Binky The Doormat

March 18, 2008

The lyrics of “Binky The Doormat” read like a string of non sequiturs and inside jokes, but it nonetheless comes together as a fractured, impressionistic portrait of a man thrown into the deep end of sexual confusion and frustration.  If I am to believe what I read on the internet, the title is lifted a cult film that I’ve never seen, and it comes from a sequence in which a depressed clown launches into a self-pitying, coke-fueled rant about his poor luck in relationships. That’s just the starting point, really — this isn’t necessarily a song about a clown, but rather a desperate person with low self-esteem who is willing to humiliate himself to gain approval and acceptance.

Basically, the character in the song is a passive, self-deprecating type who is doing everything he can to stand up for himself despite the nagging feeling that he deserves to be treated badly.  The first verse finds the character playing it cool — there’s a hint of kink, but he’s owning up to feelings of distance and insecurity. In the second verse, he’s feeling a bit more confident and throws in a great little “I’m a grower, not a shower” gag, but he seems addled and confused. Then comes the third verse…yikes. It’s the most confrontational part of the song, but also the moment when we get a sense of his emasculation, and complicity with his own degradation. He manages to defend himself, but in a moment he’s backsliding, and telling his abuser how beautiful they are despite their cruelty. Depending how you read the context, this is either totally hot, or totally pathetic.

An organ note: This song has a brilliant organ part, but it’s buried beneath the guitar in the album mix. It is more audible and prominent in the version featured in Road Movie, but I think I prefer it to be hidden in the mix because it has a nice subliminal effect, and sort of sounds like this tiny bit of self-respect being drowned out by Peter Buck’s overwhelming wall of guitar fuzz. Similarly, I enjoy the way Mike Mills’ whiny shouts — “go away, go away!” — are made to sound tiny and weak.

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55 Responses to “Binky The Doormat”

  1. 2d Says:

    great write-up, matthew! nothing to add. cool song.

  2. Ben Says:

    This song has always seemed really seedy and filthy to me, but in a cool way, if that makes any sense. The line about “secanol and Astroglide” always especially grossed me out, even before I knew what either of those things were.

    And how’s this for some album/context analysis? If ew Adventures In Hi-Fi” is an album about travel (which it is), then “Binky The Doormat” is the seedy one-floor motel you pass on the highway in the middle of the day, and you can only imagine the kinds of horrible and degrading acts happening inside. Maybe a better title would’ve been “Disgusting Sex Motel”.

    wink, wink, smile


  3. That’s a good take, Ben.

  4. protimoi86 Says:

    I was just listening to this one today. Before “Accelerate,” this was the hardest R.E.M. had ever rocked.

  5. protimoi86 Says:

    Oh, and if you listen close on the standard 1996 release, you can hear Mike Mills doing some fantastic “yeah yeah yeaahhhhh” backing vocals in the last chorus. The 5.1 mix on the 2005 reissue has it more audible, thank you Elliot Schiener (i think that was his name.)

    I have disc 1 of R.E.M.’s Sept. 20, 1995 show in front of me right now, i think one of the first Binky performances is on there – cheesy organ part intact!

    Definitely one of my all-time favorite “deep cuts” from the boys.

  6. maclure Says:

    What!? I for one had no idea this was what Binky the Doormat was about. It seems I never actually checked the lyrics to see – for starters, I always thought Mike Mills was saying “No way!”. Weird. Have just checked the lyrics (after google asked me if I meant to look for “Binky the Format” whatever that is) and, honestly, it felt like opening pandora’s box – what a bizarre mash up of sordid images. Seedy motel is right, Ben. I imagine this is a favourite of several people’s but I for one never really got why this song was considered to be so good. The guitar part doesn’t do a lot for me, it’s quite a dirgy, slow tune and the middle 8 is one of the least imaginative bits of music out of any REM song anywhere…

    Changing gears, I’ve just read the review for Accelerate on Brazil’s Globo website – they gave it 7/10. I got a hold of the leaked copy and have written a review on my blog beyondrandom.wordpress.com if anyone’s interested. I have to say, it (the album, not necessarily my blog) really rocks.


