Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 025
Tues, Feb 19, 2013

“How To Disappear Completely”


“♫ I
go/ where I
please/ I walk
through walls/ I
float down the
Liffey/ I’m not
here/ this isn’t

I woke up to the sounds of Jonny Greenwood’s atmospheric guitar echoes from “How To Disappear Completely” in my head this morning. Not my favorite Kid A cut but today this Radiohead song is “Completely” connecting with me today. Maybe it’s the overcast clouds, the Southern California early morning misty memories fogging thoughts inside of me.
Radiohead Backstage

Did you know that “Completely” has its genesis, from a terrifying dream Thom Yorke experienced in Ireland? “I dreamt I was floating down the Liffey and there was nothing I could do. I was flying around Dublin and I really was in the Dream. The whole song is my experiences of really floating,” Yorke once said. He discussed the origins of this nightmare came from stage freight, when Thom explained, “We did this show in Dublin which was by far the biggest show we’d ever done, and we were headlining in front of about 33,000 people. It was sheer blind terror. My most distinctive memory of the whole year was the dream I had that night: I was running down the [River] Liffey, stark bullock naked, being pursued by a huge tidal wave.”
Thom Yorke Disappear circle

Even though “Completely” had nefarious inspirations, Thom Yorke remember the experience of creating “How to Disappear” fondly when he said, “The whole point of being in a band and having Nigel [Godrich] produce us is that things happen that I don’t know anything about. And the best feeling in the world is when you sit there and watch it go somewhere unexpected. ‘How to Disappear’ on Kid A, for instance, I had no involvement in that at all after the demo stage. Jonny did everything else. We managed to turn it into this incredible thing. I think that was good for me to see that happen and to let it happen.” Jonny’s orchestration is what turns Thom Yorke’s nightmare into dreamlike reality. Greenwood explained how those strings came to light when he said, “The string parts were written originally with an Ondes Martenot, just multitracking it and playing one part at a time. And eventually we did replace it with real strings. But in parts of it you can still hear the Martenots.”

Legend has it that Thom’s very famous friend R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe’s words of encouragement when he told Yorke, who was suffering from a temporary breakdown, “♫ I’m not here, this isn’t happening… ♫” In 2004, Stipe told this amusing anecdote on how R.E.M. and Radiohead unknowingly inspire one another, “My fear is that I would steal something (from another artist) without knowing. I wrote this song called “Disappear”, and then days later realized it was a Radiohead song called “How To Disappear Completely”. I called Thom Yorke and left him a message saying, “Thom, I think I stole your song,” and he didn’t call me back. I was so upset. Finally, a few weeks later, I heard from him, and he said, “Michael, that song came from a conversation we had four years ago!

Now, when Thom Yorke sings “How to Disappear” he no longer hears the nightmares that inspired “Completely”” “My favorite tune from that time is ‘How to Disappear Completely’, because we didn’t care how it could be seen as pretentious or anything. It just sounds glorious. What Jonny did to it is amazing.” The song that was once spawned by a nightmare vividly woke me up this morning; I was moved to just immediately put on my headphones. I plugged in allowed myself to drift away to the dreamlike sounds of “How to Disappear Completely” and for those 5:57—I actually I did.
Thom Disappear jacket