Moral Kiosk

July 18, 2007

The subject matter of “Moral Kiosk” is obscure, but two things are clear enough: It’s got something to do with hypocrisy, and there’s an undeniable spark of sexuality buried beneath its sharp chord changes, odd harmonies, and brisk beat. The song churns and burns with a hidden, repressed passion that reveals itself in eroticized rituals, coded messages, and stifled aggression. The song sounds just as uptight as the stuffy ideologues it seems to critique — the track is charged up with a libidinous energy that continues to build up without ever getting much of a release.


58 Responses to “Moral Kiosk”

  1. Bandwagon03 Says:

    Theres a subject to Moral Kiosk?

    LOL, it always seemed to me to be a rambling, incoherent experiment between vocals and chord changes… πŸ˜‰

    It fits in perfect with Murmur, and i cant imagine it being on a different album.

  2. Ignis Sol Says:

    I love everything about this song. The opening, the vocal, the tiny music interludes, the build up to “so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk,” to the battling vocals that follow singing “inside….dark, twilight (?)”

    Matthew, your review is perfect.

  3. Bruno Says:

    I’m back to something I’ve tried before.

    I don’t claim to know in the least – I don’t even know a lot of the lyrics here – but I tend to go with Bandwagon03 on this. I always thought it was just Buck, Mills and Berry having fun with sharp edges and tuneful energy. And then Stipe throwing bits and pieces of whatever words worked, sounded cool to him or just had the right amount of syllables, vowels and consonants in the right places to be twisted into good words. All respect, I don’t hear hidden sexuality and eroticized rituals (maybe that’s the lyrics I’m not sure of). I just hear having fun with sounds without too much message or meaning while the band has a good time jumping enthusiastically into a great melody.

  4. Fragile Says:

    First post, hopefully not making a fool of myself…
    …but I always assumed that the Moral Kiosk had something to do with a confessional.
    Not sure it really matters though; it’s a great song whatever it’s about.

  5. Bruno Says:

    Back again. After my last comment, just thinking through the song by memory it does seem as though the ‘So much more attractive, inside the moral kiosk’ lines were something Stipe centered the song around and may have held more conscious/thematic meaning. Moral kiosk aren’t words you would just produce off-the-cuff.

  6. transformerdog Says:

    the point of the song is simple
    ottomans are over-rated
    sing anythng to a catchy tune
    and people will believe you

  7. Kirsten Says:

    Like the rest of you, I’ve never really been sure what this one is about (if anything). I presumed it was politcal with words like “scratch the scandals”, “try to shock”, “idle hands” and being “more attractive inside the Moral Kiosk”. As in when politicians do something they shouldn’t the go to the kiosk and buy some ‘morals’ to look better.
    Or maybe not.
    Either way, the music is why I love this song. It’s so strange and inventive and throw in Michaels melody and Mike’s harmonies you have the perfect REM song. And it’s so much fun to sing the “inside, cold, dark, fire, twilight” part.

    Love it – it’s one of about 4 on Murmur I claim to be my favourite πŸ™‚

  8. Bruno Says:

    I heard this and it has nothing to do with REM but it’s great so I can’t resist. A conundrum to twist your brain into little knots…

    3 guys go to a restaurant. They decide to dine dutch. The bill comes to 30 dollars. They pay 10 dollars each. The waiter takes the money to the till and realizes he should have only charged 25 and has overcharged them by 5 dollars. He decides however to keep 2 dollars for himself. He returns and gives 1 dollar to each of the diners. So now they have each paid 9 dollars.

    9×3=27, the waiter kept 2. Total = 29 dollars.

    The question: Where’s the other dollar?

    Now think.
    Now back to REM.

  9. Kirsten Says:

    Bruno, you’re giving me a headache….

  10. jim jos Says:

    ha, I remember this one Bruno!

    The answer becomes clear if you subtract, its misleading when you multiply. Just take the thirty, subtract three dollars from that and then the waiter’s two = 25 bucks.

    You don’t divide by thirty, that was an incorrect bill amount.

    Bill 25.00 30 paid. two is taken and three is given back.

  11. Kirsten Says:

    Yeah, jimjos stole my thunder. The $27 includes the waiters $2 tip. So, it’s $27 plus the $3 returned to the customers.

  12. transformerdog Says:

    in all seriousness, “life is more attractive inside the moral kiosk”….I think of kiosk in this instance as not a place where one buys something -as in a coffee kiosk—but more as in an exclusive group or place–In other words ,”Live your life with a moral compass, have morals that apply …That kinda life is ultimately more attractive and fulfilling .” , despite what one might see on first glance…despite the temptations…I’ve always read the lyric that way.