  7. This has been one of my favorites for a long time, actually. I really connected with this one as a teenager, and it’s always had a big place in my heart. It’s a very underrated song, but it seems to have a lot of passionate fans.

  8. Paul Alferink Says:

    I have a theory. People who LOVED NAIHF as perhaps a top two REM album love this song. I don’t.

  9. jimmy Says:

    This is really one of my favourite tracks. I especially like the emphatic ‘can’t you see i love your hide ?’ part. The closing ‘can’t you see it?’ comes out with so much despair and a sort of longing, contrasting with the sordidness in the rest of the song. It’s like he wants something more genuine.
    On a musical note : can’t go wrong with the organ.

  10. Dark Bob Says:

    Although I feel NAIHF is REM’s most underated album, this song never did much for me. I love the lyrics! Musically it doesn’t really grab me. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on this one.

  11. Mr Cup Says:

    Seconal and Astroglide: The Housewife’s choice!

    I really had no idea. Talk about innocence lost. I liked some of the lyrics to this song but never really got into it. The chorus kinda bores and Mills really grates by the end of it all. I just want him to rack off!

    However sometimes it hits the spot. Was this left off Monster do you think?

  12. Meriste Says:

    I never put any sexual context to “acorns grow to mighty trees” until you pointed it out.

  13. milesy Says:

    I’m not so sure, Paul A. I’m one of those ‘loved NAIHF’ types, but would name at least 10 songs on the album ahead of this one…

    I never studied the lyrics before, and always wondered why Michael introduced it on RoadMovie with ‘This song is everything you never wanted to know about sex and weren’t afraid to ask…’ Now I know. And, as he suggested, I’m not sure I wanted to…

  14. clare Says:

    I agree, NAIHF is prob in my top 3 albums yet sometimes get ittitated by this one, think it is the music that grates a bit, I do find the lyrics amusing though. Could pick at least 6 songs off the album I like better.

  15. clare Says:

    Interesting spelling of “irritated” there I think you’ll agree!

  16. Paul Alferink Says:

    Yep. Couldn’t tell whether you meant irritated or titillated. I think it’s way sexier if `you

  17. Paul Alferink Says:

    Stupid cat hit the keyboard. . .

    I think it’s sexier but a lot creepier if you meant tittilated. But Michael might be proud.

  18. Justin Says:

    The muffin is peach.

    Hahaha. That sounds like a secret passphrase.

  19. Adam Seddon Says:

    Bill Berry is given a vocal credit in the liner notes, but I can never figure out where he is in the mix. Anyone got any thoughts?

  20. Justin Says:

    Also, incidentally: I hung out after the R.E.M. show at Stubb’s in Austin and got to say hi to Peter Buck. And see Michael hanging out backstage!

    Anyway, I took a few pathetic pictures, some of which you may find interesting:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/shueytexas/sets/72157604164484521/

  21. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Peter’s always got that glass of red wine, Justin, I think that’s red wine (in a plastic cup?)..I’m trying to figure out if that’s the same woman that was with him when I saw him with the Minus Five a few years back. I think it is.(sorry to sound like a gossip columnist)….

  22. kirkl100 Says:

    justin,
    thanks for the photos. funny comment about you saying “hey” to pb. how was the show?

  23. Justin Says:

    The film in question is Shakes the Clown and it should be noted it was produced by IRS Media. It starred Bobcat Goldthwait as an alcoholic clown, and featured appearances by comedians like Adam Sandler, Kathy Griffin and Robin Willliams. And Julie Brown plays the love interest! It’s a fantastic movie and I highly recommend it.

    I always thought of this song as a dialogue between a frustrated housewife and her overbearing husband. Again, the beauty of Stipe lyrics – inviting the listener to interpret.

  24. Rob Says:

    I’ve always seen Bittersweet Me,Be Mine and Binky as part of a trilogy, and not just cause they’re clumped together and all start with the letter B (way too Sesame Street an interpretation). The way the three songs are produced sounds kinda grungy and they all deal with different aspects of love and sex. Binky’s definately the dirtiest of the three though.

  25. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Binky The Doormat has always been REM’s Velvet Underground tribute to me. It has the seedy element, the perverted sex, and the repeated droning music that the Velvets used so well. We know REM admires VU and I’ve always connected this song to the Velvet Underground.

