Radiohead’s ‘How to Disappear Completely’

I’ve written previously about my love of Radiohead and Thom Yorke. I’ve also included this song in a roundup of music I was listening to at the time. But I’ve never addressed it at length.

When I first began listening to Radiohead, like most I’m sure, “Creep” was the gateway drug, and for that reason, “Creep” will always hold a special place in my heart. I also included “Creep” on my list of songs that make great use of the f-word. At one point, I’m sure I thought of it as not only the best Radiohead song I’d heard, but the best song I’d ever heard period.

It connected with 15-year-old me in that way.

In the years since, though, there are indisputably better Radiohead songs, such as “Street Spirit,” “Pyramid Song,” “Lucky,” “High and Dry,” “Daydreaming,” “No Surprises,” “Karma Police” (yes, even if it’s also been so-called “overplayed” like Creep is), “There There,” “Everything in Its Right Place,” and so many more.

But one song might be my favorite of the entire bunch, if I were forced to so choose: “How to Disappear Completely.”

First off, I’m a big fan of titles, and that’s a great title for anything.

Secondly, I’ve talked about it before, but Yorke has such a whimsical, dream-like quality to his vocals and Radiohead overall compliments that vibe, and that comes across in this particular song.

This is not a song for everyone. I’m fairly certain if I shared this song with most people, they would think it’s too sad and (something I’ve heard before) too whiny. But it’s my vibe.

I have no idea what’s going on with this music video:

But it has that sort of dream-like quality with the black and white? It’s bizarre. Which is a befitting word for Radiohead.

The repetition of the lyrics also adds to the dream-like, with Yorke repeating, “I’m not here. I’m not here. This isn’t happening. I’m not here. I’m not here.” And that building and building to a orchestral crescendo of … despair?

Yorke said the song was “the most beautiful thing they ever did.”

“The lyrics came from something Michael Stipe said to me. I rang him and said, ‘I cannot cope with this.’ And he said, ‘Pull the shutters down and keep saying, ‘I’m not here, this is not happening.” – Yorke

Stripe is the lead singer for R.E.M.

I didn’t even mention it in my roundup of other great Radiohead songs, but I would argue that on the hauntingly beautiful level, “All I Need,” might break me on a hauntingly beautiful level more than any other Radiohead song, so I’ll proffer a slight disagreement with Yorke there. To be fair, that song came after his remarks, so maybe he’d have a different answer.

Given the song lyrics and what Yorke himself has said about it, I take the song to mean he wanted to get away. To disappear. To float away. To not be here. He’s having a bit of a mental breakdown, and wants to get away from it all instead of trying to cope and manage.

We’ve all had those moments, and I know I certainly have, where we are somewhere, but we’re not there. We’re not present in that moment. Our minds are somewhere else.

And perhaps the most interesting thing about the song is that it’s nearly six minutes, and I’ve already listened to it five times in the course of preparing and writing this piece, and it never feels like six minutes. Just floating on and disappearing.

That’s the rather unique relationship with Radiohead, wherein they are singing, often, about existential dread and despair in a dream-like fashion, but also, that dream-like fashion makes those songs addictive? I want to keep listening to them over and over again.

What do you think of this song in particular, and what’s your favorite Radiohead song?


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