Everything In Its Right Place
OK Computer cover art, Hartford
I’ve done a lot of cool stuff for this website. A lot. I’ve gotten excited over the years when I’ve met certain people and gained access to certain places. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that the day I learned that the washed out cover photo on Radiohead’s seminal album, OK Computer was from our very own Hartford, I was beside myself.
I’ll spare you the fanboyism, but my opinion is that Radiohead is the best band of my lifetime. Yes, lots of their work is derivative of other artists, but I don’t care. I love them. They’ve been together for forever, they give away a lot of their music, their politics align with mine, they’ve never done anything stupid, and their inventive and skillful musicianship moves me.
And for those of you rolling your eyes, chances are that you’ve heard and been moved by a Radiohead song, or a members’ solo effort, during some emotional scene in your favorite television show or movie.
My love for them started with “The Bends,” which was their album before “OK Computer”. (Yeah, their first album contained “Creep,” but… on the whole, “Pablo Honey” wasn’t that strong.) I know, you don’t care. What I hope you care about is that the cover art for the British band’s “OK Computer” is an altered photograph from… downtown Hartford, Connecticut USA… ?… !
For some context, before “OK Computer” was released, Radiohead was known in the US for one song: Creep. If Creep is the only Radiohead song you know, boy oh boy have you missed a lot. “OK Computer” was Rolling Stone’s 3rd best album of the 90’s. The band’s “Kid A” was the publication’s best album of the 2000’s. (Shout out to Rolling Stone, as I had no idea until a minute ago.)
Alright, so “OK Computer” was sort of a revelatory work for the 1997. Grunge was long dead; heck, rock was pretty much dead. And the album isn’t a rockin’ album anyway. It is melancholy, fearful, beautiful, and political. I’ve no idea what people needed to know where the photo – which hardly even looks like a photo – was taken. Such is fandom I suppose.
One particular fan on Reddit asked the question: “Hey, where is the cover from?” Someone said, “Hey, why don’t you ask the ‘Road Geeks’ over at the AAA forums, so he did just that. Keep in mind that this photo could have been from anywhere in the world with raised highway on and offramps. Amazingly, the puzzle was solved incredibly quickly. The genius who sorted it, good ol’ MapMikey, took 10 minutes to nail it.
Took about 10 minutes. The middle BGS has a two word control city with just a single letter as the first word. The BGS on the right has a two word city but two actual words. I figured that it was east of the Mississippi because of the (IMO) tight footprint of the interchange.
So what interstate junctions in the east might fit the that BGS criteria? E Hartford and New Haven.
I never even noticed there was a “BGS” (Big Green Sign) on the cover. Reading through the Road Geek Forum posts, I see old friend kurumi is there. He has created the definitive guide for Connecticut roads and I’m proud to count him as a CTMQ reader.
This finding made international news. Well, international music news anyway. It also made local affiliate newscasts. I was over the Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohead reference, sorry). The photo is of the eastbound junction of I-84 and I-91 just before it crosses the Connecticut River. Based on its vantage point, it’s clear it was taken from the nearby Hilton Hotel, where the band stayed following their August 20th, 1996 performance in Hartford. Crazy, right? Also crazy, my wife works at home but when she has to go into her office for work, her window view is – here, I’ll just show you:
That’s right. My wife’s office is almost a perfect view of the cover of Radiohead’s “OK Computer!” Everyone’s fitter, happier (reference again, sorry), right? Well, almost everyone. Lead singer Thom Yorke was never much of a fan of the artwork. In a 1999 interview promoting the release, he called the cover “pretty dreadful but it’s the best we could come up with at the time. But it’s awful, I hate it, it’s f&%*ing rubbish.”
Oh well. I love it and I love driving across the real world cover listening to Radiohead songs. So there.