    All that said, for a long time this song did little for me and was part of a string of mediocre or weak songs (Bittersweet Me, Be Mine, Binky, Zither) that seemed to be bookended between and excellent beginning and great end of NAIHF. However, over the years this song has really grown on me until now I like it very much and think that it is a very good track from NAIHF (I am one of those who love this CD).

    Also, why doesn’t Lou Reed do more? And why is the new music he makes so average? He sounds absolutely creepy and powerful on The Killers single “Tranquilize” but none of that seems to come across anymore in his own music or even generally when he works with other artists.

  26. Ben Says:

    Hi-Fi might just be my favorite R.E.M. album, and it’s certainly my favorite since the IRS years (except perhaps for Automatic). I completely love almost every song on the album, and the way they all flow together and build on each other to form a bigger thematic whole just makes it even better. Binky The Doormat is one of the songs I ALMOST completely love, but it’s missing that special “oomph” that songs like Low Desert and Be Mine have in spades.

  27. Ignis Sol Says:

    “Binky the Doormat” has a strange and sexual musical allure to it. I am sure this song’s character hangs out with the ones from “Crush with Eyeliner” and “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” from Monster. Whereas those songs take on a mythical persona and aura, this one seems authentic and real-to-life, he almost sings it in a sexually fevered pant. I guess I can relate to this. :)

  28. MikeyBhoy Says:

    To protimoi86: I love those yeah, yeah, yeah bits but didn’t discover them until after a few years of listening! I always sing along to those…..There are several R.E.M. songs that have bits I didn’t hear at first…it’s nice to discover them! Like “Here’s a little agit for the never-believer….” from MoM in the last chorus of The Great Beyond.


  29. [...] Binky The Doormat The lyrics of “Binky The Doormat” read like a string of non sequiturs and inside jokes, but it nonetheless […] [...]

  30. Aerothorn Says:

    I was delighted (and surprised) to see that this is a favorite of yours, Matthew. As you noted, it’s quite the underrated song – I’ve never seen it included in ANYONE’S “best of” list – I got the impression that it wasn’t a song that was really hated, just one that no one paid particular attention to.

    It was really brought to my attention when I learned that it was the favorite song of my friend’s mother, the one who introduced me to R.E.M. when I was 5 or so. I gave it a listen and I ended up getting really into it – the the point where I frequently sang it as I walked to the bus-stop during my junior year of high school, and if “World Leader Pretend” was my personal anthem my sophmore year, then this was my theme song the year after. Great stuff.

  31. Michael Says:

    I love this song, always have.

    Regarding the organ part: I remember reading a review of Hi-Fi complimenting the ‘gorgeous organ’ in the middle 8, but I was never able to hear this on the album version. It’s clearly audible on Road Movie. I always wondered if maybe it was buried in the mix on the album version because the part was written by Scott McCaughey, and with the band being a ‘closed shop’ when it comes to songwriting, they didn’t feel they could leave it upfront in the mix without crediting Scott as a co-writer. I remember reading once about Peter Holsapple’s frustration at being unable to break into the songwriting side of R.E.M. despite working with them extensively at the end of the 80′s and early 90′s.

    Of course it’s entirely possible that I’m completely wrong, and it just so happened that the live take used for the album version had the organ low down in the mix. Either way, it’s a shame cos it’s a nice part and it really added something to the song.

  32. DJ Says:

    I always felt that Mike Mills’ background vocal was what the narrators inner voice(what he wished he was saying to the antagonist, and that at the end of the song when Michael joins in with Mike what hes saying and what he wants to say tothis person finally sync up.

  33. Kirsten Says:

    Sexy and creepy – just the way I like it! :-)
    Although never being really sure what the song is about, I saw it from the perspective of say, Michael Stipe and a groupie. Good for a bit of fun and kinky sex, but after that – go away, go, go, go! I also thought the line “Can’t you see I love your hide” was “Can’t you see I love your High” which, up to this point, was my favourite line in the song. And with “all the beauty is trapped inside” I thought it was his way of telling them “hey, you’re better than this”.

