19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
– Ecclesiastes 3:19-21
2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
– Ecclesiastes 9:2-6
This might seem weird, but I’ve always found it oddly comforting that the Bible doesn’t sugarcoat death. Unlike other religions or worldviews that see death as a way of transcending our earthly shells, the Bible views it as an unnatural enemy and curse that must be destroyed (1 Cor 15:26). For me, this affirms the ghastly reality that is death.
It is here that we come to our final intersection of Radiohead and Christianity. In the music of Radiohead death is always lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce. Whether in songs like “There There” where Yorke proclaims, “We are accidents waiting to happen,” or “Fake Plastic Trees” that painfully warns, “Gravity always wins,” Radiohead pulls no punches when it comes to our last enemy. They state death as it is. As I’ve said in previous posts, they call a spade a spade.
This fact is particularly true in their heart retching song “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Commenting on this song Thom Yorke has said:
Street Spirit has no resolve. It is the dark tunnel without the light at the end. It represents all tragic emotion that is so hurtful that the sound of that melody is its only definition. We all have a way of dealing with that song. It’s called detachment. Especially me; I detach my emotional radar from that song, or I couldn’t play it. I’d crack. I’d break down on stage.
Our fans are braver than I to let that song penetrate them, or maybe they don’t realize what they’re listening to. They don’t realize that Street Spirit is about staring the f**king devil right in the eyes, and knowing, no matter what the hell you do, he’ll get the last laugh. And it’s real, and true. The devil really will get the last laugh in all cases without exception, and if I let myself think about that too long, I’d crack.[i]
In comparing a song about death to “staring the f**king devil right in the eyes, and knowing, no matter what the hell you do, he’ll get the last laugh,” Yorke does justice to the curse that is death. The song itself is much of the same:
Cracked eggs, dead birds
Scream as they fight for life
I can feel death, can see it’s beady eyes
All these things into position
All these things we’ll one day swallow whole
And fade out again and fade out again.[ii]
Here I’m reminding of the words in Ecclesiastes 3:19:
“19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.”
In “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” Radiohead looks at death on its own terms and the reality they uncover is one that should make us gasp.
This song has much to say to Christianity, especially in light of the fact that often we use our religious words to downplay the horrifying curse that is death. We often fall into a “worldly” way of looking at death. Rather than calling a spade a spade, we say, “So and so has passed away…” which oddly enough is a phrase coined by the Christian Science cult. Again, for Christians death is not simply a “passing away,” an illusion, or some sort of means to transcend our mortal bodies; rather it is a curse and an enemy that must be destroyed. In this way Radiohead’s “staring the devil right in the eyes…” leads us to call a spade a spade. Death is awful…
The good news is that in looking at death right in the eyes we’re led to cling to Christ all the more. Theologian Michael Horton writes, “Downplaying the seriousness of the foe (death) only trivializes the debt that was paid and the conquest that was achieved at the cross and the empty tomb.[iii]” The words of the Apostle Paul are instructive here:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
Simply put, as Christians we are to grieve death. It is an unnatural separation from our bodies that is part of the curse. The difference is that unlike Thom Yorke and others, we don’t believe that it will get the last laugh. Although death hurts, we know that God’s love and life are more powerful than its grip.[iv] We echo the words of Paul when he celebrates:
“1 Corinthians 15:55-57 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the here and now we look to our Savior who died and rose again, knowing that he is our forerunner. We also cling the prophetic words of John the Revelator:
“Revelation 21:3-4 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Perhaps this is the reality that Radiohead was unconsciously bearing witness to when they finished off their hopeless song with the words, “Immerse yourself in love…”
[iii] Horton, Michael. “The Christian Faith: aSystematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way” pg 911