Radiohead Guitarist Still Reading Waugh

Rolling Stone magazine has published a detailed article marking the 20th anniversary of the release of the alt-rock band Radiohead’s breakthrough album OK Computer in 1997. In the course of interviewing the band earlier this year when they appeared at the Coachella festival in California, Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene encountered them at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. At that moment, lead guitarist/keyboard player Jonny Greenwood was reading a paperback copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags. Greenwood previously told a Guardian interviewer that his favorite book was Waugh’s Sword of Honour. See earlier post. The album itself has a literary connection, though not to Waugh. The title and some of the material was inspired by Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Most of the band members have Oxford associations, as the band was formed at nearby Abingdon School where all five members were students. Jonny Greenwood actually grew up in Oxford and studied music theory at Oxford Brooke University, and the lead singer Thom Yorke (no apparent relation–or not close at any rate– to Waugh’s Oxford friend and novelist Henry) as well as Greenwood’s older brother Colin, the bassist, also went on from Abingdon to University of Exeter and Cambridge University, respectively. 

In another Oxford connection, poet Luke Wright is interviewed in the Oxford Student newspaper on his current poetry-reading tour. See previous post. He explains in the interview that

… the smooth transition between the poems is the key. ‘It’s experimenting about the art of show. ’ From a fiasco of the (non)-sighting of a lion at Essex to a wistful rhyme on visiting John Betjeman’s Grave, Wright’s virtuoso performance constantly surprises and delights….Wright represents his characters and stories in a tone both brutally honest yet ultimately affectionate. ‘Evelyn Waugh, my favorite writer, writes in a kind of cartoonish form- his world and characters seem hyper-real yet have genuine emotions. That’s the place I’d like to occupy.’ Indeed, Wright’s world-building has the same intuitive flair, and makes its readers deeply relate to its character that they are simultaneously laughing at. His poems remain life-size and refreshingly relevant, whether it be a historical ballad on a Georgian apprentice to a hatter tired with ‘dandruff decades’ or a playful caricature of the Essex Lion.

Finally, the Oxford University department for continuing education has announced the syllabus for an upcoming course on the short story. The first work assigned is Evelyn Waugh’s “An Englishman’s Home”:

Week 1: Evelyn Waugh’s An Englishman’s Home (and O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi): What for you is the centre of interest in Waugh’s story? Does it depend for its effect on the twist in the tale, in the way that O Henry’s story does? Is it helpful to think of Waugh’s story as having more resonance than O Henry’s does?

The story was first published in Good Housekeeping in 1939 and collected in the 1948 volume Work Suspended and Other Stories. It is also included in The Complete Short Stories. The course begins in October. Other stories on the list include one each by Elizabeth Bowen and Penelope Fitzgerald. See this link.

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