Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Day I Saved Thom Yorke's Life (or How Radiohead Owes Their Entire Career To Me)

I have so many freaky, bizarre, fucked up stories from my 13+ years in this business I should write a book. Maybe I will. I probably will. Who knows. Until then I post some of the moments that jump to mind. Like this one...

My first job was as a production assistant at MTV's very first beach house in Quogue, NY (the Hamptons). For those that don't know, the MTV Beach House is a summer long programming event where most of MTV's shows move to some seaside local for June thru August. It has become a great excuse to see more skin on TV but actually it all started because in the summer of 1993 our NYC studio was being redesigned and we had to get the fuck out.

A few months earlier, all of us PA's became slightly obsessed with a new, little known UK band called Radiohead. Their first single, "Creep" was getting some airplay on radio and slightly more on MTV. At best they were being written off as another soon-to-be-forgotten one hit wonder band. If you could even call "Creep" a hit at that point.

Well, we loved it and when MTV's music department asked the Beach House producers if we would be interested in having them perform at the Beach House we begged them to say yes.

That first summer the Beach House was not the multi-million dollar project it would become years later. We were literally making it up as we went along. Where the hell were they going to perform? We didn't have a stage, we didn't have lights, we didn't use multiple cameras - all we shot there were VJ's looking into one camera saying, "Up next, Mariah Carey."

We decided to build a small wooden platform over one end of the pool. We would shoot it on 4 cameras. Of course these cameras were not synched together in any way. There was no control room, no director cutting them together. Each cameraman ran their camera independently and in the edit room we would hope we had all the shots we needed to sync everything by EYE. Very, very lo-tech.

Radiohead was there to play "Creep" - the only song anyone knew. Being huge fans everyone on the staff had their own favorite from that first album. We went to them beforehand and asked if, after we recorded "Creep" they could play another song, "Anyone Can Play Guitar" just for us. We were huge fans. They said no.

We filled the pool area with local, obnoxious Hamptons kids and the band performed. We did two takes. Then just as we were getting ready to break down - without warning - the band launched into "Anyone Can Play Guitar." We flipped out. We turned the cameras back on and started shooting just...because. Well, the cameramen were shooting. I was a 22 year old PA standing there going, "This is so cool."

As I said, we built a tiny stage over the pool area. It was easily 95 degrees. Radiohead put everything into the song and unknowingly we caught a glimpse of the great band they were to become years later. At the high point of the song, after Thom Yorke nearly had a stroke screaming a high note into the mic - he suddenly dove into the pool. The small crowd went crazy. He was crazy.

Thom was wearing Doc Martin ankle high boots. These boots immediately filled with water. Thom began to struggle, of course no one could really tell. But me and another PA, Tim, both noticed. He was pushing from the bottom of the pool to the top and sinking again. The band continued to play their asses off.

From opposite ends of the pool Tim and I exchange a look. We both knew what was happening. This guy was going to eat it right in front of us and no one would even know until it was too late.

Thom managed to make it to the lip of the stage but couldn't climb up. His boots were filled and he was choking. Tim and I rushed on to the stage just as Thom had grabbed the only thing he could - the live microphone cord. Having a basic understanding of rudimentary science, Tim and I slapped the sparking mic out of his hand and pulled this wet cat of a singer back onto the stage.

Afterwards we never got a thank you from Thom, but a rep from Capitol Records told us, "You just saved that band's career." She was joking, kind of.

About a month ago I became the last person on the planet to become obsessed with YouTube.com. I am constantly amazed at the shit I find on there. Perfect example is the clip of "Kiss Meets the Phantom Of The Park" I linked to in yesterday's post.

Well, I did a random search with the keywords "Beach House" and holy holy holy holy fuck. I found a copy of that Beach House performace of Radiohead doing - not "Creep" - but "Anyone Can Play Guitar." I knew it was edited together but I only saw it once at our wrap party at the end of that summer of 1993. Maybe it aired once more on 120 Minutes at 2am on a Sunday nigh but that was probably it. You can tell we had no idea it was coming by how frenzied the beginning is.

So here it is, with the drowning parts and our history making heroics neatly clipped out, Radiohead, live at the MTV Beach House...the internet is amazing thing.

4 comments:

Aunt Elise said...

I remember when you told me about this incident! now that i've seen the video - maybe you shoulda looked the other way!

Jake Perdie said...

I was there for a day with my buddy. The day we were guests I believe Lisa Loeb and Ahmad were there performing. A good memory for a 17 year old.

southamptontoni said...

My sister and I were there. Definitely memorable. It actually was a cloudy seasonably cool day in the hamptons. And we are all not obnoxious, you got what you needed from us; a loud fun crowd that you could order around for a back drop.

david dietrich said...

Aunt Elise, I do hope you are joking. I could understand if it was a Gallagher brother or even better Chris Martin. . . but we are talking about the all seeing and knowing, ghost theremin vocal machine god also known as Thom Yorke

Great story! and if its true that you saved ourlazy eyed genius, well thank you very very much.