What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

August 29, 2008

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh huh.

As the story goes, back in October of 1986, Dan Rather was attacked by two men on Park Avenue in New York City. As the men accosted the famed anchorman, one of them repeatedly asked a puzzling question: “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” It doesn’t really matter so much what actually happened, or what they meant by their strange query. The important thing is that Rather told his version of the story on television, and after that, the event took on a life of its own. Rather’s critics questioned the veracity of the story; some meditated on the attackers’ question as it if were the Riddle of the Sphinx; and this one guy described the episode as “the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century.” More than anything, the “Kenneth?” story became a bit of pop cultural trivia; another strange fragment in a sound bite world.

R.E.M.’s song is not strictly about Rather’s incident, but instead touches on the cultural meaning of the phrase, and the value of esoteric knowledge. Michael Stipe is addressing someone for whom this knowledge is akin to a stimulant — this is a bit vague, but the implication is that he’s in dialogue with a person who relies on controlling information and knowledge as a way of attaining power, and since the market for information shifts constantly, that person is in something of a precarious position. (This person could just as well be Dan Rather himself, given his profession and position of prominence in the media world.)

Tunnel vision from the outsider’s screen.

At its most basic, “Kenneth” is about the tension of media insiders vs. the media’s audience, and our singer is in the uncomfortable position of either being a bitter and ineffectual cog in the media machine, or an outsider who has accrued enough knowledge to understand the workings of that world. In any case, our protagonist here is irritated by the way the media shapes a cultural narrative, and is questioning their motives for revising history, however recent. 

I’ve studied your cartoons, radio, music, tv, movies, magazines.

Though “Kenneth” is a far more political song than anything else on Monster, the lyrics tap into one of the most potent themes on the record: Obsession. In its way, the song is an echo of “Losing My Religion,” with our protagonist ruminating endlessly on his relationship with an entity that barely seems to acknowledge his existence. “Kenneth” is a few steps removed, and places Stipe in the role of the celebrity stalker who develops his own narrative based on information that he finds, and perhaps inserts himself into the story in troubling ways. It’s a disturbing tension; the push and pull of feeling that you are irrelevant and powerless, and laboring under delusions of grandeur. Though it’s easy to relate to the singer of the song, it seems rather obvious that the character is being written as an unreliable narrator. 

Richard said “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.”

You said that irony was the shackles of youth.

Specifically, I think “Kenneth” is about a frustration with the way the media packaged “Generation X” in a way that deliberately glorified Baby Boomers, and infantilized younger people, and wrote off discontent with established forms of political engagement as cynicism and apathy. (You can see echoes of this in how many people write about “Millenials” in recent years.) The implication here is that the person Stipe is addressing is out of touch, unable to understand this new context, and has invested too much in a narrative that casts their generation as cultural heroes, and vilifies and/or belittles the youth. The most bitter irony of the song is that it is apparent that both sides find it difficult to engage with a version of reality that is not some kind of story. 


Peter Buck is not a guitarist known for his impressive guitar solos, but his lead part on the bridge of “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” is particularly inspired. The melody expresses a blank, disappointed form of melancholy, but it’s all rather understated and fluid even though it’s being played backwards in the studio recording. Whereas backmasked parts tend to be rather psychedelic and impressionistic, the solo in “Kenneth” has a more literal effect — it sounds as though we are listening to the notes from a reversed perspective. This suits the song’s lyrical themes about the media and outsiders rather nicely.

I never understood, don’t fuck with me, uh huh.

It still amazes me how many radio and television stations have aired — and continue to air — the song without editing out the swear at the end. All those years of “mumbling” finally paid off.

118 Responses to “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”

  1. Steve Says:

    Great song – one of my favourites. I think Ive heard an alternative “clean” version where “dont fuck with me” becomes “the frequency” again…

  2. Melonie Says:

    I heard it on the radio at work the other day (on a “soft rock” station, of all things) and distinctly remember thinking, “wow, I can’t believe they still don’t bleep that…”
    I always thought of this as a kind of Gen X anthem, for many of the reasons listed in your analysis. We’re the first ones raised with cable, nursed on the teat of MTV and round the clock coverage of everything. Jaded, cynical, but still prone to being part of the machine that is pop culture. But we so want to be cooler than that, and create our own buzzwords and knowledge to show that we are still outsiders. It’s a fine balance, which the song captures beautifully.
    Nice job. Lots to ruminate on.

  3. Justin S Says:

    All that, and a groove, too. This song is just funky, and makes me want to be Bill Berry. I love his drumming in this song. And the video, with Michael shaking those skinny hips.

  4. Dark Bob Says:

    WOW! A great write up Matthew. This song is lyrically amazing. How cool that it was the first single off MONSTER. I remember when this video debued on MTV ( back when they played videos), it was the first time I saw Stipe sans hair lol, another great memory was the clip of Dan Rather singing this song with the band on Conan O’Brien, I think. Anyways, I need to read your write up again, and then probably a third time, there’s alot there and I’m sure I’ll have more to comment on.

  5. By the way, I want to say that I’m really sorry this one took over a month to finish. The last one will be up within a couple days.

