The Tourist – Radiohead – A Sordid Boon

While the intended meaning of “The Tourist” from Radiohead’s third studio album OK Computer is debatable, a few things about the song are certain. Thom Yorke’s golden voice is a euphonious instrument capable of providing a singular experience and inspiring tremendous feeling. Radiohead create aural atmospheres that transcend a normal music listening experience, enticing listeners to inhabit those imaginative environments. Yorke said the biggest influence and starting point for the album was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. He hoped to create an “atmosphere that’s perhaps a bit shocking when you first hear it.”

“The Tourist” was written by guitarist Jonny Greenwood who was inspired when he saw a group of tourists making their way through a little town in France at a frenzied pace. According to Yorke it was intended to address the “speed you live your life with.” The world moves at such an incredible pace that we are all slowly losing sense of who we are. As the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth put it over 200 years ago in his sonnet “The World Is Too Much With Us,” composed in 1802,

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

Wordsworth sensed a universal loss of identity ages before the onset of the massive tidal wave of technology that is sweeping us away and further from our spiritual center. “A sordid boon!”

“It barks at no one else but me,Falcon-Radiohead
Like it’s seen a ghost.
I guess it’s seen the sparks a-flowin,
No one else would know.
Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.
Sometimes I get overcharged,
That’s when you see sparks.
They ask me where the hell I’m going?
At a 1000 feet per second,
Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.
Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.”