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 be a reference to Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49.
Why would Radiohead name their fan website after a book by Thomas Pynchon? Thom Yorke, the lead singer and lyricist of Radiohead, studied Art and English Literature while earning his degree at Exeter University, so it's not farfetched to assume he could be a fan of Thomas Pynchon's novels. In fact, in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview, Thom Yorke cited American author Thomas Pynchon by name as one of his many artistic influences.
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 many 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 and uncover the acronym's mysterious origins and hidden meaning.
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 is this mysterious Trystero figure? In The Crying of Lot 49, Trystero is a secret underground network operating "in the shadows," intent on communicating secretly under the radar with the goal of ultimately subverting American mainstream culture and society.
So why did Radiohead name their fan site W.A.S.T.E.? In Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, members of the underground counterculture use the W.A.S.TE. system as a means of private, secure communication that can't be traced or tracked by the government or the powers that be. (Paranoid, right?) To put it simply, Radiohead very well may have named their fan forum W.A.S.T.E. not only as a clever homage to one of their favorite authors, but also because they intended for W.A.S.T.E. to be an off-the-grid network where Radiohead fans from all over the world can communicate, meet, and conspire over the hidden meaning of Radiohead song lyrics in "secret," using anonymous usernames and aliases to conceal their true identities.