C. THOSE DARN LYRICS; AND OTHER MUSIC-RELATED QUESTIONS
o C1. "What are the words to the chorus of 'Sitting Still?'"
A few years ago, Michael Stipe claimed in a Rolling Stone interview that
the chorus begins "Up to par, Katie bar the kitchen door but not me in."
Careful listening, however, leaves some listeners dubious about "door" at
least. In the album version of the song, it sounds more like "signs" (which
makes a certain amount of sense given the song was reportedly inspired by
Stipe's sister's teaching deaf children.)
In an AOL posting regarding this song Stipe said:
"Sit. still -- come on now, that is an embarrassing collection of
vowels that i strung together some 400 yrs ago! Basically
nonsense... 'Katie bar the kitchen door' is a southern term that
meant you better watch out."
The second line of the chorus has been confirmed by a friend of the band as
being, "Setting trap for love, making a waste of time, sitting still" which
careful listening confirms. In this author's opinion, therefore, the
entire chorus is, "Up to par Katie bars the kitchen signs but not me in,
setting trap for love making a waste of time, sitting still." You may,
however, hear it differently.
o C2. "How exactly do you people think Michael Stipe could have written
lyrics for some songs on Murmur, Reckoning, etc. without having specific
words in mind? He is often quoted as saying 'the earlier songs don't have
lyrics per se.' How does he do that? Seems ridiculous, but at the same
Chris Piuma suggested, on r.m.r: "Take a song that you like but can
remember only a few lines to. Now, while not listening to it, sing it. Most
people either sing 'la la la doo doo doo' or they start making up nonsense
words. Now record yourself doing this. Write down what you sang. It will
probably come out as more or less meaningless stuff that revolves around
that line you did know. OK, now take your lyrics and edit them so that they
fit the song (syllable-wise) and so that the words make sense and the
sentences make an odd sense but the paragraphs make no sense. Then, when
you sing the words, distort them into sounds which might seem like
completely different words. Use this process as an editing tool."
"Voila! You soon have a lyric that isn't a lyric per se." No one is saying
this exactly how Stipe created his early lyrics (or versions one hears on
live tapes from early shows), but it's an example of how this sort of thing
could evolve. (Note that this speculation does not extend to lyrics for
Document and beyond, whose enunciation on the album and denotative meaning
are obviously more clear and deliberate.)
R.E.M. lyrics (or at least our collective best guesses) are available via
o C3. "What the heck is the chorus of 'The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight'?"
Well, it's not "Call me in Jamaica," or even "Only in Chalawaika." The
chorus is "Call when you try to wake her up, call when you try to wake
her." (Stipe's alternate version related on AOL was "Call me if you try to
wake her up.")
o C4. "What is that weird sound/voice at the beginning of 'Superman'?"
It's reputed to be the sound that occurs when you pull the string on a
certain talking Japanese Godzilla doll. (Translated: "This is a special
news report. Godzilla has been sighted in Tokyo Bay. The attack on it by
the Self-Defense Force has been useless. He is heading towards the city.
o C5. "What do the lyrics to 'What's the Frequency, Kenneth?' mean?"
Stipe was quoted in several interviews at the time of Monster's release as
saying it is written from the perspective of a person who's getting older
trying to understand current youth culture.
Note that the lyric (printed inside) contains a quote from Richard
Linklater, director of the film Slacker: "Withdrawal in disgust is not the
same as apathy" -- a rebuttal of sorts to older generations who would claim
Generation Xers, or "slackers," are merely spoiled, lazy brats. (This line
of argument is that "slackers" have chosen to exclude themselves from
mainstream society as a protest against its empty values.)
It has also been noted that the "shirt of violent green" mentioned in the
lyric may by a reference to a Spider Robinson short story entitled "Lady
Slings the Booze," which also makes use of the phrase "What's the
o C6. "What is the connection between 'WTF,K?' and Dan Rather?"
The title of the song itself, it needs to be explained, refers indirectly
to the incident in Oct. 1986 in which Dan Rather, anchor for C.B.S.'s
network news broadcast, was attacked by two unknown men in the street in
New York City wearing suits and sunglasses. The men kept asking Rather
"What is the frequency?" and called him "Kenneth" while they shoved and
accosted him; to date the incident has never been explained completely
(though some have theorized that "Kenneth" might be Ken Scheafer, an
electronics expert with whom Rather had worked in connection with Soviet TV
broadcasts). Since the incident, "What's the frequency?" and calling a
clueless person a "kenneth" have become a trendy youth culture
catch-phrases (which is probably, why Stipe wanted to use it, rather than
an interest in Rather).
