My Sweet Creep
We hate Life at 40.
No, we haven’t seen it. And really, we’re sure it makes a fine evening’s entertainment.
We just hate the idea of it.
Because we’re not 40. We’re 53.
There’s nothing wrong about being 53, mind you. We’re just getting into the groove of the whole Fifties Thing, just like we do around this time every decade. First there’s the novelty, and then the novelty wears off, and then you realize there’s no going back, and then you settle in. Just like clockwork. Or grief.
And it doesn’t hurt that we’re starting to drag Barack Obama and Jon Stewart along with us. Enjoy those AARP solicitations, gang!
No, we hate Life at 40 not because it’s pandering, but because it’s not pandering to us. Just like we hated thirtysomething when we were in our twenties. We fall in the Great American Demographic Crack: Too young for Boomer, too old for Gen X. Don’t cry for us. Most of the time, we’re amused by it.
But if you are just rounding forty, here’s some fun news: You’re now officially Out of Touch. There’s a whole generation of adults behind you, and they don’t give a shit about your precious pop-culture references. Your childhood Eighties? Didn’t exist for 1990-born Millennials. Might as well be the Eisenhower era.
We say all this by way of explaining why we had never heard of Radiohead’s “Creep” until that choral version was used in the trailer for The Social Network a couple years ago. Because, you know, it was only released in 1992. Right about the time we were putting the last REM album to bed. The last one we listened to, anyway.
So here’s a very popular song that’s now almost drinking age, and we’ve been away on Pop-Culture Mars while it was growing up, and while we’ve since listened to every live version ever recorded on YouTube, and a so
very fucking special cover that rips our heart out like a Simon & Garfunkel anthem, and a brilliant observation by Patrice O’Neal that something about Jonny Greenwood jamming the strings drives White kids to ecstasy, still, we might as well be your goddamn grandfather inappropriately enjoying something that’s preciously yours. Shouldn’t we stick to something more age-appropriate, like, oh, we dunno, the Hollies?
Come to think of it, we don’t know that we’ve heard the Hollies since junior high.
At least until Saturday night.
We’re watching Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a black-comedy apocalyptic romance that almost works, when there’s a touching climactic montage edited to “The Air That I Breathe”, which is a really sweet Hollies song with some really sweet Sixties Pop hooks. (Okay, technically 1974, and technically originally recorded in 1972 by Albert Hammond, but everybody knows the Hollies version, and musically it’s a throwback.) Especially the moment in the verse when Allan Clarke kicks up an octave.
That hook immediately anchors itself in our mind. They don’t write ’em like that any more. But damn, something about it reminds us of something else we’ve enjoyed recently. Not sure what.
An hour passes. Millions of neurons fire back and forth. Until…
She’s running out the doooo-oooo-o-o-oooor…
Look, the song’s twenty years old. We can’t possibly be the first to have noticed. So we Google “creep air that i breathe”, and…
Seems the writers of The Air That I Breathe noticed, too. Like, the moment Creep hit the radio. Which is why, after a quick settlement, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood were officially credited, even though they wrote their part of the song two decades earlier.
It was, as we understand it, a Subliminal Theft — the My Sweet Lord of its time. But since Radiohead wasn’t George Harrison, the connection was quickly forgotten.
Only to be rediscovered. Again. And again. And again. You’ll find breathless YouTube comparisons out there, as if a Scandal! has just been uncovered, with extensive flame wars in the comments about how nobody could possibly hear a similarity.
Which is, in a way, true. We didn’t hear it Saturday night. We felt it, and couldn’t initially identify what we felt. Right up until the moment our head asploded.
And we’re, like, old. It’s not even our song.
As far as Radiohead is concerned, the issue was settled twenty years ago. But to Radiohead’s audience — an audience not likely to be shared by the Hollies — it will never be buried, because they’ll never know it was alive in the first place, until it shows up on their mental porch, demanding attention.
George Harrison got off lucky, in a perverse way. The scandal of “He’s So Fine” was so broadly publicized, you can’t think of My Sweet Lord without recalling it. That’s long since settled history. The flame is extinguished.
But here’s something you may not know. Harrison’s plagiarism case wasn’t settled until after 1993 — after Creep was released, which may help explain why Radiohead settled so quickly. And while the My Sweet Lord case is thoroughly messy, the resolution is almost transcendent.
George Harrison simply bought the original copyright.