story by Toby Warner
illustration by Katherine Streeter
This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.
“YOU WANT ME?” WAILS THOM YORKE. “Fucking well come and find me / I’ll be waiting / With a gun and a pack of sandwiches.”
And then the question that comes to everyone’s mind: Sandwiches?
The Radiohead song “Talk Show Host” was released as a B-side for “Street Spirit: Fade Out” in 1996. It never appeared on a proper album but garnered a huge cult following when its haunting minor chord melody became Romeo’s theme in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet.
Like any genre, music journalism has its conventions and taboos. For me, learning to write about music for money meant forgetting how I heard pop music as a teenager. The first three cassettes I bought, at age 12, were NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, Ace of Base’s The Sign, and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II. I learned never to admit this. I learned to bracket my enthusiasm, flaunt specialized knowledge, and, above all, not appear to obsess over the lyrics.
Radiohead has never spoken publicly about the sandwiches in “Talk Show Host.” They declined to talk to us about it, on the grounds that they don’t talk to hardly anyone anymore. But if Radiohead doesn’t have any theories to share, the Internet hive mind has them in abundance.
Alongside all the professional chatter about pop music online, there is another, much larger conversation going on. It’s a conversation taking place in the comments sections of all those lyrics sites that pop up whenever you search for a song. There, people are talking about what songs mean. And in the case of “Talk Show Host,” what those sandwiches mean.
Here (in brief and verbatim) is what the internet has to say:
1. The “gun and sandwiches” is, in my opinion, referring to the preparation one must undergo in order to be in the position of celebrity status.
2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination — the death that triggered WW1, could be referenced in this song by the line: ‘With a gun and a pack of sandwiches’
Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Ferdinand missed on the first go so he wandered off to buy a sandwich. When he came out, with his GUN AND HIS SANDWICH it just so happened Ferdinand was passing by and he shot him.
3. the want has driven him so mad that he has an attitude where if someone rejects him, he’ll be completely angered. “a gun and a pack of sandwiches” — if the person he’s with likes him, he’ll eat a pack of sandwiches with them — but if they don’t like him he’ll hurt them
4. i cant really avoid seeing the song in an erotic way… cant get past the “you want me? fuckin come on and break the door down” yeah its hottt
as for “waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches”… you’re waiting for that person to come on a wild journey with you… like PLEASE IM WAITING
5. Sandwiches are casual. If you were shaking-in-your-boots scared of facing something/someone, would you be eating a sandwich? No. You couldn’t stomach it because of nerves. Maybe the guy is either fearless or hardened. Just musing.
6. I actually thought this song was about a talk show host in the 60’s who was losing his job and his wife left him and everything and he went nuts one night and locked himself in the stage room and held hostages and stuff. The only thing he had was the gun, sandwiches, and everything else had been taken away from him. The cops ran in and killed him, but this song is like a sympathy for the devil situation.
7. i always think of the sandwiches as pb&j’s … specifically chunky peanut butter and black raspberry jam … and then i get hungry.
8. A guy with some kind of sociophobia have nothing to offer but expects some girl starts to love him. He’s locked in his room, sad and introspective… He ain’t beautiful, rich or whatever… Females look for the strongest males in the animal world cause they want to feel safe and have access to food. This still a hidden instinctive characteristic of women. So the guy feels weak and all he can offer is the gun (security) and the pack of sandwiches (food). In other words, he is a complete freak and the only way he could gets into a relationship is to have a woman “breaking his door down”.
9. “I’ll be waiting/ With a gun and a pack of sandwiches” All of us live in a world outside of nature through our own technological defenses such as a gun, and supplies to survive while waiting– sandwiches in this case.
10. This song is about eating sandwiches sexily, obviously.
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It seems like every few weeks someone writes a new opinion piece bemoaning how dire, uncivil, and just plain nasty the anonymous online public has become. Sure, the Internet is full of trolls, but it’s also full of the strange, dreamy, absurd, and incredibly personal relationships that we can have with pop music. Even if we don’t always own up to it. ♥
TONY WARNER was the editor of Boldtype from 2005 to 2010. He has also written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Flavorpill, the Columbia Journalism Review, and ArtistDirect. He is a lifelong sandwich enthusiast; guns, not so much.
KATHERINE STREETER lives in New York City, where she works on mixed-media collage painting and vintage-fabric-wrapped dolls. She has been published and exhibited internationally and is currently working on a book of collected pieces. You can see more of her work at katherinestreeter.com.