Very recently, a man was arrested in conjunction with the incident and
identified by Rather as his attacker. Reportedly, he was a
mentally-disturbed individual who had fantasized many conspiracy theories
about the media being against him, and was also responsible for the murder
of a CBS technician.
Please note that the supposed reference to Rather and CBS news in the
"Ignoreland" lyric was incorrect, so there is *no* tie-in that we know of
between the two songs regarding the newsanchor. Mr. Rather, meanwhile, has
taken the "tribute" in good spirits and has been quoted as saying he has
always liked R.E.M., that he owns the Monster CD, and suggested jokingly
that the band's name really stands for "Rather's Excellent Musicians,"
before proceeding to sing the chorus of "It's the End of the World As We
Know It," during a David Letterman appearance. Also, before the band's 1995
appearance at New York's Madison Square Garden, Rather joined them onstage
during a sound check for a quick rendition of WtFK?
Also note in passing that the album Lolita Nation by Game Theory, released
in 1987 and produced by Mitch Easter (there's another R.E.M. connection)
contains a similarly titled song: "Kenneth -- What's the Frequency?";
WTF,K? is not a cover of that, of course -- the resemblance pretty much
stops at the title. Other newsgroup readers here have noted that the phrase
may also have popped up in the movie "The Conversation" and in Dan Clowes'
o C7. "Who is Michael Stipe referring to in the song 'Can't Get There from
Here,' in the lines, 'Brother Ray can sing my song,' and the last line,
'Thank you, Ray'?"
In It Crawled... Bill Berry and Peter Buck are quoted discussing this song,
which they refer to as a "jazz ballad." Bill says, "We wanted to get an
Otis [Redding] sound on that one," and Peter elaborates, "It's like a
tongue-in-cheek tribute to Ray Charles and James Brown and all the great
Georgia music giants." Given these quotes, a probable answer is "Ray
Charles." (Remember too that Michael Stipe often cites, among his musical
influences, singers whose records were in his parents' record collection
when he was young, like Elvis, Henry Mancini, and possibly Ray Charles.)
o C8. "Where did Stipe get the words in 'Voice of Harold' (from Dead Letter
Stipe used the liner notes to a gospel album in the studio during the
recording of Reckoning with the same backing music track as "Seven Chinese
Brothers." See the .gif files of the front and back covers of the album on
the WWW Home Page for more information about actual text (there is also a
text transcription for those without graphics.
This graphic file and transcribed text were obtained from a photocopy of
the actual album still in the possession of Reflection Studios where the
song was recorded. If you are familiar with the lyrics, you can now see
that Stipe didn't sing the entire text, and what he did sing wasn't always
o C9. "Who is 'Monty' in 'Monty Got a Raw Deal' on AfTP?"
Montgomery Clift, actor. He was considered to be one of the most handsome
movie stars ever in Hollywood at his prime, though he lost much of those
looks in a car accident. His films included "Raintree County," "A Place in
the Sun," and "The Misfits." He died fairly young due to depression and
alcohol abuse. A biography of Clift, written by Robert Laguardia, was
published in 1977.
Answers to questions about other real people mentioned in R.E.M. lyrics can
be found in the document, "Real People Mentioned in REM Songs, v.1.2"
researched by Gary Nabors and periodically posted to the group (email
rg...@cornell.edu for a copy if you missed it).
o C10. "Who speaks during the break in 'Exhuming McCarthy'?"
From Marcus Gray's It Crawled From The South:
"...the spoken-word middle eight, lifted from a McCarthy
documentary the band watched during the album's mixing stage. The
film, Point of Order, takes as its climax a key moment during the
televised army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 (the Senator was engaged
in trying to root out subversives in the armed forces). "On
June 9th, McCarthy repeatedly tried to ruin, by associating him
with a left wing group, a young law associate of the Army counsel
Joseph N. Welch. The associate was not involved in the hearings,
and Welch replied to McCarthy's irrelevant and spiteful harangues
thus: 'Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have
done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last,
have you no sense of decency?'"
o C11. "What does the title of 'Green Grow the Rushes' refer to?"
