"The Bends" as written by and Thomas Edward/o'brien Yorke....
Where do we go from here
The words are coming out all weird
Where are you now when I need you
Alone on an airplane
Falling asleep against the window pain
My blood will thicken

I need to wash myself again
To hide all the dirt and pain
'Cause I'd be scared that there's nothing underneath
And who are my real friends
Have they all got the bends
Am I really sinking, this slow

My baby's got the bends, oh no
We don't have any real friends, no no no

I'm just lying in a bar with my drip feed on
Talking to my girlfriend
Waiting for something to happen
And I wish it was the 60s,
I wish I could be happy, I wish, I wish, I wish
That something would happen

Where do we go from here
The planet is all gummed up in a sea of fear
And where are you

They brought in the C.I.A
The tanks and the whole marines to blow me away
To blow me sky high

Baby's got the bends
We don't have any real friends

I'm just lying in a bar with my drip feed on
Talking to my girlfriend
Waiting for something to happen
And I wish it was the 60s,
I wish I could be happy, I wish, I wish, I wish
That something would

I want to live and breathe
I want to be part of the human race
I want to live and breathe
I want to be part of the human race, race, race

Where do we go from here
The words are coming out all weird
Where are you now, when I need you


Lyrics submitted by piesupreme, edited by eloso, Peyman, pete116128

"The Bends" as written by Thomas Edward/o'brien Yorke

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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The Bends song meanings
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  • +8
    General CommentWow, I amazed that no one figured out what this song is really about.

    It`s quite simple, he`s singing about the pressures of his newfound fame and popularity. Personally, I think when he refers to "the bends" in his song, he literally means his new album, The Bends. But that is up for debate. Anyway, I don`t I have the time to disect this song, so I`ll just copy and paste the best song meaning from greenplastic.com

    This was one written by Kevin Newcombe

    "The Bends is literally a serious (and sometimes fatal) medical condition that happens to people when they come up out of the water too fast. I think the The Bends meant as a metaphor for the band instantly becoming rock stars without a chance to adjust to fame. Something in the lines of "My Iron Lung" the Bends is a song that speaks about the instant fame Radiohead acquired when they released Pablo Honey, and the world discovered Creep.

    "Where do we go from here?" Imagine all your life you wanted to be a rock star and have fans and tour the world. Once it happens, and you achieve that goal, what else is there to do?

    "Alone on an aeroplane / Falling asleep against the window pane" This line is about the exhaustive nature of touring. For a two hours a night it's standing in front of a screaming crowd of tens of thousands of fans, playing rock music, but the rest of the time it's just sitting on tour buses or in airports, or waiting for sound checks etc.

    "I need to wash myself again / To hide all the dirt and pain / I'd be scared, that there's nothing underneath." It gives the image of the tortured artist, something Thom was perceived as after Creep hit, writing about their pain to relieve themselves of it.

    "I'd be scared that there's nothing underneath" could be taken as meaning that the pain and melancholy is all there is to their songs, and that maybe the artist can't write about being happy and in love, only about being in pain.

    "Who are my real friends? / Have the all got the bends?" The author is asking himself, who are the people who like the real him and who are the people that just like him for being a celebrity. The people that are his real friends, are the people who understand what he's going through, who also have "the bends." In other words, his real friends are the other guys in the band.

    "My baby's got the bends / We don't have any real friends" Refers back to the previous line, about people wanting to be his friends because he's famous. "I'm just lying in a bar... I wish that something would happen" refers back to the first line, that once you've 'done it all,' traveled the world, performed to massive crowds, etc., going back home and trying to be a regular person again, hanging out at bars, doesn't really have the same feel.

    "I want to live / breath / I want to be part of the human race." This line is talking about how being a celebrity is totally different than being a normal person. Being a celebrity means being this 24 hour public relations machine that has to be nice to everyone they meet and never do anything wrong, in case someone's watching them (celebrities are role models after all)"
    black_cow_of_deathon October 25, 2004   Link
  • +4
    My InterpretationThis song leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It's written in an abstract way so that anyone can sort have a different angle from which to understand the meaning.

    That being said, in its abstraction, it's very straightfoward, sending a clear message.

    Radiohead explores dark themes and this song is no different. Don't get confused with the pretty arrangements, genius melodies and expert composing.

