third of those who downloaded the album paid nothing, with the average price paid being £4.

So, how are you going to remember 2000s? By skinny jeans, September 11th, space tourism and Mozilla Firefox? As the years of Big Brother and CSI? Or as the years of five modest guys who tried to make some changes while playing their guitars? I know what it's going to be for me. And remember, on "the fake plastic Earth that she bought from a rubber man in town full of rubber planes" it's not always easy to be made of flesh and bones. Radiohead's supra-national political engagement, quality music, modest attitude in public, green way of thinking and great concerts made them Top Europeans, not just in October 2009, but in our time.

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