    Holding out for my chance to one day have Michael to tell me to “go away”

  34. Mr Cup Says:

    ‘You mean this opera involves handcuffs?’
    Has always made me smile. Still does.

  35. Kirsten Says:

    I never saw the “acorn” line as sexual. I thought it was more related to “I’ve outgrown you”

  36. Mr Cup Says:

    Yes. Must remember the acorn metaphor!

  37. milesy Says:

    That’s not red wine in that plastic cup. It’s lemonade!
    Mr Cup, I never got around to asking you where the swings are: are they at Stubbs BBQ? Did I miss the chance to rumble with Peter over Wendell Gee?? (He looks pretty chilled, he must have taken care of you guys…)

  38. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Can’t you see I love your eye ?
    And there should be a line about a nectarine
    Maybe that’s also buried in the mix smewhere

  39. jim jos Says:

    I, too, have thought of this as being their most VU of songs. There are many lyrics here I will understand one day!

    One being, that bit about the oyster and the war. Another being the bit about the acorn (ok, I think I might understand that one.)

    Great pictures. I saw Shakes The Clown before this song came out. I was surprised, to say the least, that R.E.M. made a song with alcoholic clowns name in it.

    I am glad that many people seem to really like this song.

  40. Rob Says:

    I for one would love to see this resurrected on the forthcoming tour. Is Favourite Writer going to feature on this blog? I remember seeing Magnapop as a support act for REM at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 1995, so when that song was covered as a B-side to Bad Day I was thrilled. I’m thinking of this right now cause I’ve Magnapop’s Mouthfeel album on the headphones with nearly a bottle of wine inside of me and life is feeling pretty good.

  41. Paul Alferink Says:

    In one of the REM Bootlegs I have, Stipe tells a story about (Jefferson, I think) bad French. He means to say “Where’s the train. Instead, he’s going around asking people “Where’s the War?” Might be the genesis for that.

  42. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Bertis , I think , Paul, check out lyric annotations to right


  43. “Favorite Writer” is not going to be featured. I don’t plan on being very completist about the covers — basically, the rule is that I’m just hitting the ones that are on proper records, or were concert staples.

  44. Rob Says:

    That makes sense. You can’t knock a boy for a little wishful thinking, though…

  45. Paul Alferink Says:

    I wish I was a punk rock girl with flowers in my hair . . .

  46. Timb Says:

    Matthew are you going to include ‘Fretless’ in the non-album stuff?


  47. Yeah, “Fretless” is forthcoming. I meant to do it months ago.

  48. Rob Says:

    Actually, Matthew, I forgot to thank you for the scathing review of Juno you posted on Fluxblog. For ages I thought I was the only person who didn’t like that film. Best screenplay my ass! No-one talks like that.

  49. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Saturday in the morning.
    Sit outside beside a simple flower.
    Think about the sacrifice of God.
    Imagine being blind in a war zone.
    Find yourself that beauty then .

  50. Paul Alferink Says:

    Okay, booty kicks for anyone who didn’t like Juno. . .
    No one talks like a Quentin Tarintino movie, either. Doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining as hell.


  51. Oh god, I hate Juno with such a white hot intensity. It’s not so much for the terrible dialogue — that’s just scratching the surface of the problems with that horrible screenplay.

  52. Paul Alferink Says:

    Dude. If I was Sinead O’Connor, I’d tear up publicity stills for “Atonement” and tell you to fight the real enemy.

  53. profligateprofiterole Says:

    yeah , Paul , Atonement was dissapointing _BIG _TIME_++
    didn’t catch Juno

  54. Daniel Says:

    Woah. I’ve been eagerly waiting for your Binky entry for some time – it’s the name of my website – and then you go and post it on my 30th birthday.

    This surely is horror movie stuff…

  55. JF Says:

    This is a great song. Helped me bottom out during a really bad break up back when it was released. I love the sugary pitch of the baking vocals singing ‘go away, go away’ – great counterpoint.

    And you’re right about the organ riff. There’s a mix on the b-side of the Electrolite single that has the organ much higher in the mix.

    The MP3 download of Electrolite includes this version (as well as a great remix of King of Comedy by 808 state) and I picked it up recently from MSN Music UK – presumably iTunes and other download stores have it as well.


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