    What do Radiohead to best? They reach your soul ! Not many artists can do this, nowadays. But they reach it not to corrupt it, but to illuminate it. It sounds weird and esoteric, but it's true. Listen to karma police, paranoid android, 2+2=5 and you'll get the general picture.

    They are humanists, but realists. Cynics, but believers.

    Now to the song.

    The bends? Someone having "the bends" is someone having an existential crisis. Why am I here? What is my role in the world? Who am I? Someone having the bends is someone having an overhaul in his life, trying to figure it all out.

    But what crisis? What problems? We're talking here about world problems. Look at the state of the world in the last 20 years. The wars, the media manipulations, the big-brother control freak nations, the satanists (listen to 2+2=5), etc. It's about waking up to real state of the world. How corrupt and evil it is.

    Who do you think Radiohead is talking about with "They brought in the CIA". They is the symbol in todays music and pop culture term to explain the people behind the scenes that manipulate and control everything. Conspiracy much? CIA are master conspirators. Hard to believe? Do a fact check off all the things the CIA has done undercover in the last 20 years. You'll get nightmares. And in this case, the CIA represents secrecy.

    "The planet is a gunboat in a sea of fear" ???

    Don't look very far for this. It pretty much means what it says. How do you think the good people of this world are being manipulated? With fear! Fear control nations. Fear makes people sick. Fear is an unspeaken poison. Check it out. There are two universal base emotions in the world. One that liberates and heals, love and the other that controls, manipulates and kill, fear. There are new scientific research done on these emotions and how they deal with people's minds and bodies. 9/11? What did the media do afterwards? War on terror? Create enemies that don't exist to create fear in a population of idiots who believe anything that their being told! Why do you think this song is all about? Why do you think people have their wills and souls "bent" by the control moguls at top?

    "I need to wash myself again
    To hide all the dirt and pain
    'Cause I'd be scared that there's nothing underneath"

    This is about his soul. His soul, mind, empty of meaning. Empty of understanding. He just found out about how much the world is a shitty place at times, and it scares him of getting rid of all the bullsh*t that he has been told to believe. And it's not even to get rid, its to "hide".

    "Where do we go from here
    The words are coming out all weird
    Where are you now, when I need you"

    "Where do we go from here" This is a wake up call to all the ignorant people who don't know whats going on in the world. Hey, you know that it's hell in some places of the earth, you know the evil that lurks in the shadows and even in open sight. So where do we go from here? What do we do? Do we hide like cowards or do something about it?

    "The words are coming all weird" There are many people that are trying to explain the real nature of this world, and what is REALLY going on. But their words don't sound right. Its coming all weird, thus we don't listen. We turn our heards and accept to ignore the truth.

    "Where are you now, when I need you" A friend? NO! Girlfriend? NO! This is God he's talking about. Calling for help. Don't we all do that atleast once in our lifes? "Oh God Whyyy`?!?! Why me?!?!" Yeah, well, this is desperation. You feel powerless, like there is nothing you can't do. Where are the good people when we need them? Where is God when we really need him? In all the pain, and suffering that is going all around the world, where is God?

    "I want to live and breathe
    I want to be part of the human race"

    This part at the end, with the massive build-up and explosion of Jonny's guitar with Thom's anguished voice, screaming for a resolution, taps on all our feelings of alienation from our basic needs of love, respect, dignity, understanding and acceptance. These our the things that make people grow, live and be happy. These are the things for which great men and women have fought over the years, in the "sixties". Who was a great man fighting for the freedom of a whole race in America? Martin Luther King. The civil rights movements for black people, for example. The counter-revolution mouvement. People demanding new things, demanding to respect their rights.

    Living, breathing, are what we all want. We don't want to live in a sea of fear, but one of love and respect.

    This song is very deep and taps into many base core emotion we all feel during our lifes.

    The radio controls our music in many ways and that is why Radiohead is not very radio friendly, because it sends another message the "establishement" doesn't want the population to hear. Population control.

    People, wake up. Radiohead is telling you all that in this song, but it's "abstract", so there is a lot of room for interpretation, but its bottom line very straightfoward when you "know" where they are coming from and what they are trying to convey.
    BlazinYogion November 26, 2012   Link
  • +3
    General CommentAlright, first thing's first, I'm not going to say "THIS SONG IS AWESOME" cus obviously thats what I think. After all, im posting. I hate looking on this site to find a song that has 28 posts that say "THIS SONG KICKS ASS" and never explain the song. There's my two cents on that. So here's the tax:

    This song, unlike many other Radiohead songs, is fairly easy to interpret. Also, like their other songs, there are several ways to interpret the song.
    This song can be about...
    1) The World and other nation's Governments. Thom is speaking from a common-person's POV. This person believes that all nations have "the bends" and they don't help him when he needs it the most (welfare, healthcare, immagration, etc.) "My Baby" refers to England, and how it is being sorta mistreated by other nations, and its own govt. mistreats itself. "Where are all my friends, have they all go the bends?" refers to other nations and how they abandon each other, and thus giving themselves the bends, or suffering. "my girlfriend is waiting for something to happen" -> England is waiting for someone to save her.
    In Fact, the person Thom speaks for might not just refer to England. He could be speaking out of the words of ANY oppressed country, one certainly more oppressed than england. For instance Tibet or Haiti.

    2) He could be refering to someone as an individual in a less geographical and political sense, but in terms of friendship. He feels he cannot tell who his real freinds are because they all hurt each other and betray each other. It brings down not only him, but his relationship. "Brought in the CIA..." could mean that his friend start rumours and tell secrets and talk behind his back.

    ... "And that's all I have to say about that."
    Flextone Zeroon June 14, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentNumber 2 above is correct. Listen to his short monologue on the acoustic version that you can download on any psuedo napster and lays it out that its about knowing who your real friends are
    langdon007on September 24, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLove the line 'I wanna be part of the human face.' It just sums up a desire to conform. Brilliant.
    my nothingon May 13, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentim torn between two things this song could possibly mean so you can pick which one u like best and let me know
    Meaning 1: the government is constantly complicating things and abandoning you and then they start making direct attacks ok you as is said in the line "they brought in the CIA, the tanks and the whole marines to blow me away

    Meaning 2: the rigors of like as a celebrity. "i wish it was the sixties, i wish i could be happy and i wish, i wish i wish that something would happen" is him yearning for the simplicity of his life before he took off as an artist
    Phantom13on June 27, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song could be about multiple things; it's up to interpretation. As far as its poetic meaning, here's what I gather.

    It's a song about the "downward spiral" of sorts, and the speaker is trying to get out of it, but because of fear and pain he's having a hard time. The entire song is the speaker writing/speaking to a friend who is drifting away.

    "Where do we go from here?
    The words are coming out all weird"

    Sets up the plot. The speaker is talking to a friend who is drifting away (as seen by the next few lines). The words are coming out all weird can be taken literally: the speaker can not hear his friend speaking, and metaphorically: it's difficult to hear the friend because the friend is going further and further away, so it means the friend is drifting away emotionally.

    "Alone on an airplane
    Falling asleep against the window pane"

    Definite multiple meanings with this line. First of all, it sets up a recurring theme of being at a high altitude/low altitude to make it deal with "The bends" - decompression sickness. Now the entire thing about "the bends" is a metaphor, but I'll get to that later.

    Second of all, airplanes are used for travel, so it cements my feeling that the friend is drifting away. This can be taken literally (the speaker's friend is LITERALLY on an airplane leaving) or metaphorically, showing that the friend is emotionally driven away from the speaker.
    "Alone" sounds like the speaker's friend was affected by the speaker's fall into his life of deceit/lies.

    I don't know what "falling asleep" means. "Alone on the window pane" can be a clever play with words, "pane" being both the window the friend is sleeping on and the pain the speaker and/or the friend feels.

    "My blood will thicken"

    Also multiple meanings. The "blood thickens in cold weather" saying could relate, because the speaker now feels cold/alone because his friend is gone. However, it can also deal with decompression sickness. The speaker feels the pain of the thick blood (perhaps the air is making it thicker?), aka the pain of his friend leaving.


    The rest of the song is his lamentation of his life thus far to his lost friend.

    "I need to wash myself again
    To hide all the dirt and pain
    I'd be scared that there's nothing underneath."

    Pretty straightforward. He wants to get rid of his "bad" life, start with a clean slate, but he's afraid. He's afraid of the unknown, he doesn't know what he'll be or what his life will be if he leaves his deceitful friends.

    "And who are my real friends
    Have they all got the bends?"

    Shows that his life right now is pretty bad. He's wondering (somberly) who his friends are, because currently he is living a bad life.

    "have they all got the bends?" has multiple meanings.

    1) His false friends are all manipulating the speaker, or bending them to their will. The speaker doesn't like living his life but he has no choice because his false friends are making him.

    2) Decompression sickness, again. Either a) his false friends have "decompression sickness" and all feel the same pain, causing the speaker to feel pain (emotional pain), and his life is just in the shitter, or b) it can refer solely to the speaker, and the bends his friends have make the speaker feel pain.

    "Am I really sinking this low"

    Lamenting his current situation. Hates the life he's living. Kind of like an addict who just realized he's sold everything he owns for a little bit of whatever. Also alludes to decompression sickness (sinking? Low? Obviously low altitude)

    "My baby's got the bends"

    Now everything in his life is being affected by the pain. He's causing the pain of others and/or others are causing his pain.

    "We don't have any real friends"

    Lamenting. This is just an answer to his original question, finally realizing how bad his life is.

    "I'm just lying in a bar with my drip feed on
    Talking to my girlfriend."

    I can't think of anything deeper to this other than the fact that he's just lamenting his current situation. He's bored of his life. He doesn't like his lying friends. He's "JUST" lying in a bar. Based on the previous lyrics I picture this bar to be pretty dumpy.

    "And I wish it was the sixties
    I wish I could be happy
    I wish
    I wish
    I wish that something would happen."

    1) Could mean he literally wishes it was the sixties. Perhaps the speaker was alive during the sixties and had a better life back then. Maybe his life was more meaningful, more stuff "happened," etc.

    2) The sixties could symbolize a fun, "counter-culture" era where a lot of things were going on. Maybe he just wants something like that. Anything better than his life now. It also shows that even though the speaker dislikes his life now, he's really hoping for a better tomorrow.

    "Where do we go from here"

    Repeating the opening question. Really wants to know.

    "The planet is a gunboat in a sea of fear"

    I took this as this:

    The Planet is the speaker. The speaker is a gunboat because it's always guarded, always ready to attack. The speaker became this way because of the crappy life he's been living, spending all of this time doing nothing with deceitful friends. The sea of fear is of course the universe, which represents the unknown. The speaker proposes that this is what his life would be were he to depart from his deceitful friends. He would always be guarded, always ready to attack, and always afraid if he went into the "real" world.

    "And where are you"

    Pondering where he friend would be were he to take that step to fix his life. Maybe he is a "gunboat" because his friend is gone?

    "They brought in the CIA
    The tanks and the whole marines to blow my away"

    Hyperbole and metaphor. "They" are his deceitful friends. They lie to him, they manipulate him, just to do it. They want to suck him down with them into a life of pain and loneliness, just like they are.

    "To blow my sky high"

    Once again, alludes to decompression sickness. "Sky high" - high altitude. They want him to feel the pain.

    The next stanza is parallelism. Repeating his desires.

    "I want to live and breathe"

    Breathing, allusion to the decompression sickness. He wants to be free of it, he wants to actually breathe again.

    "I want to be part of the human race"

    His life, his friends, his situation - they're unreal. They're not good at all, the speaker wants to get rid of all of that. he wants to join the ranks of the "normal" he wants to have a better life.



    Overall, these lyrics are about how fear and pain can control one's life for the worse. I don't know if the lyrics are trying to say to try to overcome this. (Like, if the reader is supposed to learn from the speaker's mistakes).

    That's just one meaning. I also think the people that said this was about the band itself could also be right. This song is totally up for interpretation.


    yoman3on May 22, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentDon't know if we all know Yorke well enough to discern the meaning of this song, this one is pretty personal and slightly random sounding.

    I absolutely love the part that goes:

    "I wish it was the sixties,
    I wish we could be happy,
    I wish, I wish that something would happen."
    Elysium18on October 26, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentflextone zero, i think your second choice sounds right. i think everyone can relate to this song, i mean we all have at least one "friend" who treats us like hell.
    *SweetxWhitexLies*on July 04, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe beginning of the third verse should read:
    "Where do we go from here?
    The planet is a gunboat in a sea of fear
    And where are you?"
    instead of "the words are coming out all weird" again, as in the sleeve notes.

    Also, the noise at the beginning of the song is a recording of a marching band that was playing outside the bands hotel in New York.

    (Thanks to FollowMeAround.com for the useless facts!)
    AlligatorinNYsewerson August 05, 2002   Link

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