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In a july 97 interview in Vancouver, Thom and Colin mentioned the famous Toronto Opera House Gig from june 1997. Thom said that he was writing 'that new song' during that time and then they both chimed in to say that the chorus of it was: 'I'm not here, this isn't happening'.

The phrase that can be seen in this image was the starting point for the lyrics. Apparently Michael Stipe gave this sort of Mantra to Thom:

An early handwritten sketch of lyrics appeared in the 'scrapbook' section of radiohead.com:

Part of a soundcheck of this song from august 26th 1997 in New York can be seen in Meeting People Is Easy:

During the same stay in New York Gee also filmed this handwritten piece, that Thom had apparently stuck on his hotel room window. It's almost identical to the one posted on top of this page:

The song debuted in Los Angeles on april 1st 1998, titled 'How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found', and was dedicated to Nigel Godrich, who was present and probably heard it for the very first time. The song lasted over 7 minutes at this point:
that there
that's not me
I go where I please
I've grown
I float
float down the Liffey

I'm not here
this isn't happening
I'm not here
I'm not here

I know what I've seen
you throw me out then send me back again
in a little while I'll be gone
the moment's already passed
yeah, it's gone
yeah, it's gone
yeah, it's gone

fireworks and blown speakers
strobe lights and hurricanes

I'm not here
this isn't happening
I'm not here
The lyrics already progressed slightly when it was played again in Toronto on april 12th:

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  Unreleased january 1998 february 1998 03/98 april 1998 06+12/98
How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found [4] 01 12 18 13
Motion Picture Soundtrack [1] 02
Nude [5] 23 29 02 13 17
Six entries from Ed's Diary relate to the recording of 'How To Disappear Completely' (two quotes from Phil and Nigel, probably from the official message board, are placed in between):
tuesday, july 27th 1999
a pretty frustrating day, but now we've been doing this for so long, you realise it can't all be like last week. it starts well with a different version of 'how to dissapear' and 'everything in its right place'. we then get sidetracked by a couple of loose ideas for songs (one is very like the Fall). However we have definitely lost our way with ' you and whose army'- it was sounding great last week, so what happened today? time to go home.
wednesday, september 1st 1999
i read a rumour from the internet [never believe a single nuance - sd] that we are supposed to be collaborating with 'godspeed you black emperor' on 'how to disappear' - this person cited a number of chance occurences, including such impossible coincidences as 'they came to see us at a gig'. if that were sufficient corroborating evidence then, judging on the bands i've seen recently, you can hear us with 'the divine comedy' and the mighty 'asian dub foundation'.
twice around 'follow me around' - mmm. not great, but salvaged by 'you and whose army' - jonny thinks that voice and guitar are all that's needed until the end part; and it sounds right; or at least it's definitely a place to start. run through 'optimistic', cuttooth', and 'up on the ladder' for nige, who's down for the day to do some wiring and 'studio arranging'.
wednesday, december 1st 1999
phil is presently putting down drums on 'how to disappear' - we're doing a demo of the song to present the song to an 'orchestral fella'. we've kind of shirked away from strings in the past as they seem to have been recorded in the same manner for the last 30 years (ever since the beatles). jonny is particularly keen to use an orchestra but not in the standard cliched way........more like the end of 'climbing up the walls'. thom's vocal on it was jaw-dropping. it's very strange to be playing that song again as we played it frequently on the ok computer tour.......................... suddenly you're back there.
thursday, december 2nd 1999
more work on 'how to disappear'... after phil did his drums last night, jonny came up with an outrageous martenot part - multitracked it sounds like the string section from mars. jonny has this uncanny ability to bring in weird chords, that at first distract you but after a couple of listens completely make sense...it's just a matter of getting on his planet. brilliant. coz and i tied up our respective bits and it's sounding fairly complete. not bad for a demo. thom was immersed in protools/cubase land in the other studio. the song now has a really strong arrangement and the rhythm track is pumping...........onwards to friday.
Phil: "Parts I & II are finished - the final movement is proving a little tricky though."
(post on the official message board, december 3rd 1999)
Thom: (when asked about the meaning of the line 'I float down the Liffey'): "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."
(post on the official message board, december 19th 1999)
Nigel: (when asked if the song had gone over 10 mins): "No no no no no no. It's going good I think. haven't touched it this year. 6 minutes, I hate people who exaggerate."
(post on the official message board, january 19th 2000)
monday, january 24th - tuesday, january 25th 2000
want to try and finish the bulk of what we've started, which may sound obvious but there you go.......so had what seemed like a pretty unfruitful day on 'how to disappear'.......try and get it away from that band thing with an acoustic guitar, which may have been alright when we were making the bends, but let's face it has been done to death by both us and every tom, dick and harry guitar band. went down a few cul-de-sacs.........all part of the process.

today however has been a quite different affair. still on the same song. jonny found the one chord thing; it's to be played by the strings(to be recorded soon).....in fact jonny has spent much of the last two weeks scoring and arranging strings in his room; which is a huge undertaking as 24 string players are going to be playing precisely what he has scored and these people are professionals....thom has this evening just done a wonderful vocal and the song is beginning to go another way. bad day, good day, good cop, bad cop.
friday, february 4th 2000
what an amazing day. fantastic string arrangements by jonny and what players. many many thanks are due to john lubbock(who conducted and organised) and the string players from the orchestra of st. john's, smith square. the whole session was the complete antithesis to the ok computer experience; firstly rather than de-camping to some london studio we used an old abbey near us with the most fantastic acoustics to record in. i think nigel was totally blown away by the whole sound of it. but most importantly john and the players were so enthusiastic about it all.....jonny has certain things that he wants/wanted to try out that aren't your usual string arrangaments. and rather than dismiss his ideas ( which is what happened on the ok computer session) they were open-minded enough to try them. john lubbock even handed over the conducting reins right at the end for jonny to try out an idea of his. there is no way that he would have been allowed to have done that at the abbey road session. brilliant players and people.

we needed this session after what has seemed an incredibly draining week.
The band recorded a live-in-the-studio version of the song for the BBC Evening Session, which was aired on december 12th 2000. It was recorded at AIR Studios in London, judging from Steve Lamacq's narration around late november 2000:
Steve Lamacq: "The next track - which we're not going to play tonight, but you will be able to hear tomorrow on Radio 1 - is 'How To Disappear Completely'. Now this is one of the tracks, one of I think two songs on this album, which do actually appear to be linked to a definite time and place, and this one is Dublin."
Thom: "Yeah, well there's the Liffey, yeah."
Steve: "Yeah, there's the Liffey, in Dublin. Is it written about a certain gig or a certain time?"
Thom: "Yeah it was. (to Ed) What was that gig we did?"
Ed: "The RDS. The biggest gig we'd done, it was the week before we did... it was in '97, it was the week before we did Glastonbury, wasn't it?"
Thom: "That's right, yeah."
Ed: "And it was like the seventh gig of, you know, OK Computer, and the first gig of OK Computer, we were infront of four hundred people in Lisbon, and we couldn't even sell out the tickets in this sort of club. Two weeks later, we're in Ireland in front of thirty-eight thousand mad Irish fans, and it was... well, I mean, I always... (to Thom) I'm sure it must really annoy you, but you're like, you know, the Pied Piper of Dublin, whenever you're in... you suddenly... you know, you see... you can tell where you are in Dublin, because there's all these you know, all these people following you and you know that Thom must be round the corner because there's this like queue of people."
Thom: "Maybe."
Steve: "Does that really happen?"
Ed: "It did, yeah."
Steve: "People just following you around?"
Thom: "Yeah, but I've got a beard now, so they probably won't recognise me."
Steve: "But that's where it comes from, but it feels like at that point you don't know exactly where or who or why or how it all happened, very David Byrne, how did I get here?"
Thom: "That's exactly... well, there you go, you see, our main obsession in terms of like reference points was Remain In Light, 'Once In A Lifetime', where did I get here? How did I get here?"
Steve: "How did I get here?"
Thom: "And, erm... yeah... 'How To Disappear' was erm... 'How To Disappear Completely' was... the chorus was really like a mantra to sort of get out of things that erm... get out of a situation that just felt wrong, and it was kind of a way of putting the shutters down so you could erm... and that's what the song is for, it's for someone who's in a situation where they can't get out of it, they've got nothing to... they can't say anything to get out of it, but rather than involve themselves and screw themselves up, they keep repeating 'I'm not here, this isn't happening, I'm not here, this isn't happening, I'm not here, this isn't happening' all the time, that's what it's supposed to be about."
Jonny Greenwood: "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 Martenot."

Mark Russell: "It's quite a strange orchestration, because it seems to sort of like float over the top of the song in a kind of disembodied way."

Colin Greenwood: "Well, I mean Jonny probably didn't have such a good time, but he scored the strings and played the Martenot live, didn't you, with the orchestra of St John's..."

Jonny: "I played it very badly, out of tune. [laughs]"

Colin: "...St. John's Smith Square, at Dorchester Abbey, you know, on the Thames. And it was freezing winter, was it February? And Nigel, our producer, took his Apple G3 and hard drive in and some microphones, and no tape, and recorded the orchestra and Jonny playing along on the Ondes Martenot."

Robert Sandall: "Decisions like that, which are obviously fairly radical, are they completely democratically agreed, or is there a certain amount of banging the table and 'no, we're going to do it this way', and you, for example Jonny, insisting that that'd be done? How much do you proceed by consensus, and how much by insistance?"

Jonny: "I don't think any of us are very good at 'table thumping', we seem to just stagger on in the lunacy. I mean, recording the strings was literally a case of setting up in the vestry of this church with one computer and just hoping it was going to work, you know, it wasn't exactly wrapped up in sellotape, but it was that sort of feeling, and especially doing strings when you've only got three hours."

Mark: "Had you demoed the string parts before, did you know roughly what they were going to sound like?"

Jonny: "No, no idea, and the first play through you're just following the notes, just waiting for the wrong one to suddenly poke out, which, you know, which it did a couple of times, but that was fine."
Q: "What springs to mind when you look back on 1997?"

Thom: "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."

Q: "You could have a ball psycho-analyzing that one. Do you know what dreams mean?"

Thom: "No. But I find it imperative that I write them down, just for my own sanity."
Thom: "The whole point of being in a band and having Nigel 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."
Q: "On Kid A there's a song called 'How To Disappear Completely' and the lyrics refer to you floating down the what?"

Thom: "The Liffey."

Q: "The Liffey? Tell us about that."

Thom: "That song was originally written years ago. We were about to do some big festival in Ireland. I was up all night, having the most terrible dreams, I was so shit-scared. And I had one of those really, really vivid dreams and the Liffey was really, really muddy, like a mud river, and I was drifting down to the sea. And it just sort of stuck."

Q: "You were scared in terms of stage fright?"

Thom: "Yes, absolutely cacking myself. It was the biggest gig we'd ever done."
Q: Do you listen to a lot of other people's music while you're making a record?

M.S.: My fear is that I would steal something (from another artist) without knowing. (Laughs.) "I'm so brilliant - No, Polly Harvey is really brilliant, and I stole that from her!"

Q: Does that happen?

M.S.: Absolutely. I write 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!"
Thom: "My favourite 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.
Live performance #155 during the making of The King of Limbs:
155. january 24th 2010 The Music Box Theatre at The Fonda Los Angeles, CA USA Link
Live performances #156 to #161 during the touring for The King of Limbs:
156. september 17th 2011 European Fish Fry Crackington Haven UK Link
  The King of Limbs tour (1st half) 09/'11 02/'12 march 2012 april 2012 05/'12 june 2012
Everything In Its Right Place [23] 28 29 29 01 03 05 07 09 11 13 09 11 14 18 29 31 01 05 08 10 11 13 15
The National Anthem [11] 28 29 27 07 13 11 29 31 01 03 05
How to Disappear Completely [5] 11 15 09 01 15
Idioteque [28] 27 29 01 03 05 06 07 09 11 13 15 09 11 12 14 17 18 21 29 31 01 05 06 08 10 11 13 15
Live performances #162 to #169 during the touring for The King of Limbs: