You Are The Everything

June 24, 2008

“You Are The Everything” is a rarity in the R.E.M. catalog, at least in the sense that it’s one of very few songs Michael Stipe has written that expresses a deep fear of the future. At the start of each verse, the singer nakedly declares his anxiety, and pointedly, it applies to both himself and the world around him. Rather than to elaborate on this dread, he copes by “eviscerating” his memory and revisits a moment of beauty and tranquility from his past. Stipe’s flashback in the first (and third, it repeats) verse ranks among his finest achievements as a lyricist; he sets the scene with language so precise and evocative that I would not blame anyone if they had ever confused it with one of their own childhood memories.

“You Are The Everything” is a clear turning point in the R.E.M. songbook, both musically and lyrically. Most obviously, the arrangement anticipates the emphasis on acoustic instrumentation that would come to define both Out Of Time and Automatic For The People. Lyrically, the song falls in the context of the overtly political writing on Lifes Rich Pageant, Document, and Green while deliberately diminishing the Big Picture in favor of a smaller, more personal narrative. It’s a love song, but not in the traditional romantic sense. It’s the sort of love you feel for your parents and your family, or your best friends, or maybe in your best moments, humanity at large. “You Are The Everything” is  the heart and soul of Green; the song that gets to the core of why a person may feel compelled to try to make the world around them a better place.

56 Responses to “You Are The Everything”

  1. dennis Says:

    it’s difficult to pin down a favorite, but definitely top 5

  2. Paul Alferink Says:

    This song reminds me of Samuel Barber Knoxville, Summer of 1918 (?) in tone and subject matter in it’s recollection of being a kid and family. And of Dover Beach, in a way. Both the singer and the poet see themselves in a scary world with one person to really cling to make it through.

    A quietly georgous song that grew on me to become a favorite on the album. Fantastic lyrically, from the scenes it paints of laying in the in the back seat as a kid to falling asleep with your teeth in your mouth. And the feeling of existential dread that so envelops the singer that he can’t even sing.

    The music itself doesn’t let the lyrics overpower it. It is beautiful in it’s own right, and for a voice class in college, we choose pop ballads to sing, I choose this one with a bit of Future’s 40 at the front. All the songs in the world and this one my needs best.

  3. protimoi Says:

    FIRST! (just kidding)

    excellent write up, matthew, one of your best. this is also R.E.M. at their most beautiful. out of all their 80s output, this has grown on me the most.

  4. Jerad Says:

    Wow, that’s spot-on. I’ve often listened to this song and “remembered” my own times “in the backseat, laying down, the windows wrapped around me.”

  5. Darren Says:

    I asked Michael personally what this song was about but he didn’t remember. Peter couldn’t remember either, but that has been a long time since it was written, but is one of my favorite songs of theirs. It would be great if they did it on this tour.

  6. Nick Says:

    I was always under the impression that the song was about Stipe’s grandmother.

  7. Justin S Says:

    Voices talking somewhere in the house.

    Late afternoon, the house is hot.

    Amazing how lines so general can be so precise.

  8. Mr Cup Says:

    I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music…

    Excuse me, I just have something in my eye.
    Beautiful, just so goddamn beautiful.

  9. Theresa Says:

    I agree completely with what you said about the first verse. That verse is literally identical to memories that I have of my childhood. Well, I’m still a young teenager, but I mean my younger childhood. When I first got Green, I had to replay this song a few times before I realized that every line of the first verse perfectly embodies my memories. This is still my favorite song off of Green.

  10. jim jos Says:

    one of the most beautiful songs of all time.

    Very nice write up. I have more to say, but, could not say it any better.

  11. Daniel Limburg Says:

    Double True! This and World Leader are songs that evoke memories. Like you said, maybe we even confuse them with our own memories. It makes you want to be a good person.

  12. jjjasper Says:

    I remember this song being so personal that Michael would turn his back to the audience while singing it. Such an amazing moment from this great snapshot of my memory that is “Green”. Truly one of my favorite pieces of music that I’ve ever heard. I would lay on my bed in my room with all the lights out and listen to this album with headphones, but especially “You are the Everything”. I wasn’t even really sure what the hell he was talking about, I just knew that the song had great personal meaning to me. And still does.

  13. Kirsten Says:

    The first time I heard this song was on a live bootleg. I cried. Not exactly sure why (it hasn’t made me cry since), it must have just been the beauty of the song mixed with too many teenage emotions! So many moving lines in this song. I just love it.

    Michael – you are the everything. I look at you and I see the beauty of the light of music.

  14. ScottMalobisky Says:


    James Agee– Knoxville : Summer of 1915 (?)

    Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.
    Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes.
    Content, silver, like peeps of light, each cricket makes his comment over and over in the drowned grass.
    A cold toad frumpily flounders.
    Within the edges of damp shadows of side yards are hovering children nearly sick with joy of fear, who watch the unguarding of a telephone pole.
    Around white carbon corner lamps bugs of all sizes are lifted elliptic, solar systems. Big hardshells bruise themselves, assailant: he is fallen on his back, legs squiggling.
    Parents on porches: rock and rock: Frome damp strings morning glories: hang their ancient faces.
    The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

  15. Purplebee Says:

    This is absolutely my favourite song – when I hear it I feel peaceful and safe. Yes it make me cry because it is so powerful at evoking emotions through the words -I don’t hear the music when I think about this one – I hear the fragments of the lyrics.
    I look around this world and I cry at night.
    The stars are the greatest thing you’ll ever see and they’re there for you
    for you alone
    you are the everything

    We are near the end of this remjourney – all the great ones are appearing on these pages now – thanks for taking me back to the songs. what is this feeling? oh no it’s nostalgia!

  16. ADB Says:

    One of their most beautiful songs, musically and lyrically. I read that it was about Michael’s grandmother too, and if anything, that has just enhanced my love for this song – I mean, who writes songs about their granny?!

  17. Paul Alferink Says:

    My Bad on the 1915. Samuel Barber wrote the musical piece. Appearantly, the lyrics came from James Agee’s story of the same name. If Michael was influenced at all by it, (And that is a huge if) it might be from the Barber piece, as he has mentioned before that he really loves another piece by Barber, Barber “Adagio”
    Anyway, the part of that song that reminds me of this song:

    “On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there… They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they are very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine,… with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in the summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

    “After a little I am taken in and put to be. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, no, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.”

  18. Rob Says:

    Wow. I can’t really follow up a post like Paul’s, so I’ll just get straight to the point. Such a beautiful song. The line “drifting off to sleep with your teeth in your mouth” still gives me goosebumps.

  19. Dark Bob Says:

    This is truly a beautiful song. I always thought it was about an old man singing about his wife, but I can totally see where this would be about Stipe singing about his Grandmother who I know he was very closed to. One of my favorites for sure.

  20. Mary Lou Kylis Says:

    This is one of those moments I wish I were a brilliant writer. This is my favorite song in the world, I’ll be hearing this one in my head as I go into the light along with FIND THE RIVER.

  21. maclure Says:

    Gosh, this may be THE write-up that will transform my view of a song most completely. I always saw this is as the weaker of the three acoustic numbers on Green (along with Hairshirt and The Wrong Child). All of the above by all of you and my looking at the lyrics a bit more and relistening to the song make me think it could very well be the “heart and soul” of Green. I love this blog and all of you too (wipes tear from eye).

  22. Jared W Says:

    Thanks for putting this song into words I couldn’t organize myself.

    First time I heard it was in sleepaway camp, laying in bed with my headphones on. The crickets and outdoors-y noise made it so real.

  23. dumbek Says:

    The older I get, the more I love this song. Just exactly perfect on every level.

  24. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Sometimes I feel like I can’t even sing …..
    But I belt it out anyway.