  6. Jacob Says:

    Great analysis… I hadn’t been able to see the forest through the trees with the song before. Dark Bob, I remember turning on MTV halfway through the video the first time I saw it, and thinking to myself that this must be a cool new song by Midnight Oil. Quite a change had happened to their style in the wake of AFTP.

  7. dumbek Says:

    Oh, how happy was I when this song debuted. They remember how to rock! yessssss.

    There’s definitely a radio edit of this. As described above, it’s another “frequency” rather than “f-ck with me”. I can’t really tell you what version gets played around here, because when I hear it, I’m usually singing too loud to notice. 🙂

    Very nice analysis, as always. I’m going to be sorry to see this project end.

  8. Paul Alferink Says:

    I HATED this song the first time I heard it. I just didn’t get it. It didn’t take very long to change my opinion, but I remember being forlorn at first.

    It’s funny, because when they first played the song, they did it from the radio edit CD single version. Then, to save space, they played it directly from the CD. And when they went all computer MP3, they version they loaded into the system is the CD version. I thought I was the only one amazed that the F-Bomb is played so casually and no one ever complains. Somebody saw a 1/2 second of John Ritters left testicle on a rerun of Three Company and they never air it again, but the same song playing on radio stations across the land and no one has ever said boo.

    Best line: You wore a shirt of violent green.

    Second best You said that Irony was the shackles of youth.

    I never really knew what to make of this song, lyrically. It contradicts itself. I do believe that irony is, in a way, the shackles of my generation. We can’t have a real emotion or feeling or opinions with wrapping it in so much post-modern crap, in part to protect ourselves from ridicule, to be unhip. The danger, of course, is that instead we do nothing, refuse to act on anything that has any meaning, because of the self-awareness that oftentimes those things don’t work out. That they aren’t original. That to believe in effective change is the trap that our parents believed in, and look where it got them, so why try?

    At the same time, withdrawal in digust is not the same as apathy. It’s not that we don’t (or didn’t) care, it’s just that we were turned off by the process. We knew we were being sold a product in everything from product placement to politicians, and instead of just accepting the selling, we revolted against it. There is a noblity there. A futile nobility, but a nobility none the less. The best part was when they tried to sell this Generation X self-awareness back on us. Obey your thirst, image is nothing. Sprite. That annoying commerical for Mastercard with you people doing pointless stuff in an effort to prove that Mastercard understood us. Surge soda.

    Of course, none of this is particularly relevent anymore. Generation X isn’t the same demographic anymore. We got older and had kids, or a least jobs. And now with money, we’ve embraced this new hipness. Shelled out our disposable incoming buying useless crap.

  9. Justin Says:

    Fantastic review, Matthew. I think “Frequency” is a great example that Stipe’s old school cut-up method of lyricism is still quite viable (although he seems to think otherwise nowadays; I wish he’d revisit it a little more often). I never really made that connection until reading your analysis here. This song is totally a lyrical throwback to Murmur and Reckoning.

    A note about the solo: I’m pretty sure it’s a little more than simple backmasking. I seem to remember Buck saying in an interview he wrote the solo, recorded it then played it backwards and learned to play it that way, then played it on record that way, which I think is a pretty neat idea. He kind of distanced himself a step from reliance on technology (although this story could be total rubbish, but Buck seems more often than not on the up-and-up).

  10. maclure Says:

    Kenneth? might well be my most-listened to REM song ever. I like your analysis MP of what the song might mean or stand for but honestly, it’s just a bunch of great memories surrounding the time when I was most besotted with REM. I actually think that structurally and musically the song is not a lot more than average – but the overdrived guitars and the chorus chugga-chugga (I think a product live of Nathan December switching rapidly between the turned down rhythm and turned up lead pick-ups on his Gibson) and the backwards solo certainly make the song good. And the lyrics make it very good. But, to me it’s a GREAT song because somehow it represents a lot more to me that the sum of its parts.

    1. I remember those power chords breaking over the radio and thinking “We’re going to have fun now…” – I was delighted it was REM with a bit of bite.

    2. I bought the single both as a CD and a tape. But at first I only had the tape and played it on loop – side A was the radio edit (sans the F-bomb) and side B was an insturmental version. I played it so much my Dad had to come into my room and tell me to quit it.

    3. I cut my teeth as a guitar player on this track. This may be the first song I learned both the guitar and bass parts to and the solo such as it was possible to recreate it frontways. I jammed on this with some friends for hours on end and it never seemed to get boring… I seem to remember my Dad disagreeing and asking me to play something else.

    4. I was the first person to crowd-surf over the barrier at Glastonbury 99 when this came on after an introduction of AirportMan.

    (My surreal story related to this, not as good as the one about Dan Rather: at glasto in 99 I had wormed my way to near the front of the crowd to see REM come on. I stood next to an attractive blond lady who seemed to be friends with a dwarf. She asked me if I wouldn’t mind putting the guy who was a dwarf on my shoulders just for the first song so he could see the band come on. As it was an attractive lady asking me I said yes and hoisted the fellow onto my shoulders. At the end he politely thanked me – I said don’t mention it – and then went crowd-surfing. Most bizarre. ps. that dwarf guy or that attractive blond wasn’t one of you was it?).