    Second verse makes a reference to Horae, which if you’ll go to Wickepedia you’ll see that it puts REM in some select company .

    jimjos for prez
    kirsten for sec. of commerce
    we’ll right this listing ship yet
    maybe I’ll get a social security check after all

    “the track is charged up with a lubidinous energy that continues to buildup without ever getting much of a release”–say what ?– Shall I mention my rotator cuff tear here?______Signed, Lefty

  13. jim jos Says:

    the lyrical meaning behind this song is what gives me a headache!
    Loving lyrics, I find it hard to think that something means nothing, but one can go around in circles trying to figure out this little ditty. Perhaps the words are just random and meaningless…but it can be fun to read too much into them and try.

    (Scratch the scandals in the twilight)
    Always thought of this as a list of things to be done, when something is done, it is scratched off the list.
    The twilight must tie in with the twilight in the chorus.
    (Trying to shock but instead)
    They are scandals! By doing them you would think you would shock someone, but instead of shocking…
    (Idle hands all orient to her)
    Idle hands = devils workshop, instead of shocking someone, they instead bring about a familiarity (or orientation) of a sexual partner.
    (Pass a magic pillow under head)
    I take this as being a sexual experience with the woman in question.
    (It’s so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk
    Inside, cold, dark, fire, twilight)
    The fact that the scandal was made, wasn’t shocking to the person who did it, led to a good sexual experience leads me to think that the above chorus is mentioned tongue in cheek. Inside the kiosk its cold and dark. Outside the kiosk there are magic pillows!

    (They scratch the scandals in the twilight)
    the people/woman he meets in the twilight do the same thing as he does.
    (She was laughing like a Horae)
    Horae is a goddess of social order, such as justice, so the woman’s laughter might seem just.
    (Put that knee in sour landslide)
    by taking a knee, you are stopping the sour landslide,
    (Take this step to dash a roving eye)
    perhaps being promiscuous is the normal way of things, those who aren’t, who do not take a step away from morals, will inevitably develop a roving eye.
    (It’s so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk
    Inside, cold, dark, fire, twilight
    Inside, cold, dark, fire, twilight)
    again the sentiment of living outside the hypercritical moral kiosk is better than being in the cold, dark, twilight inside.
    I think it makes most sense when you think of the fire (passion?) being what is cold and dark there.

    ahhh to ponder the young Stipes poetry on Murmur!

    I need a life! But thanks for reading!

  14. Paul Alferink Says:

    Too explaination about this song. Buck has said that it’s about religious hypocracy. The line about it being nicer to be inside the place deciding morality look out instead of outside looking in.

    Somewhere else, I think someone said something about there being a kiosk on the Campus in Athens were people posted thing about parties and get togethers. How the two are related, I have no idea.

  15. I feel like I’m running the R.E.M. equivalent of a Bible study group.

  16. transformerdog Says:

    I don’ see that , Man , I don’t get the feel of sarcasm AT ALL from “so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk”..

    jimjos, here is your throat back .thanks for the loan

  17. Kirsten Says:

    I always presumed that “so much more attractive inside the Moral Kiosk” was buying yourself fake morals to make yourself look better.
    I don’t know, I’m still confused by that brain teaser – that’s a harsh way to start the morning!

  18. transformerdog Says:

    And one more thing , by moral I am not referring to sexual morality because I pretty much believe that anything goes sexually as long as both parties are ready , willing , and able , and old enough to know what is going on (and you’re not cheating) . Referring to human decency, loving thy neighbor as thyself, treating him/her accordingly.

  19. Mr Cup Says:

    I tended to read it as an attack on an institution that acts immoraly and was completley blind to it’s own ills, which kind of fits the church rather well. Or a Newspaper, say.

  20. Kirsten Says:

    Mr Cup, I totally get the Newspaper thing. You’d buy a newspaper from a kiosk, too…

  21. Mr Cup Says:

    …and ‘roving eye’ suggests a reporter or paparazzi..

  22. Ignis Sol Says:

    All of you are so much more attractive inside THIS (modern) moral kiosk.

    I am now seeing the “libidinous energy” described by Matthew. And now very intrigued by Matthew.

  23. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    This song is catchy but way too obscure lyrically for me to comment on intelligently.

    I just saw the movie “The Number 23” – not truly great but very interesting.

    Any of you like Ryan Adams?

  24. maclure Says:

    I like Ryan Adams, but a lot of my friends think I’m talking about “Bryan” with the same surname, which I’m not…

  25. Mr Cup Says:

    I think it would be just great if Ryan did a cover of “summer of ’69”.
    Or called his next album “waking up the neighbours”.

  26. David T. Says:


    I’m what you might call burgeoning fan of Ryan Adams…I saw him here in Memphis last week w/the Cardinals, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen by anyone in a couple of years. I don’t have most of his records, though…I have “29,” excerpts from “Cold Roses,” and the new one–all of which I love and which, luckily for me, were all featured in the concert–but I haven’t heard most of his earlier, better known (I presume?) work. I’m especially a big fan of (1) his voice and (2) his rambling story-type songs, e.g., Carolina Rain, Strawberry Wine.

  27. transformerdog Says:

    Ignis , and Matthew is very intrigued by you , he’s trying to figure out how to give you his contact info without the rest of us seeing..(You both shall be released from the cold , hard clutches of unchosen celibacy …..But , what about me ? WHAT ABOUT ME?)Thus Spoke The Poor Boy.

  28. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’m pretty sure that the pairing of the words Moral and Kiosk is sarcastic. I mean, how seriously can you take a moral authority making proclimations from a shack?

    We probably have to start a Holy War over this disagreement. Just give me a moment as I climb into my Ethical Lemonade Stand.

  29. transformerdog Says:

    you know Paul , I have come to the conclusion that it is sarcastic, (mostly due to the “dark twilight” in there angle ), misleading though, very much so , because the inflection in the words DOES NOT indicate that at all. Now , what about the instrumentation of this song? all meaty beaty big and bouncy herky jerky giddy hopping along like little kids in their rejection of THAT “moral” kiosk an there way to buy a new set of ottomans

  30. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’d buy that, except I tripped over the ottoman one too many times.

    A shiny nickel to anyone naming that reference . . .

  31. Ignis Sol Says:

    Transformerdog, my contact information is posted with my photo inside the moral kiosk.

    And now, where is yours?

  32. *cues Dick Van Dyke Show theme song*

    Moral Kiosk has words to live by (assuming I’ve gotten them right):

    “Ottomans are Oriental! Bleh!

    There’s a magic pillow on her. HEH!”

  33. Ignis Sol Says:

    Greg, the line goes “idle hands all orient to her” according to the Lyric Archive.

    However, you are on to something since the word “kiosk” derives from the word “kâşk” (and) is currently used to refer to an old Ottoman style building (Wikipedia).

    Also (again, Wikipedia) the word, which is of Persian origin, refers to an object that acts as a shadow or shade-maker. I do like that shadow, shade-maker reference.

    “idle hands all orient to her” now takes on new meaning to me. Talk about ingriguing.

  34. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Ya know, sometimes I have a sneaky suspicion that Michael checks up on these blogs and has a good laugh. All this deep discussion about the lyrics to Moral Kiosk, and he probably wrote them in a drunken stupor at 3 am in the early 80’s as a meaningless, random, word association list because the band wanted to debut some new kickin’ music at a party the next night and he knew the song needed words!

  35. Ignis Sol Says:

    Maybe he should get drunk more often. πŸ˜‰

  36. Paul Alferink Says:


    I’m sorry. Dick Van Dyke is incorrect. Nice guess though. It would make sense. . .

  37. transformerdog Says:

    I don’t know the answer, Paul.
    Ignis , that is very interesting info there.

    BWD, In my opinion (being somewhat of a nonsense writer myself, stream of consciousness type stuff/words put together because they sound cool together , not because they necessarily mean anything, if I am in that sort of mood).. in my opinion that sorta thing happens with rock lyrics a lot. Of course , the words have to fit with a certain feeling, can’t just be any old word , you know? Supposedly , John Lennon wrote the words to ‘I Am The Walrus’ as a result of having a typewriter by the side of his bed and typing the first thing in his head upon awakening over a series of days..supposedly..Don’t know how accurate that story is…

  38. jim jos Says:


    I have heard from reliable sources that Lennon wrote “I am the Walrus” after he heard a siren from an ambulance going off.
    Elementary Penguin singing Hare Krishna = Allan Ginsberg.

    I am off to “scratch some scandals in the twilight”
    those of you inside your cold, dark Moral Kiosks, do not point any judgmental fingers towards me!

  39. Actually, I don’t think about lyrics very often. But I see the point of guessing meanings, especially when it’s about text born in Michael Stipe’s mind. He’s a perfectionist, I think ever since. So – I just think about how I would do it – what about if he does not research synonyms with meanings referring to context X but only if you know about Y etc.

