When I got to work yesterday, one of the first things I read was about Matthew Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces taking Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to task for the song “Harry Patch (In Memory Of),”about Britain’s last surviving WWI veteran, Harry Patch.
“Fuck you. You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool.”
At first I was like, “Oh, nice. someone’s talking shit about Thom Yorke. I love when people talk shit about Thom Yorke.” Then I was like, “But, actually, I mean, who doesn’t just arbitrarily associate themselves with cool things in hopes that other people then think you’re cool as well? I know I do.” And then I was like, “Wait, who thinks British soldiers who fought in WWI are cool? I’m as down with them as they next guy, I guess, but if I wanted someone to think I was cool, I’d probably find someone else to name-drop, like The Apartments maybe.”
So then I decided not to write about it because I felt stupid that I didn’t understand what the hell was so cool about Harry Patch. But then!
Then it came out that Friedberger had mistaken WWI vet Harry Patch for Harry Partch, the American composer of experimental music and builder of instruments who, yes, would be a totally cool person to name-drop.
But here’s where thing start to get tricky. A spokesperson for Fiery Furnaces released this statement, which I assume was actually written by Friedberger himself.
“Like most creative musicians, Matt Friedberger is not a fan of Radiohead and most of their chart busters. Of course, Matt and all the Fiery Furnaces family are great fans of all Tommys living or dead, so much so that lots of the Fiery Furnaces’ work is, because of the pun, dedicated to imitating the Who’s Tommy.
“Back in the fall of 1996 or whenever that interview was conducted, the interviewer asked what Matt thought of the Radiohead song celebrating a WWI veteran. Matt naturally thought it would be interesting to pretend that they wrote a song about the celebrated American composer of a similar sounding name, hence his joking in the interview about Radiohead composing a song with something like 48 notes to an octave. It was easy and amusing to imagine Radiohead’s attempt to colonize that relatively arcane bit of our musical lifeworld. This is what they used to call, in some bohemian and advertising circles, ‘riffing’ or fooling around.
“Matt has not heard the Radiohead song about Harry Patch, but if he did, he is sure he wouldn’t like it. No doubt Radiohead and their fans can ignore his opinion of this matter and continue with their triumphant artistic interventions. Matt would have much preferred to insult Beck but he is too afraid of Scientologists.”
So, yeah, they’re claiming it was a joke rather than a hilarious fuck-up, and I for one am definitely not buying it. I also have less respect for the Fiery Furnaces than I did, like, two days ago, because they’d allow this statement to go public, even though it reads like it was written by a high school kid who thinks he’s smart but isn’t.