On Monday (March 28) Radiohead’s Thom Yorke appeared in London’s east end to distribute copies of a free newspaper, ‘The Universal Sigh’, a companion piece to the band’s ‘The King Of Limbs’ album.
The newspaper features essays and short stories on the theme of wildness. We chatted to Jay Griffiths, author of ‘Forests Of The Mind’ (from the newspaper), as well as ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey’.
What do you make of Radiohead’s newspaper?
“I live in the heart of Wales so I haven’t properly seen it! I’ve been sent a file of it, but I’ve been tied up because a book of mine was just published yesterday.”
Who approached you to be involved in The Universal Sigh?
“I got approached to be involved in because various people in Radiohead had read Wild: An Elemental Journey.”
Had you any previous involvement with the band?
“I met Ed O’Brien through KT Tunstall after he’d read my book. I know he really liked it and he’d asked me to write a piece for the paper.”
Did they give you a brief?
“No they didn’t and that was really lovely. All they said was that it was going to be a free newspaper given out internationally about woods, trees and forests. That really was about it, which was fantastic because that meant we could take it wherever we wanted to.”
That’s quite general – did you feel overwhelmed?
“Well no actually, because I’ve written loads about The Amazon, the forests in West Papua and the importance of trees and woodlands in general and so it wasn’t an unfamiliar topic to me.”
What did you think of the band’s mode of distribution for The Universal Sigh?
“Human beings have always had strong relationships with nature and forests, and to take that right into the heart of the city like Radiohead have done is tremendous. They dropped off the paper in big urban cities and that was like bringing the forests into the heart of the city. To me these things matter, partly because of the physical deforestation. But also in places like West Papua and The Amazon, you are deforesting the human mind. You are robbing people of their history, their culture, their myth.”
In your piece you make the link between the spirit of the forest and your re-finding your spirit. How do you mean?
“I would say that wherever there are trees, people can find healing. That’s why if you have children, if you have half a chance you want to get them near forests. A friends of mine’s child lives in the centre of the city but has a particular relationship to a tree, it means an awful lot to him. I know other adults who would see trees being cut down and they would cry. It’s a very well rooted – excuse the pun – love.”
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How about you?
“I had a reading tree when I was a kid, I used to climb it and read.”
How did your interest develop?
“I don’t know how to answer that. Partly with my book Wild: An Elemental Journey, it began with the terrible depression I wrote about in the newspaper. Nature is absolutely essential to the human condition.”
If you had to sum up your philosophy in one line what would it be?
“Trees are friends to humanity.”
In the paper there’s lots of references to the historical, mythological role of trees.
“Yes, it’s also interesting to note things like the language of trees, that the word ‘tree’, ‘truth’ and ‘trust’ are related. I mean, that’s beautiful isn’t it? Because it’s like, here’s something that’s so solid that you can trust, like a tree. There’s nothing complex about that. It’s simple and profound one go.”
What do you think of a band like Radiohead bringing these things into popular culture?
“I think it’s magnificent. And what they’re doing has such intelligence and awareness. Such thoughtfulness and deep down such kindness. The quality of kindness is not something that modernity likes that much, but it’s one of the most important qualities in the world. Very deep down that’s what they’re thinking and that’s what their music represents.”