    But I think he spits out words. Then thinks about why these words are there, hich words, when, and why. Then explains for himself the connection of these kind of automatic words to his current thoughts.

    My try with Moral Kiosk:
    I used to understand “kiosk” as a or the place to get information. So if you are there – at or in – you know; and if you’re not there – at or in – then you don’t. “Moral” could refer to society’s view; or in other words to old-fashioned (parents’) thoughts (why not, Michael Stipe was just about 22 or 23 writing this. Just like me now, by the way). All in all: in a generally capitulating, conceding situation it is “more attractive” to be where to good old-fashioned view of things (propaganda?) is believed:

    Scratch the scandals in the twilight
    = provocate, by all means! Against the grown-ups…

    Trying to shock but instead
    Idle hands all orient to her
    = Old people’s hands charging her then

    Pass a magic pillow under head
    = As an antidotal to this charge and the whole situation about not agreeing with older people just THINK different…

    Okay, now I think I have just run into complete crap.
    Good night by the way.

  40. jim jos Says:


    tripped over too many ottomans is a reference to Dead Milkman is it not?

    What did you bring me Daddy…well I brought you death!!!

  41. Kirsten Says:

    I tripped over the ottoman
    One too many times
    I tripped over the ottoman
    Until I lost my mind


  42. jim jos Says:

    we should all have an in depth discussion on the true lyrical meanings of “Takin retards To the Zoo”, Matthew will you start a Dead Milkmen board next?

  43. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    My wife comes home tonight from two weeks away! Maybe I’ll get to “scratch some sandals in the twilight”! πŸ™‚

    Maybe that expression doesn’t mean what I think it does (its like knockin’ boots, right? – except liberal collegiate/art types wear sandals instead?!) πŸ˜‰

  44. transformerdog Says:

    Jesus wore sandals and Jesus is a liberal. Hey Ignis, how do you type the a

  45. Kirsten Says:

    Jimjos – before or after Tom Petty and The Smiths? Poor Matthew’s going to be very busy over the next few years.

    BWD – I don’t wont to dwell too much on High Speed Train, but maybe you could wrestle her for a spoon inside your sleeping bag….

  46. transformerdog Says:

    Jesus wore sandals and Jesus is a liberal…. Hey Ignis, how do you type the squiggly line s thing and the double dot over the o thing ? ( I know they have names-BTW–:) )

    This song now is different to me. Cool.

  47. Paul Alferink Says:

    YAY! Dead Milkmen is right. I’d like to argue that “Methodist Coloring Book” is a sorely overlooked song in the American Lexicon.

    Congrats , Jimjos and Kristen! You get a shiny new nickel! Just post you name, address, telephone, e-mail, mothers maiden name and SS# (Or whatever the equivalent is were you live) on this unsecured forum and said nickel is all yours.

  48. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks Paul!

    Get me to the train on time
    Take this nickel, make a dime
    Take this penny make it into a necklace when I leave.

  49. maclure Says:

    Still on the road at mo… checking into this increasingly surreal and dare I say it “intimate” blog keeps me in a good mood.

  50. adam Says:

    certainly never seemed sexual to me. very strange reading of this song.

  51. Ignis Sol Says:

    Transformerdog, regarding the special characters: I have magical powers. Do you?

    Adam, I had the same reaction regarding the sexual translation of this song. I am still sooo intrigued and turned on!

  52. transformerdog Says:

    Ignis , Fly Baby Fly
    Fly above this vast unruly molcajete
    Be good , be real good

  53. Ignis Sol Says:

    You got me! that’s all I can say, dude! πŸ™‚

  54. 2d Says:

    wow. sexual sparks are really flying round here! we’ll see what happens when matthew reviews “i don’t sleep, i dream” πŸ˜›

  55. Ignis Sol Says:

    I love “I Don’t Sleep I Dream”

    I can’t wait for that review.

    Yes, I am still “Up”

    It is still early in Seattle

  56. Paul Alferink Says:

    My fave of monster. Who doesn’t love the opening, no non-sense Bill Berry, come hither drums. Who even knew drums could be come hither.

    I’m not entire sure that they would settle for a cup of coffee, either.

  57. transformerdog Says:

    oh Paul, you’re so cute

  58. Mary Alice Says:

    To me it’s kind of idealistic lyrics that is that same theme as “All the Right Friends” It’s more attractive inside the Moral Kiosk means he has friends that he knows and trusts (they have morals he agrees with)and he would rather be with them than anyone else.

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