It may refer to the poem, "Green Grow The Rashes," by the Scottish poet
Robert Burns (1759-1796), whose opening verse reads,
Green grow the rashes, O;
Green grow the rashes, O;
The sweetest hours that e'er I spend,
Are spent among the lasses, O!
It has been noted that Burns' was but one of many variations of a
then-popular lyric by this name, many of them bawdy, and most sung by
workers or soldiers to while away the hours. A historically- unconfirmed
story says that immigrants to the New World from the British Isles were
especially fond of the song (their "finest worksong"?), and to the panish
born population the Anglo-Americans who sang this work song became known as
"greengrows" (later shortened to "gringos"). Since Stipe has been quoted as
saying the song concerns American exploitation of migrant (Mexican) workers
by U.S. corporations, one might speculate he had some or all of these
possibilities in mind.
Rec.music.rem reader <iho...@inforamp.net> suggested another song of the
title might be alluded to. The folk song called "Green Grow the Rushes, O"
completely unconnected to the Burns lyric, is very, very old; it was first
written down in Hebrew in the 16th Century and is probably much older.
There are many versions and it is a popular Christmas Carol and harvest
I'll sing you one, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What is your one, O
One is one and all alone and evermore shall be so.
Whichever traditional song Stipe is alluding to, the premise that it was
identified with Anglo-American colonists is probably still valid.
o C12. "What is the snippet of music heard on some versions of Reckoning,
but which is not on current CD recordings of the album?"
People often ask about the fragment of song that appears after "Little
America" on early versions of the LP pressing of Reckoning; this is not
referring to the intro to "Rockville". This somewhat abstract sequence
fades in, lasts about ten seconds, then fades out, and has vocals with
indecipherable lyrics. Mitch Easter (producer) called this studio outtake
"found art," and it was drawn out and edited by Mitch and Don Dixon at
Reflection Studios. (For those who have the R.E.M. Succumbs video
collection, it plays during the clip before "Left of Reckoning" that
depicts a person trying to walk through a hurricane rain storm, and is
repeated at the very end of the "LoR" footage.) The recent "gold CD"
re-issue of Reckoning restored this clip to the album proper.
o C13. "What is that song 'Photograph' that Michael Stipe sings, and why
wasn't it on an R.E.M. album?"
The compilation Born to Choose CD features, among other things, the track
"Photograph," co-written and performed by R.E.M. and Natalie Merchant. The
album was put together to raise funds for the non-profit Pro-Choice
organization NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League).
o C14. "What is that song where Michael Stipe sings 'You were in my
Stipe sang background vocals for the song "Your Ghost" which appears on the
solo album Hips & Makers (Sire/4AD) by Throwing Muses' lead vocalist
o C15. "What is the R.E.M. song with the line 'First we take Manhattan,
then we take Berlin...'?"
This is a cover of the Leonard Cohen song "First We Take Manhattan," which
first appeared on the Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan and later appeared
as a b-side on a single for "Drive" (see the discography for more details
about releases). It was originally on Cohen's album I'm Your Man.
o C16. "Has Michael Stipe done a duet with Tori Amos?"
Amos was quoted as saying that she and Stipe were "talking about doing a
duet for a film called `Don Juan de Marco and the Centerfold.'" (Rolling
Stone #691, p. 20). News reports indicated, first, that the song (entitled
"It Might Hurt a Little Bit") was not included because Ms. Amos was unhappy
with some of the other cuts on the album, and then that it wasn't included
because the producers of the movie had dropped it in favor of a more
marketable Bryan Adams song.
Later, it was reported that that the cut would appear on a soundtrack album
for a new film called "Empire Records" sometime late in July 1995 (but it
did not), and then that it would be on the soundtrack for the Winona Ryder
film "How to Make an American Quilt" (which it was not). As of the release
of Amos' Boys for Pele album, it was still not clear if the song would be
released (one might do well to keep an eye out for it on the many Tori Amos
b-sides and EP releases).
Recently, rec.music.rem regular <rf...@ultranet.ca> reported the following
information from Tori Amos on the single: "She told me the record companies
are `fighting over it,' and she seemed pretty down about the possibility of
anything happening with this song."
o C17. "In 'Country Feedback," what is 'Est' in the line, 'Self help, self
pain, EST, psychics, fuck all'? Are they referring to electro-shock
No. Electro-Shock Therapy, usually called Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT)
is not pronounced like a word, but is pronounced as separate letters
("E-C-T" rather than "EST"). The EST in "Country Feedback" is probably the
self-assertiveness encounter therapy called EST, which stood for "Erhard
Sensitivity Training". Werner Erhard, in the seventies, concocted weekend
"self-improvement" seminars to make people "tougher" and more
"responsible." He made tons of money by locking large groups of future
yuppies in Holiday Inn convention rooms, yelling at them a lot, and
refusing to let them leave, even to go to the bathroom (this was supposed
to make them more successful in life).
o C18. "Where is Rockville, in '(Don't Go Back to) Rockville'?"
From the book Remarks, The Story of R.E.M. by Tony Fletcher: "Mike Mills
too was improving [his songwriting]. He wrote a plea to ... a new girl in
Athens who had been making a big impact on all the boys, begging her not to
spend the summer of '80 in Maryland. 'Don't Go Back To Rockville', with its
memorable chorus and frantic pacing, became an instant live favorite." The
original version of "Rockville" had a harder rock sound; the band worked up
the country and western style as a joke for friend and band lawyer Bertis
Downs. This new version was so successful they recorded it that way.
o C19. "What does the term 'Star 69' refer to, in the song of that name on
For those who don't have the service in their area, many phone companies
now offer a service that allows one to dial directly back to the number
from which your most recent incoming caller dialed. The sequence of buttons
to activate this service is "* - 6 - 9", and some of the phone companies
offering the service just call it "Star 69," while others just refer to it
as "Last Number Callback" or something similar. It presumably was developed
to allow people to more easily track down the perpetrators of prank,
obscene, telemarketing, and other types of harassing calls, as well as to
allow you to recontact someone who has called you, whose number you don't
have, and from whom you might have accidentally been disconnected.
o C20. "Who was Andy Kaufman and why does Michael Stipe sing about him in
'Man on the Moon'?"
Andy Kaufman was a celebrated conceptual comedian from the 1970's who,
while most popularly known for his role on the sitcom "Taxi," also became
infamous through his stand-up comedy routines for a performance-art style
of character creation, audience manipulation, and general strangeness. His
act was as much an indirect commentary on the act of performing itself
(which would obviously interest Michael Stipe) and perhaps even the act of
believing in something, or reality, itself (which seems to be what 'MotM'
is largely about).
More information on Kaufman can be found on the web at URL
o C21. "What is an e-bow, from 'E-bow the Letter'?"
A hand-held electronic gadget that-when held over the strings of an
electric guitar-produces a characteristic sustained tone (yes, it is used
by Peter Buck on the track). [For more information surf to www.ebow.com.]
o C22. "What is that being said before 'Be Mine'?"
It sounds like someone saying, perhaps on a CB radio, "...Ah, speed zone up
here, too." Mike Mills mentioned in an interview that he recorded a demo
version of the song on the tour bus, so perhaps the clip is meant to allude
D. QUESTIONS ON R.E.M.'s LIVE PERFORMANCES
o D1. "What is all this talk about Bingo Hand Job? Who are they?"
Bingo Hand Job was the name that R.E.M. went under when they played two
"secret" gigs at a London club called The Borderline around the time of the
release of Out Of Time. There are many bootlegs of the show.
o D2. "Who is Peter Holsapple -- is/was he a member of R.E.M.?"
Peter Holsapple was the unofficial "fifth member" of the band during the
Green tour and the promotional tour for Out Of Time. At last report, Peter
was in The Continental Drifters, along with ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson and
singer Susan Cowsill. Peter, Vicki, and Susan also opened Go-Go's shows in
L.A., with two others, billed as "Psycho Sisters." He was also a member of
the band the dB's.
o D3. "What is the name of that song in Tourfilm that goes 'Hey man I'm
making moves, and I am so much stronger than you...'?"
Michael is singing the first verse of "Future 40's (String of Pearls)". It
was a duet that Michael cowrote and sang with Syd Straw (ex-Golden
Palominos) on her solo album Surprise.
o D4. "What about the one that goes 'If we close the door, the night could
"The After Hours", by the Velvet Underground.
o D5. "What about the other one that goes 'We live as we dream alone, To
break the spell, we mix with the others...'"
Originally by the Gang of Four, "We Live As We Dream, Alone."
o D6. "And what about the acapella thing JMS sings that begins, 'Evenin'
a-comin' soon....' done before 'I Believe' in some shows?"
