I've spent the last two weeks on jury duty, spending long hours in a crowded room waiting for a case, and then sitting in airless rooms listening to barristers loving the sound of their own voices. I spent a good deal of time getting to know my iPod again and hanging out with some of my very favourite songs; hence Johnny Cash last week.
This week I sat in on a case that involved a young black girl. She'd been accused of nothing really bad -- she'd made some mistakes in the heat of the moment and got herself into a position she really shouldn't have. She was only 21 years old, had managed to pull herself up and out of a tough childhood and was -- it seemed -- making her way in the world. So being dragged into court must have been both a shock and a depressing backward slip towards some distant childhood memories she thought she'd left behind.
For three days she sat in the dock listening to her character being blackened by one smug middle-class white guy, while the other tried to blacken the character of her accuser. Nobody really rode to her rescue, nobody thought for a moment that she might feel like a great trapdoor was opening beneath her. No family sat nearby to boost her.
This song quite precisely describes the look on her face for those three days. A mixture of helplessness, resignation, sadness, fleeting fear but most of all, utter despair.
The quiet, childhood-singalong guitar notes at the intro let you know you're in for something special here: what's so good about this song is that it once again proves the maxim that less is more. Everything about it is restrained, tasteful and muted. This is a song that's almost completely bereft of hope. And yet it's a song that you'll listen to again and again, marveling at Thom Yorke's ability to create such a completely hopeless picture but marveling even more at how seductive it is.
"A heart that's full up like a landfill/A job that slowly kills you/Bruises that won't heal/You look so tired and unhappy/Bring down the government/They don't, they don't speak for us/I'll take a quiet life/A handshake of carbon monoxide/No alarms and no surprises." Yorke's voice doesn't soar, doesn't reach almost beyond the stars here as it so often has but instead just caresses us, consoles us and persuades us to accept our fate with whatever shreds of dignity and resignation we can muster -- just like the girl did, sitting desolate in court.