Flashback: Radiohead Play ‘Karma Police’ on ‘Letterman’
When Radiohead played their new single “Karma Police” on The Late Show With David Letterman in August of 1997, most Americans knew them as either the “Creep” band or that group that Alicia Silverstone dismissed as ”the maudlin music of the University station” in Clueless. Their new album, OK Computer, received rapturous reviews all over Europe, but in America they were still playing clubs and tiny theaters. Days before the Letterman taping, they played the Lakewood Civic Auditorium near Cleveland, which doubles as a high school auditorium.
But as the group toured relentlessly and word of their amazing album spread beyond campuses, Radiohead started to be seen as a Pink Floyd for the 1990s. They became a cool name to drop and celebrities like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston started coming to their gigs. This is a dream come true for most bands, but Thom Yorke was miserable. They headlined the NEC Arena in Birmingham, England in November of 1997, a show that Yorke later described to Rolling Stone as his low point.
“I came off at the end of that show, sat in the dressing room and couldn’t speak,” he said. “I actually couldn’t speak. People were saying, ‘You all right?’ I knew people were speaking to me. But I couldn’t hear them. And I couldn’t talk. I’d just so had enough. And I was bored with saying I’d had enough. I was beyond that.”
Yorke still had another seven months of heavy touring in front of him, an agonizing experience chronicled in the documentary Meeting People Is Easy. “It’s a record of where we were at, rather than a celebration,” Yorke said of the movie in 2001. “I reject it now. And I find it very weird when other bands pick up on that state of mind, trying to imitate it.”