That is the beginning of "Harpers," cowritten by Stipe and Hugo Largo's
Mimi Goese, from that band's album Drum, which Stipe both produced and
o D7. "I heard a version of U2's song 'One' with Michael Stipe singing.
What was that?"
Michael Stipe and Mike Mills, along with U2's Adam Clayton and Larry
Mullen, Jr., appeared at the Inaugural Festivities in January, 1993 under
the name Automatic Baby, performing U2's "One". Michael Stipe also
performed that evening with the 10,000 Maniacs on the numbers "Candy
Everybody Wants" and "To Sir With Love." It also appeared on a limited
edition promotional CD put out by an Atlanta radio station.
o D8. "And what about that song on 'MTV Unplugged' which Mike Mills sings,
that goes, 'Love is all around us...'?"
It is a cover of the Troggs' song, "Love Is All Around." (Note the group
Wet Wet Wet recently did a cover of the tune as well, rather different in
style.) It can be found on the CD single: Radio Song (Tower Of Luv Bug
Mix)/Love Is All Around (Live Acoustic) /Belong (Live) [Warner Brothers
9-40229-2 (CD) November 1991 (US)], on the soundrack for the film I Shot
Andy Warhol, as well as bootleg recordings of the MTV Unplugged appearance.
o D9. "What is that thing in Michael Stipe's ear, a hearing aid -- is he
going deaf or something?"
Stipe, like many other performers, wears an earpiece monitor when the band
performs live on stage. It is an earphone connected to the mixing board,
and allows him to hear himself singing, and is analogous to the small
angled loudspeakers you see on stage in front of the other musicians. In a
large amphitheater filled with very loud noise, one can well imagine how
easy it would be for the singer to get drowned out and not be able to hear
him or herself, and this earpiece monitor helps prevent that.
o D10. "So what *are* all the songs by other artists which R.E.M. has
On official releases, the following songs have been covered:
Song Original Artist
(All I Have To Do Is) Dream Everly Brothers
Academy Fight Song Mission of Burma
The After Hours Velvet Underground
Arms of Love Robin Hitchcock
Baby, Baby The Vibrators
Christmas Time is Here The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Dark Globe Syd Barrett
Deck the Halls (traditional)
Femme Fatale Velvet Underground
First We Take Manhattan Leonard Cohen
Funtime Iggy Pop/ David Bowie
(Ghost) Reindeer in the Sky,
(orig. "Ghost Riders...") The Outlaws
Good King Wenceslas (traditional)
I Walked With a Zombie Roky Erikson
I Will Survive (perf. By Gloria Naylor)
King of the Road Roger Miller
Last Date Floyd Cramer
Love is All Around The Troggs
Moon River (by Henry Mancini) Jerry Butler
Only in America Leiber/Stoller/Mann/Weil,
perf. by Jay and the Americans
Pale Blue Eyes Velvet Underground
Parade of the Wooden Soldiers (Tchaikovsky, orig. "March of...")
See No Evil Television
Sex Bomb Flipper
Silver Bells (writer Jay Livingston/Ray Evans)
Skin Tight Ohio Players
Sponge Vic Chesnutt
Summertime (writer Gershwin)
Superman The Clique
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (trad.; made popular by The Weavers)
There She Goes Again Velvet Underground
Tighten Up Archie Bell and the Drells
Tom's Diner Susanne Vega
Toyland (writer Glen MacDonough & Victor
Toys in the Attic Aerosmith
Wall of Death Richard Thompson
Where's Captain Kirk? Athletico Spizz
Wichita Lineman Jimmy Webb (perf. By Glen Campbell)
Of course, those with recordings of R.E.M.'s live shows know that the band
has performed covers of even more songs than this, a range that includes
tunes as diverse as Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" and the Mamas and the Papas'
"California Dreaming"; browsing the Bootleg Discography will give you an
idea of some of these .
o D11. "What's everyone's favorite song/album?"
PLEASE be aware that asking everyone on the group to post what their
favorite song, or album, or favorite five songs, or favorite two albums, or
favorite combination of video and song, or favorite song R.E.M. has
covered, etc., etc., is considered poor netiquette. Hundreds to thousands
of people read this newsgroup every day; "favorite" posts will get
incredibly boring after about the third respondent. No one can remember
what everyone has said, and in the end it's really pointless.
The FAQ will soon include results of a poll conducted among rec.music.rem
members that will answer this question.
[Continued in Part 3 of 3]