  25. ScottMalobisky Says:

    right on, Paul, that part is the very end of what eventually was reprinted as the prologue to ‘A Death In The Family’…this prologue, though written as “prose”, is actually closer to “poetry”

  26. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ironically and sadly, this all kind of ties together for me; Hershey, the Springer Spaniel, my sister’s dog who I was every fond of while living in K-ville five years ago…….was put to sleep yesterday…….

  27. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Paul doesn’t drift off to sleep with his teeth in his mouth; he takes thenm out and soaks them overnight…..

  28. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’m very scared for this world.

  29. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Matthew is, of course, correct that You Are The Everything predicts the direction REM would soon go with Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, however, I believe this song is truly the better for being on Green and NOT on those albums. On Green it stands out against all of the pop and rock on that album, whereas it would sort of just melt into the greater whole on Out of Time or Automatic. For example, while it would fit very nicely in between Losing My Religion and Near Wild Heaven in place of Low, it would not really jump out and grab your attention. It would blend in even more on the 2nd hald of Out Of Time. This is my favorite song from Green (along with Orange Crush) but part of its beauty is that in that context it is relatively unique.

    In another note, sometimes as a teen (many years ago) I would sit in front of the mirror and pretend I was Michael Stipe and perform REM “concerts” picking at my guitar and watching myself sing along to my CD’s. This one was always a staple of my shows.

  30. Jared W Says:

    That’s a great call, BWD. I think “Half a World Away”—a really pretty and delicate song—gets lost in the acoustic shuffle of Out of Time. I wonder how it would fit into other albums.

  31. Amanda Says:

    This is just about my favorite R.E.M. song, ever. I’m surprised it isn’t more famous… something about the crickets in the beginning makes it a great summertime song, and it takes me back to when life was easier and peace was easy to come by.

    I just found your site a few days ago, and I looked around for your post on this song and it hadn’t been done yet. Thank you. 🙂

  32. jft Says:

    “you are the everything”. it’s not really one of my favourites, but for sure one of the highlights on Green and the first use of the mandolin on any R.E.M. album. while I don’t like The Wrong Child that much, I can’t really decide whether I like this or Hairshirt more, the second being much more subtle in its beauty, the first being more straightforward and more of a song. it’s definitely a peak on the first side of Green, which I don’t consider being that good (except for this one and World Leader), while the second side is full of great songs, which I realized just about now while looking at the songs on the CD. Still, I’ve got to say, Green is one of the albums I don’t listen to all that often.

    Still, while it weren’t R.E.M. that inspired me to learn – well, I haven’t really learned it, just bought it and tried to figure out some songs, being a guirarist – the mandolin, the mandolin rhythm of this song inspired me to a song called “Song” I wrote. Well, perhaps it was also “Hairshirt” which inspired me. Maybe both of them. If you’d like to listen to that song, here it is:

    The quality is not that good – just a home recording – and the mandolin is not that good either, but if you’re interested in listening to some R.E.M. inspired music, I’d be happy if you just took a listen.

    Enough about that for today.

  33. Kirsten Says:

    I love staring at the stars (especially in Summer). This song often pops into my head as I do.

  34. jft Says:

    oh, I just realised the link above is for the german site. the equivalent in english is

  35. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Hi Amanda

  36. lenny Says:

    a lyrical quiz for Scott (and Paul)…

    “There’s a place for those who love their poetry — it’s just across from the sign that says ‘prose only’.”
    — sung by ?? (Any guesses?)

  37. Paul Alferink Says:

    I had to look it up. I don’t own the album and I’ve never heard the song, but I own several other albums by them and saw them live once.

    The internet says “The sign that says ‘Pros only'” Take that for what it’s worth.

  38. Matt Foster Says:

    One of the most beautiful songs they’ve ever done… the way it suddenly lifts at the end… I’ve always associated this with grandparents. I know that the day comes that my wonderful grandmother passes away, this will be the song I turn to keep me going.

  39. Ignis Sol Says:

    “You are the Everything” is a great song. I love it.

  40. lenny Says:

    Paul, I figured it might say “pros”. I love that little pun, and the line before that one, too — “plenty of time to turn mistakes into rhyme”

    Anyway — to the topic of the song, You are the Everything is just beautiful poetry. So are the quotes that people have added here. Great imagery. I didn’t always appreciate this song early on, but I have come to really like it a lot. (by the way — another album is now completed!)

  41. ScottMalobisky Says:

    hey lenny, sorry I didn’t answer your question, kinda busy. I don’t know the answer anyway….

  42. ScottMalobisky Says:

    incidentally , lenny , just for the record , up above.. the Agee is his poetry ,not mine , I forgot to put quotes around it. my bad poetry does exist in spots throughout this blog but not here…:)

    so , who sings that , Man ? the answer to your question…

  43. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah Maclure , I’m with you , shedding a tear, what is left……It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) , What’s The Frequency, Keneth ? , Life And How To Live It……a few surprises, odds and sods…..

  44. ScottMalobisky Says:

    oh yeah , I Believe
    and I believe that shoud be last
    I know of one guy who is anxiously awaitng that one.

  45. jim jos Says:

    oh to be in athens tonight to see the one and only Tony Clifton. Anyone read the online article where he talks about the band? Funny stuff.

    Don’t wanna think about the end of this blog. My vote for last song though still is Whats the Frequency. Matthew might change that, now that he knows my call. Just to spite me. I think he is somehow out to get me.

  46. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I Wanted To Be Wrong , also.

  47. Justin S Says:

    What would happen if we all met in person with all these amazing thoughts on the same amazing song?

    It would suck, probably.

  48. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I’m extremely curious about some of the main characters on here, what they look like and all, what is in their immediate surroundings as they post here, sitting at their computer..If you look to your left and then scan slowly across to your right, what do you see??..Main characters would include, not necessarily in this order….(for me ) Mr.Cup, Alferink, Kirsten, jimjos ,IgnisSol, maclure, BWD, lenny, ….whatever happened to Figgy? That’s the first tier , I guess, forgive me if I forgot someone. Love you all. my email is if any one wants to send a photo. no naked ones though except for maybe Kirsten..And that includes Matthew, I would like to see the man whose coattails I’ve been riding for the last fifteen months…..

  49. Alicia Says:

    Quite unequivocally the song I feel summarizes me more stunningly than anything else I’ve ever heard.

  50. Kirsten Says:

    Ignis did post a link to his myspace/facebook page or something like that earlier in the piece. That had a photo on it.

  51. Mr Cup Says:

    And I look like the Feral Kid, remember?

  52. Paul Alferink Says:

    I posted my picture on here once. I’m sure it’s on the same thread Ingis linked his facebook too. Although it was pretty much after the thread had died.

  53. Paul Alferink Says:

    It was the bang and blame thread. That was also the thread where we found out that Kristen is really a 14yo boy. Although he’s 15, by now. One more year and Kristen is old enough to stop pretending to be a girl on the internet! Congrats, Kristen!

  54. Kirsten Says:

    Laws are different here. It’s 18, not 16. So 3 more years living with my pain.

  55. milesy Says:

    This is an incredible song, and my favourite on Green which, more often than not, is my favourite album, for its eclectic variety. No doubt straight into my top 5 REM songs too… Thanks for the review Matthew.

  56. hwylo Says:

    I’ve always loved the song dearly. I understand it as a reverie, {Picture this you’re in the backseat… and who can’t picture that, or remember it) And who wasnt’t very freightend of the world as a child? (And who isn’t still?)

    Living and growing up in the deep south (Mississippi)the opening chorus of insects at night sets the stage for the litany of images that follow.

    I think of the song in the same way that I think of a photograph by Wm. Eggleston, which is, in most cases, ’bout perfect!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: