Arguing about music is one of my favorite pastimes. So, when I heard the regularly inflammatory Westboro Baptist Church was weighing in on the Great Radiohead Debate, I jumped at the opportunity to talk shop with them. Do they think they've sold out? Has the mystical glimmer left Thom's lazy eye? Well, it turns out that I, a fornicating atheist black dude who writes for a magazine called VICE and lives in a modern version of Sodom, and Steve Drain, a Southerner who does media outreach and marketing for Westboro (one of the most offensive political-religious groups ever), have a little in common when it comes to the postmodern English rock band: We both think OK Computer was the shit, and it just hasn’t been the same ever since.
Steve joined up with Westboro about 11 years ago after traveling to Kansas from Florida to shoot a documentary on them. He’s pretty confident in his interpretation of all things related to J.C., and he speaks very loud whenever he’s talking about God or gays or purgatory. But all-and-all, he was a nice guy. And he’s a fan of Led Zeppelin. Who can hate on that?
Photo by Allie Mason
Why hate Radiohead?
It’s not that there is a problem with Radiohead that doesn’t exist with other groups. Radiohead just puts themselves out there as a “thinky,” deep band.
What’s wrong with that?
In an offhand manner they kind of reject every standard of God as being archaic and not worthy of moral consideration. Some bands are good time bands—Radiohead isn’t that. They teach the youth of America that the standards of God don't mean anything and that they are free to oppose them.
Really? They say that? I often have a hard time figuring out what the fuck they’re talking about. What do you hear in the music?
So God says it’s not OK to be gay. Radiohead says it’s OK to be gay. God says no divorce, no re-marriage. But Radiohead won't preach that truth. God Almighty says thou shall not kill. But where’s Radiohead in all this? They think of themselves as a voice of authority for the youth of America, but where are they on these issues?
OK, Radiohead is a no-go. What kind of stuff are you guys rocking at the WBC?
Well, I listen to Radiohead.
Of course I do. At some level you have to be able to separate the art from the artist. Everybody’s got to do that. We’re music lovers at the church. I listen to Radiohead, Audioslave, Band of Skulls. I listen to lots of good stuff.
So, what’s the problem?
But the point here is, when these musicians come to town that put themselves off as a voice of moral authority and yet reject the standards of God for a more bohemian outlook, we’re going to preach about it.
Where do you think Radiohead is spiritually?
The guys that make up the band Radiohead, they are walking in the dim light of their own sparks. They are groping around moral darkness. And we’re out there with the only remedy for that.
Aren’t you a hypocrite for listening to Radiohead and protesting Radiohead?
No. Not at all. Haven’t you ever watched a movie that you enjoyed but then you found out that one of the stars did something in the moral realm as reprehensible?
Sure. But I don’t go around picketing and protesting…
I didn’t ask you that.
Well, I think it makes a difference.
Do you believe you are perpetuating the moral inadequacies of that immoral person in the movie by liking his work?
Well, why would you impose a standard on us that you don't impose on yourself? It’s almost like you're being a muckracker. It’s like if I ever listened to “Paranoid Android” or any of the other Ok Computer songs, and I like them, and I thought they had clever musicianship, I would be liable for perpetuating the song's moral failings. That’s not a journalistic view you should have, dude.
To be fair, you guys put yourself on a pedestal of morality.
No we don’t! You do.
Would you rather Radiohead change their music to fit your moral view?
You’re not listening to me, dude. You are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s like this, Radiohead has had ample opportunity to give God the glory for their talent, welfare, and riches. And the reason they don’t is because they hate God and they would hate to humble themselves to his standards.
Photo by Ashford Stamper
Okay, let’s both chill out. Find some common ground. What’s your favorite Radiohead album as a fan?
Well, I think you have to start with OK Computer, don’t you?
I would’ve pegged you for a more traditional The Bends, Pablo Honey kind of guy.
I started listening to Radiohead before OK Computer, but I'm an album guy. I like it when a band links things together. And I think OK Computer was one of those records. BUT from a moral perspective, I couldn’t disagree with them more. They mock the standards of God in every one of their lyrics.
What do you think of their recent output?
Just because you break new ground doesn’t mean that it is good ground. Different can be good. Different can be bad. The same can be good. The same can be bad. I haven't found anything from them from an album standpoint that I’ve really been into.
Yeah, OK Computer is hard to top.
It’s tough. You’re behind the eight ball a little bit when you make something that good. I think they’ve kind of groped around, trying to find a new sound but I don’t think they’ve put it together. But I’m kind of an old soul.
What are some of the bands you liked when you were coming up?
I was the youngest of four kids. By the time I was seven years old, I had a brother who was ten years my senior. We shared a room and I listened to everything from Zeppelin and Hendrix to the Who and CSNY. You can do an awful lot worse than listen to a little Zeppelin from time to time.
Yeah, Zeppelin is amazing. Really heavy stuff.
Everybody in the music business on the rock side, not the the cheesy pop side, has to have been influenced by Zeppelin. I lean a bit on the heavier side, myself. I’m not as much of a Beatles guy as I am a Zeppelin guy.
Do you like Sabbath?
Black Sabbath has some interesting songs. But on the moral standpoint, they’re horrible. I've always been able to separate the grove of a song from a moral message.
You like any Christian rock?
The bottom line is there isn't a good bible-based message from any of the music out there. Those cheesy attempts to try like Stryper—the music is awful. It would be just as easy for a band like Radiohead to give God the glory as it is for them to cast him aside.
I agree Christian rock is terrible. Maybe rock just isn’t a place for Christianity. I’m really attracted to bands that defy morals and are more radical. To me, that’s what rock n’ roll is about.
Dude, you think what people like about rock is that it is edgy? Do you think the Westboro Baptist Church is edgy in terms of the way we put ourselves out there?
I think it is unconventional, yeah.
Well, there you go. You can have a bible-based message and still be edgy in your approach.
I guess… Anything else you want to tell the kids about Radiohead?
If you are going to do right about me in this story, tell the people that there is a God, there is a heaven, there is a hell, and there are ramifications for casting aside his standards. Instead, what Radiohead should do is give God the glory.
Follow Wilbert on Twitter: @WilbertLCooper