W.A.S.T.E. Meaning: Radiohead and Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49

by K Shabi PUBLISHED 14 June 2013

Radiohead have been using W.A.S.T.E. as the name of their official online merchandise store and fan network for a long time, baffling and confusing many fans of their music. What do the letters W.A.S.T.E. stand for? Where does this acronym come from? As it turns out, the meaning of Radiohead’s W.A.S.T.E. may very well come back to Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49.

What does Radiohead’s W.A.S.T.E. mean? What does it stand for?

W.A.S.T.E. Meaning: Radiohead and Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49So why would Radiohead name their fan website after a book by Thomas Pynchon, anyway? Thom Yorke, the lead singer and lyricist of Radiohead, studied Art and English Literature while earning his degree at Exeter University in the UK, so it's likely he is a fan of Pynchon's novels. In a 2012 Rolling Stone interview, Thom Yorke came right out and openly acknowledged American author Thomas Pynchon as one of his many artistic influences.

"I just started Gravity's Rainbow. I tried reading it once before, but this time around it's much more fun. It's a really early one, isn't it? This one seems easier to get into than V." Thom Yorke

W.A.S.T.E. Acronym & Initials: What is the Meaning?

OK, so Thom Yorke is a fan of the writer Thomas Pynchon. But what do the initials W.A.S.T.E. have to do with Radiohead’s music? The W.A.S.T.E acronym (often pronounced as just "waste") plays a large and mysterious role in Thomas Pynchon's 1965 novel The Crying of Lot 49. Like you and many other Radiohead fans out there, the novel’s main character Oedipa Maas is also baffled by the mysterious W.A.S.T.E. acronym she keeps noticing popping up everywhere. Confused, she actively starts to search out its origins and meaning.

"But at last in the shadows she did come on a can with a swinging trapezoidal top, the kind you throw trash in: old and green, nearly four feet high. On the swinging part were hand-painted the initials W.A.S.T.E. She had to look closely to see the periods between the letters." Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

So what is the secret meaning of W.A.S.T.E. in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49? Oedipa Maas finally learns that the mysterious W.A.S.T.E. acronym she has found scrawled all around Los Angeles stands for "We Await Silent Trystero's Empire." But who exactly is this mysterious Trystero, and why is anyone awaiting his empire? In The Crying of Lot 49, Trystero is an underground network operating "in the shadows," intent on communicating secretly under the radar with the goal of ultimately subverting American mainstream culture. Remember: Pynchon’s novel takes place in 1960s Southern California, a major countercultural hotspot.

W.A.S.T.E: Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 & Radiohead

So why did Radiohead name their fan site W.A.S.T.E.? In Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, members of the counterculture used the W.A.S.TE. system as a means of private, secure communication that couldn’t be traced or tracked by the powers that be. (Paranoid, right?) Never a band to shy away from exposing the ugly side of politics, Radiohead very well may have named their fan forum W.A.S.T.E. as not only as a clever homage to one of their favorite authors, but also because they envision it as off the grid network where Radiohead fans from all over the world can meet, communicate and conspire over the meaning of Radiohead song lyrics in "secret," using anonymous usernames and aliases to conceal their true identities...

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