Listening to “How to Disappear Completely” on the PATH Train

It was March of my sophomore year of high school, the sun was out and I was on my way to the local coffee shop, Common Grounds, to meet a friend. I had taken the CAPT exam that morning. You know, those exams they give public school students to assess the school’s competence? That was the CAPT. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Kid A had sat in my iTunes, untouched, for a while. “You would really like Radiohead,” my friend said as we left 6th period English class for the day. She burned me their entire discography. I still have that CD. But Kid A scared me. I remember my dad hailing it as “Radiohead’s weird stuff” and I didn’t know if I would like anything remotely experimental. Up until then, it was Romantic-era classical music and your indie-rock legends for me. The album cover is also certainly formidable, featuring towering, icy mountains on a black background with a hint of fiery red. It’s apocalyptic, but hell, the whole album is an apocalypse.

‘Everything in its Right Place’ starts playing and honestly, it doesn’t feel atypical. I can feel the beat and can bob my head along to the synthesizer and voice manipulations. It isn’t dissonant. I remember hearing ‘Treefingers’ and thinking what do I get out of this? This sound is beautiful, but what does it mean? But what struck me most was ‘How to Disappear Completely.’ Ironically, I was in broad daylight listening to this song. It has a peculiar ability to make you feel at peace even in the most hectic of situations. It is soothing. While the lyrics may describe something deeply sad, there is something about this song that is haunting, not depressing. The combination of the ondes martenot, orchestra and acoustic guitar creates an atmosphere that envelops you while it haunts you. I loved it. I still love it.

I didn’t know what to think when the album finished playing as I ordered my hot chocolate, the classical 15 Year Old Girl drink. What I did know is that the music touched me. It has continued to touch me for years. It has touched millions of people. But it has touched us for millions of different reasons.

That is what I love about music. When you discover its power, you are moved. Sometimes you’re healed and other times it just articulates whatever emotion you’re feeling through its sound and you experience the ultimate catharsis. Sometimes it’s a friend when you’re alone, something to cry with or feel happy with. But we’re moved by the same music in different ways, based on whatever we’ve experienced in our lives. It’s so incredibly personal, and so raw of a feeling. That’s sappy and I feel like we’ve all heard this a thousand times but honestly, it’s true. I stand by that.

I didn’t know I would be listening to what would become one of my favorite albums (I don’t do definitive rankings) when I took the plunge into Kid A that presumably angsty day, but it did, because it’s an album that never ceases to make me feel both simultaneously at home and on edge. It’s an album that you’re constantly discovering—new sounds, new emotions, new lyrical meaning. But that day, it was just something to try, as is all new music. And all new music is worth trying.

It’s 9:25am on a Monday. People are sprinting around me but I don’t put in that effort. I’ll make it on time. I hear the two beeps that signal the doors are closing. I’m on the train and it’s wall-to-wall packed with men and women in suits on their way to New York City. I hear the acoustic guitar strumming those chords I know so well and I close my eyes.

“The next stop is…Christopher Street.”

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