    5. The violent green shirt from the lyrics I always associate with the gren shirt with a red star that Michael wore for the MONSTER tour.

    6. For many years I was singing countless “wrong” lyrics to this song – perhaps, that’s the point.

    I could go on… but I’ll stop there…

  11. Melonie Says:

    We can’t have a real emotion or feeling or opinions with wrapping it in so much post-modern crap, in part to protect ourselves from ridicule..

    That’s brilliant, Paul. We use sarcasm as a weapon of self-defense.

    Although I beg to differ on the point of buying into the commercialism now that we’re “adults” because most of the people I know (or at least hang with)still rebel against it. Or don’t have the money to join in. Maybe we’re this generation’s version of the old hippie that hangs out at the co-op.

  12. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I have always loved this song and thought it opened Monster beautifully. That said, lyrically, this song may have befuddled me more than any other REM song as i struggled over the years to figure out the actual words and then make sense of them (which I never truly have done and likely never will). While this song sounds nothing like Murmur I do remember thinking that this song seemed to revert to the Michael of old when it came to inscrutable and hard to hear lyrics, which shocked me some after the straitforwardness of Out Of Time and Automatic.

    I agree with Matthrew’s write-up whole-heartedly and I think his thoughts sort of explain the strange connection I have always had in my mind between this song and the Ben Stiller/Ethan Hawke/Winona Ryder movie “Reality Bites”.

    By the way, McCain just chose Alaska’s governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Interesting, will many of the Hillary supportors now defect to the maverick McCain and his female VP? If anything seems pre-packaged this may be it.

  13. dan Says:

    Justin, you misunderstood Buck’s explanation of the backwards solo, or rather you skipped the final step — that is, the recording WAS reversed and is backwards on the record. But it’s a backwards recording of the forward guitar solo that he wrote…get it?

  14. milesy Says:

    Would you say that withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy? Well, that’s what I always heard; who’s Richard?

    I like Matthew’s write up, and I like Paul’s more cynical take on the song, culture, and where we find ourselves. I’m going to love this song even more now. But I have to say that for me, Kenneth could really be about almost anything– it just rocks! Those opening chords… has there ever been a better gig opener?

    Hey Maclure, this is one of the songs I learned to drum to. I never managed to be Bill Berry, though.

  15. adam Says:

    this was also what propelled MONSTER to the #1 !! record in the country the week it came out

  16. ScottMalobisky Says:

    no , I don’t think so BWD. Pro-choice/not-pro-choice is a HUGE CORE ISSUE for a woman; a woman who is pro-choice is not going to vote for a woman who is not pro-choice just because she is a woman.

  17. Drew Says:

    milesy – Richard is Richard Linklater, the director of the early 90s classic Slackers.

    maclure – i must agree with the “shirt of violent green.” on first hearing the track, i thought of that screaming dayglo green that was so popular in the late 80s – the violence was visual, sensory. and then michael’s monster era t-shirts (big baggy during that stage) with the red star (the one’s they sold on tour featured a black star on the front, an orange star on the lower back): those shirts flipped the equation, tied the word “violent” to olive drab, camouflage, “orange crush”; turned up the politics, but in that classic oblique michael stipe fashion.
    i found the dan rather letterman appearance terribly awkward at the time.
    but this track really holds up with the passage of time, a real high point in the REM canon, I think.

  18. ScottMalobisky Says:

    best lyric : “I got a picture ……idiocy..” 🙂

  19. ScottMalobisky Says:

    what , no mention of that schuffle sound thing ? reminds me a bit of the back and forth record thing in hip-hop, I guess that’s not what it is….

    Stipe around this time : “I’m completely fascinated by media culture and by the media and I don’t mind being a part of it. I kinda enjoy it to a degree. I’m a bit of a starfucker.”

  20. I already noted this in the hover tag for the Richard Linklater link, but the phrase actually is a slight paraphrasing of a Brian Eno line from Oblique Strategies.

  21. Dark Bob Says:

    Maclure, the dwarf story is great!

  22. dgl Says:

    “Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging your scene.”

    I saw an interview once where Mills cited that as one of his favorite R.E.M. lyrics. Odd choice, but a good one.

    Glad to see some love for the guitar solo, which I remember one reviewer said “sounds like a lava lamp.” I also love the echo guitar effect — they really got some mileage out of that sound on Monster.

    When the video came out, it definitely heralded a new era for the band: rocking like kids once again, wearing T-shirts and jeans instead of ruffled dress shirts and vests, and the debut not only of bald Michael but also of Mike’s glam-rock cowboy look.

    Another cool minor touch at the end of the video — Bill pounds out the last beat and stalks off in a hurry before the reverb fades out. Some foreshadowing there.

  23. milesy Says:

    Yeah, the Monster guitar sound is right at the heart of the whole record. I think the phrase Matthew used on one of the other Monster Songs was ‘skewed, campy glam’, which sounds just right to me.

  24. protimoi86 Says:

    At a recent concert, i shouted the “don’t fuck with me” part suddenly, as R.E.M.’s power came over me (echoes of “turn you inside out” anyone?). A woman in the row in front of me nearly jumped out of her seat, i scared her so much.

    I felt sheepish, but holy fuck this is a good song. Probably R.E.M.’s most instantly catchy song until Man-Sized Wreath came blaring into the atmosphere.

  25. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Uh, what’s the frequency?…We might ask that question of, for example, George H.W. Bush, the father. In 1988, afer the U.S. Navy warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian commercial airliner in a commercial corridor, killing 269 civilians, the then-vice president said, “I will never apologize for the United States of America, I don’t care what the facts are.” The grotesqueness of the episode was only compounded by the fact that Bush later awarded the ship’s commander a Legion of Merit award for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service”. We could call it the “blame America never” approach…I never understood the frequency, uh-huh.

  26. Ignis Sol Says:

    “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” struck me like a lightning bolt. I heard the song and saw the video at the same time. It was shocking: the fresh new image of the band, the “I’m not a video” video editing, the maddening, catchy riffs and the seemingly off the cuff, non sequitur lyrics. It was refreshing and a big relief because I knew it was satisfying Bill Berry’s need for an album that “rocked” and that he would stay in the band (ah, youth).

    It is a great song to shake your stuff to, too. It is electric energy that R.E.M., radio and TV needed for the time – a temporary buzz to excite you then fade off….

    I also catch the f-bomb version on the radio, but I think the folks at the local KEXP know better and just don’t give a fuck. The FCC (FEMA, too) does not know what the frequency is (like the Republicans running the government).

  27. Andy T. Says:

    You know, I totally never noticed the F-bomb there at the end of the song until some live versions I heard in the last couple of years. in which Stipe puts more emphasis on it. The album cut, it’s so buried in a song that is already heavily mumbled that I can believe that it gets on the airwaves.

  28. Mr Cup Says:

    The Fuck Trilogy:

    Country Feedback, Star Me Kitten, Kenneth. 3 albums in a row. What a potty mouth!

    I may be the voice of dissent again, but I was pretty nonplussed when I first heard this song and still am. The parts are all there, the lyrics good but I can live without it quite happily. It always sounds like a ‘by the numbers’ song to me.

    Great write up though.

  29. Kirsten Says:

    That opening riff gets me everytime – and then Bill starts on the drums – pure rock perfection! I remember seeing this clip for the first time and being totally stunned by the baldness whilst listening to my brother & sister making fun of me for being in love with a bald man. (That was in the days before it was fashionable). I’ve only ever seen the sensored version on TV. I’ve never even heard the unsensored version on the radio. Maybe we’re more sensitive here. Having said that, I haven’t heard it on the radio in years. Maybe they’d play it now. And for the record: “I’ve never understood – don’t fuck with me” is an excellent way to finish the song.

    Milesy, I also only ever heard “Would you say” not “Richard said”. Only found that out today.

    I’ve always associated the violent green shirt with Mike’s bright green suit on the clip.

    One of those songs that never really made a lot of sense to me, even though I had a rough idea what it was suppose to be about. But it rocks and it’s great and I love it.

  30. 4trak Says:

    Yayz. That is all. For now.

  31. milesy Says:

    It’s more than a trilogy, Mr Cup. Don’t forget ignoreland, departure, horse to water.
    Mr Stipe is remarkably varied and creative with his use of the f-word:
    f- all (feedback)
    f- you (ignoreland)
    f- me (kitten)
    don’t f- w/ me (kenneth)
    f- up (departure)
    f- or fight (horse to water).
    A flexible word that can indicate many things, some more offensive and aggressive than others.

  32. Dave Says:

    I remember MTV teasing the “World Premiere” of the video in late August ’94 with a 10 second clip of the video and being in a absolute froth of anticipation for this song. When they finally aired it, probably close to 14 years to the day, I remember thinking that if the rest of Monster was half as good as this, then we’d have an all time classic on our hands.

    Unfortunately, the rest of Monster imo is only half as good and not a classic but this song still defines the fall of ’94 for me.

    This song, to me, was sonically very similar to the 1st Sugar record, Copper Blue. A little fun fact, if Peter had his way and Automatic for the People ended with Man on the Moon, 1992 would have had 2 excellent albums end with songs called Man on the Moon, AFTP and Copper Blue.

  33. Rob Says:

    Let’s not forget that there’s a “fuck” in Binky The Doormat too.
    I was just getting into rock music when Kenneth came out and was initially nonplussed- though my tastes were pretty crappy in those days. It soon became a favourite for that year. These days I tend to favour the live version over the recorded. I can be fickle like that…

  34. Rob Says:

    Hi milesy,
    I just read your thoughts on the Southampton concert. You summed it up nicely. It was my (ahem) ninth REM gig- not quite the best I’ve seen, I doubt anything will better last years Dublin rehearsals, but it was certainly near the top. Do you live near Southampton? I spent five of my teenage years in Cosham, though I call Dublin home.

  35. ScottMalobisky Says:

    There’s a fuck in Bisky, too….A Mindfuck, and a clusterfuck and a clusterbomb in the military……. “nonplussed”–perhaps the strangest word in the language, because if one had no idea what it meant, one would think it meant something inactive,unagitated, unanimated, dull-edged, due to it’s sound and structure. “Plussed” would be a better word , if you ask me. But I guess one cannot be plussed just as one cannot iterate, just reiterate.It’s the total opposite of a word that “sounds like it’s meaning”, and there is a term for those sorts of words though it escapes me now…(How convenient for the GOP is Gustav? It gave the Bushwhacker and the Cretin a legitimate reason to not taint Mccain’s party and chances by being there, associating with him. The Mac is probaly secretly ecstatic.) I never understood the frequency, uh-huh.

  36. ScottMalobisky Says:

    younz guys ever been to Lyme Regis ? you Maddogs and Englishmen

  37. Andy Says:

    Does anyone else think the song drags just a little toward the end? Like the groove slows ever-so-slightly?

    (all in all, i love it.)

  38. Kirsten Says:

    Andy – No. Now go wash your mouth out with soap!

    Rob – Yeah, OK we get it. You are the King Of Concerts. And yes, we are all jealous. Happy now??

    I forgot to mention: My beautiful little budgie Kenny was named after this song. I have been trying desperately to teach him to say What’s The Frequency Kenneth before this song came up, but the closest he got was Whats the Kenny. That doesn’t even make any sense. But I still love him and I can’t get angry ’cause he’s only little and Frequency is a hard word to say. I’ll keep working on it though.

  39. Mr Cup Says:

    Is there some kind of Kenny Everett fascination with the foul mouthed one?

    Kenneth heard it on the radio
    WTF Kenneth?
    That haircut he had when he was serenading hat stands.

  40. Andy Says:


    just a little?

  41. Melonie Says:

    Actually, Andy’s right. The song does slow down a little toward the end. I’ve read that Mills was having some trouble playing and looked like he was in pain, so the band followed his lead. He ended up having an appendicitis, and they never got back to rerecord so it stayed with the slower ending. I even got out my metronome and it does slow a bit. Not significantly, but it is slower than the beginning.

  42. Kirsten Says:

    >> I even got out my metronome and it does slow a bit.<<

    Wow Melonie, I’m impressed! You’re even more obsessive than I am! 🙂
    Shall admit defeat on that one and store that useless (yet interesting) information in the back of my head waiting for my moment to show it off.

  43. Rob Says:

    Kirsten, it was not my intention to make you jealous, or indeed to gloat. If you ever find yourself in Ireland or I ever find yourself in Australia I will bring you a box of cupcakes if you can find it in your heart to forgive me.

  44. milesy Says:

    So, Rob is Mr Cupcake.

  45. milesy Says:

    I don’t live in Southampton, but it’s only a couple of hours.
    Never been to Lyme Regis, but I here it’s nice, if you have lots of money for an expensive holiday home…

  46. milesy Says:

    hear, not here

  47. Mr Cup Says:

    Rob, try lamingtons. I just have a hunch they’ll win her over.

  48. Paul Alferink Says:

    Going back to Richard Linklater, the movie is simple a series of people having conversations around Austin. The camera falls one conversation around, until they cross another, and then the camera follows that one. Kind of came to be an emblem of talky independant movies of the mid- Ninties. Interesting. Not great. The conceit is pretty limiting. Although there is a great scene involving someone trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear.
    If I remember correctly, somebody is pulling quotes from a hat or something when they read the slip of paper that says “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.”

  49. Melonie Says:

    “Wow Melonie, I’m impressed! You’re even more obsessive than I am!”
    You have no idea… lol
    I’m just a trivia/media/information whore, especially on whatever topic is my current obsession, which is where r.e.m. is at the moment. I consume wantonly. Never know when you may need a strange little tidbit. On the plus side, I totally kick ass at Trivial Pursuit.

  50. Paul Alferink Says:

    Dude. If I ever run into you an REM concert, bring your board. It is on like Donkey Kong.

  51. Jared W Says:

    “What’s the Frequency Kenneth” is the song that guy down the hall of my freshman dorm in 1994 would not stop playing. It was constantly heard blasting, day in and day out upon his arrival in college.

    I was him, of course.

    I remember at the record store, before the album’s release, seeing a promo poster… it just had Stipe’s bald cranium, forehead up only, at the poster’s bottom. I was like… whoa.

  52. Melonie Says:

    Bring it, Paul, bring it!
    Btw, I saw your pic post on the Bang and Blame thread and responded to it. You’ll have to go take a gander.

  53. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Paul, yeah have to agree that the movie was only decent at best – and I never made the Kenneth connection.

  54. Ignis Sol Says:

    That Linklater movie was a long, pointless rambling conversation that just went on and on and then off on tagents about nothing but supposedly about everything during the course of a day with some young loser-type folks living in Austin and making nothing out of their lives but meaningless idle talk to keep them from being bored and being boring and they are barely holding on to their sense of being while the world goes on around them….

  55. Kirsten Says:

    Rob, I accept apologies from anyone with cupcakes! And yes, lamingtons are also acceptable. What the hell – we’ll have both! You bring the cupcakes and I’ll bring the lamingtons. Mr Cup can supply the lemonade. And you should gloat – enjoy it! I’d be jealous whether you did or not. (All though this way we get cake!)

  56. Blake Says:

    Fantastic song and yet another reason why Monster is underrated. To be honest I’ve always found it quite odd that this CD is still ripped apart by critics who wine about REM “selling out” in the 90s. Next to Fables I think Monster is their most difficult album. Most of the lyrics to most of the songs are submerged and cryptic. While all the songs have great melodies they are either buried or warped. Its not a mainstream rock album but something you really have to work on. I always thought they would be embraced for that. The same can be said for the far more clearer but just as ambitious NAIHF

  57. Paul Alferink Says:

    I think I liked it a little more than Ingis did. Some of the conversations were interesting, at least.

    By the way, the two most underrated indie films from the mid- ninties are SFW (Which Stipe LOVED) and Spanking the Monkey.

  58. Paul Alferink Says:


    Holy Crap! That was you! Why didn’t you say anything!

    I have to stay away from My Space pages. Really. I take everything as a personal affront. I get giddy when I find out someone else loved Strictly Ballroom, but then I see you like Troy Denning, and a little part of me dies.

  59. jim jos Says:

    Spanking the monkey, makes me want to give mom a call.

    I can’t have it because I act like I love it, In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey, I look just like buddy holly, I’ll never get caught, I’m popular, This honkey’s gone to heaven. What would I do without my 90’s angst anthems? they paid off well for me, though now I am bored and old.

    Just wanted to add a personal note. My dear departed grandmother and I were in the car when this song came on, when it was released, damn near 15 years ago. (is that even f’n possible?????) I told her that irony was the shackles of youth, because I have always quoted song lyrics for no reason (good thing I have outgrown that) She told me that “youth is a wonderful thing.”

    I told her that wasn’t what Mr. Stipe said. Now, I find out that she was right all along, and that is, in my opinion, what Mr. Stipe was mostly getting at in this song. Grandma was way more alternative then I ever could have hoped to be.

  60. Melonie Says:

    I’m kinda like Han Solo, always stroking my own Wookiee…

  61. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’m the root of all that’s evil yeah but you can call me cookie.

    We had to recite a speech or poem in Comm 110. I picked that song, because I so didn’t care. It was Comm 110, after all. Plus, all our speech had to have was Alliteration (Kurt Cobain Kojak) or allusion (Pretty Much the whole song). I kinda had a reputation after that. Maybe cause I said Honnky. This girl in the class started flirting with me after that, which was a treat, because it’s rare. But she was flirting with me like she was in junior high. Pulling my arm hair. Stupid crap like that. Mind you, I was a junior in college by this point.
    I didn’t think that someone at that point in my life could be “Not my type” but she fit the bill.

  62. Ignis Sol Says:

    Spanking the Monkey is a good movie (with great music: I recall Morphine playing at the end – not French Fries with Pepper).

    I remember Slacker being promoted as the end all and be all of movies for ‘Generation X ” and being a bit letdown by how the film seemed too impressed with itself. However, I would give it 3 out of 4 stars because Linklater is at least a director striving to be creative. He should have directed their video, uh-huh.

  63. Mr Cup Says:

    I thought SFW was among the worst films I’d ever seen. Possibly beaten by Chasing Amy. I always thought Ben Stiller made cardboard look animated. That Stipe loved SFW makes me think a) I have poor judgment and should leave now, or b) Stipe was getting jiggy with Mr Dorff at the time and his judgement was clouded by hormones.

    Actually I did get dragged into ‘waiting to exhale’. Oh what fun.

  64. Andy Says:

    Melonie and her Magic Metronome rock! (Kristen, you still rock too.)

    I feel much better that I can trust my ears.

    …now if I could just get this soapy taste out of my mouth.

  65. Andy Says:

    “Shall admit defeat on that one and store that useless (yet interesting) information in the back of my head waiting for my moment to show it off.”

    Just remember to footnote me, Kristen.

  66. Paul Alferink Says:

    I don’t know what Ben Stiller and SFW or Chasing Amy have to do with each other.

    I liked Chasing Amy alot, also. Yes, it’s too talky, like all Smith’s films. But really, the racist undertones of Star Wars speech makes it worth anything else.

    “You’re mother’s a tracer!”

  67. lenny Says:

    Catch up time…(been away too long)

    I don’t know what Ben Stiller has to do with anything on this page except that he was hilarious in Flirting with Disaster, which was made by the director of Spanking the Monkey. I’ve never seen or heard of SFW. I saw Spanking the Monkey, and I thought it was just creepy and pointless. Didn’t like it at all, but I do love everything David O. Russell did since then. (That reminds me, I gotta go listen to my favorite soundtrack, I Heart Huckabees.) Chasing Amy was OK, but Joey Lauren Adams is annoying. Only movie I ever really liked her in was A Cool Dry Place, with Vince Vaughn. That just about covers it…

  68. Melonie Says:

    Andy- thanks for the props. Nice to know geekiness is appreciated in this crowd.

    Course I’m going to totally lose my cred by admitting that, like lenny, I also had never heard of SFW. Have to see if I can rent it.

    Paul- we need to connect somehow off list, because I have a Denning story for you. He actually lives in the next town over.

    “What’s a Nubian. Bitch, you almost made me laugh.”

  69. Paul Alferink Says:

    Fair enough. I hope your Denning story goes like this:

    Troy Denning: “Hi, I’m TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro writer Troy Denning”

    You: “This is for Shadowdale, Bitch” (Kicks Troy Denning in the gonads)

    Troy Denning: Ah! I wasted perfectly good paper! My life was a waste! (Dies)

    “That guys got a bladder like an infant”
    “That’s funny. He says you’re hung like an infant.”
    “Does his mother tell him everything?”

  70. Rob Says:

    Lenny, I may be stating the obvious here, but were you aware that Mike Mills was initially going to score A Cool Dry Place. Saw the film a while back and found it really charming.

  71. Andy Says:

    I have no idea what Paul Alferink is talking about.

    …but it still made me laugh out loud.

  72. Paul Alferink Says:

    A list of truly horrible movies (partial).

    Subspeices II: Bloodstone
    Subspeices III:

    There is also some Barbarian movie where the end (And I kid you not) has the Barbarian antogonist find the mad wizards secret destruction weapon (a nuclear bomb). He then HITS THE BOMB WITH A ROCK TO DETONATE IT AND RIDES OUT ON THE NUCLEAR BLAST. As I write this, I think it was called Ator: The fighting Eagle. There might have been two of them.
    There are worse movies, but I had the good sense to never see them (or I only saw them on MST3k, which hardly counts.

  73. Kirsten Says:

    Sorry about the soap Andy. I’ll give you one of Rob’s cupcakes to get rid of the taste! But unfortunately, you can’t get any credit ’cause the future’s ours and you don’t even rate a footnote. Sorry, have to stick to REM’s rules.
    I looked up the ‘slowing down’ in one of my books and there was Pete’s quote about it. But I must say, I listened to it several times at lunch yesterday and sometimes I thought it slowed then others I couldn’t tell. And Melonie, it’s not the fact that you knew it that impressed me, it was that you went out and checked it – that’s fantastic! I love it. That is exactly what I would’ve done 10-15 years ago. My obsession hasn’t diminished, I just don’t have the time that I had as a teenager. I’m stuck being a (semi)responsible adult.
    😦 Wow I’m getting old. That’s depressing. But Andy’s right – I do still rock, but only when I get the time.

  74. Andy Says:

    “We are young despite the years!”

  75. Melonie Says:

    What he said!
    I may grow older, but I refuse to grow up. Sadly, as I lurch speedily towards middle age, I am also supposed to be a (semi)responsible adult. I just happen to have a metronome on my piano and a desperate drive to do anything that keeps me from doing housework.

  76. Mr Cup Says:

    ahem…Ben Affleck. Not Stiller.

    Stiller funny.

    When I was younger I could pay attention to every sentence I was typing. Now i get a bit tired by the second line.

  77. lenny Says:

    Holy crap — 3 out of the last 4 posts are people complaining about getting old. It can’t be that bad. How’s this for some perspective… I may be older than the life of the band R.E.M., but at least I’m younger than each of the members. How many people here can say that? I bet most of us…

  78. lenny Says:

    Hey Rob — thanks for the note about ACDP. I didn’t know that Mike Mills was connected to it that way…it would have been interesting to hear that score.

  79. Paul Alferink Says:

    Ben Affleck was good in “Hollywoodland.” And Gone, Baby, Gone was my favorite film last year.

  80. Kirsten Says:

    Lenny, I think the age conversation is perfectly placed on What’s The Frequency Kenneth. Most people here are at an age where they no longer understand teenagers. The fact is, they’re the same as they’ve always been, the same that we were. We just see things from an older point of view now. That’s why I don’t have kids – I’d kill them if they did even half the stuff I did as a teenager (and most of that probably seems like nothing these days) Plus it’d be confusing ’cause I’d name them all Michael. 😉

  81. Melonie Says:

    You’re right, Kirsten. As my own daughter heads into her teens I realize how separated I’ve become from that whole culture/point of view. Although as a teen I was pretty mild, mainly because my own mom was a hippie. My idea of rebelling was joining the young republicans. Which worked for my particular situation. But it’s funny how the things we got so worked up over when we were “kids” is nothing compared to what we deal with as adults.

  82. Kirsten Says:

    The main objective of a teenager is to upset their parents. What they don’t realise is that in 15 years time they may feel a bit guilty about that.

  83. Kirsten Says:

    …and in 25 years time some little prick is doing it to them!

  84. Rob Says:

    The humiliation of our teenage stations….

  85. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    Hey Kirsten – I did name my first son Michael mostly
    after MS 🙂

  86. Melonie Says:

    This conversation has started me thinking (always a bad proposition) so let me pose this question: if the purpose of our teenage years is to rebel against our parents, when we find ourselves as adults still rebelling against whatever we perceive as the powers that be, are we merely in a state of arrested development? Or have we taken that stage of life to its logical conclusion?
    I ask because I have been working through some issues of my own in self-determination and have found that in seeing myself as an individual and remaining true to myself I’m having to fight against certain expectations of culture and society. When we become “responsible adults” (or even semi-responsible) are we allowing ourselves to become a part of the system, abandoning the lessons of adolescence? Or by choosing to not belong are we choosing a path of immaturity, avoiding the loss of self that is an inherent part of becoming a “functioning” member of society? Perhaps that’s the larger question of Kenneth, and most r.e.m. songs in general; is there a real balance to be found in maintaining our authenticity while participating in the world, and should we even seek it out?

  87. Paul Alferink Says:

    Wow. Maybe too meta for this early in the morning. I use to think better late at night.
    My favorite English professor called these “Case of Scotch questions.” Appearantly because the person who gets the write answers should be sent a case of scotch by the person who was incorrect. Also because you should be drinking an entire case of scotch while debating them. Here it goes.

    Rebelling as a teenager is a necessary part of gaining achieving and independant identity and life. Sometimes that rebelling is small. Sometimes its crazy. But it should happen. A part of you needs to be achieve that independence.

    Rebelling later in life comes from somewhere else. The two are not connected. If you rebel against something else, you are making an ideological choice. The question then becomes. “Who are you rebelling against?” Why are you rebelling?” Are you rebelling because you have a clear ideological goal in doing so? Or are you scared of some percieve failing within yourself that in order to counteract those feelings of malaise and helplessness, you are going to the extreme opposite direction in an effort to drowned it out. The first is a noble endevour. It may sometimes be misguided, but that’s a difficult thing for an individual to acertain. Sometimes, it may be wonderful thing.

    The second possiblity is more troublesome. It is really hard to come to the realization that this is why you are rebelling. It also is painful. Should you come to this realization, you are forced to look into that wound within your psyche and find what is festering there. You also will come to find that rebelling may be intensely counterproductive to solving the problem in your life. Or there may be a better way to go about it. Without knowing you or the situation, I can’t really give you a good answer. But mostly, I’ve found, rebelling after your formative years is usually caused by this second reason. And I wish you the best of luck in your soul searching.

  88. Paul Alferink Says:

    You really have a second question, which is “Can we remain true to yourself and still participate in the world?” I think the answer is yes, to varying degrees. Unless non-comfority for the sake of non-comformity is your goal, some “withdrawal in disgust” is possible while still maintaining a presence withing society on the parts that are good and non-corrupt. Maturity and non-maturity have nothing to do with it. Just because you make a choice soceity deems improper in one area does not mean that you and society disagree about everything, nor that society would view you everywhere as an outcast.

  89. Andy Says:


  90. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    ALthough most rock stars and good junior high teachers never grow up…Peter Pan syndrome.

  91. Figgy Says:

    Good questions by Melonie and good answers from Paul. Has given me something to think about.

  92. Melonie Says:

    Ahh, the gauntlet has been thrown. Let the philosophizing begin!
    Acutally, I do have a responsorial but I’m wondering if the list wants this discussion to continue? Or continue off list? I’m realizing I’ve been a rather chatty cathy.

  93. Paul Alferink Says:

    You can always take it to These Days. That’s were stuff like this goes on.

  94. maclure Says:

    Although Im not so given to commenting on here after Ive said my bit about the song in question – I am astonished and the breadth of “issues” trotted out by you lot on Mr Perpetua’s website. We have this thing in common – REM – and its enough to have a group therapy session. But, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not being critical – on the contrary its rather gratifying to see this thing called the internet (or Web 2.0 or something) used for such wholesome ends… keep it up.

  95. Kirsten Says:

    Therapy? That’s what REM is for.

  96. Ignis Sol Says:

    R.E.M. and a shot of bourbon.

  97. ScottMalobisky Says:

    It’s The End Of The World As We Know It And Ignis Feels Fine

  98. Mr Cup Says:

    I have Peter Pan syndrome.

    I am comfortable with this.

  99. Kirsten Says:

    Why, ’cause you like to dress up in tights??

  100. Mr Cup Says:


  101. Ignis Sol Says:

    officially creeped out

  102. Paul Alferink Says:

    Don’t make me post of picture of the Peter Pan guy.

  103. Dark Bob Says:

    I just looked at REM HQ and noticed thier new Tour Dates, and I gotta say that I’m perplexed why REM chose not to play Detroit on this tour. I have seen them play to 15 people at St. Andrews Hall in 84. to them selling out The Palace of Auburn Hills, and for some reason they’ve totally ignored us on this tour. I know that Michigan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and maybe they think there’s no money to be made here, but c’mon, an REM show is exactly what this town needs! Please consider.

  104. ScottMalobisky Says:

    The Big Reveal: Dark Bob is in Detroit …..The veil is being lifted… What other big secrets are soon to be revealed? 🙂

  105. Kirsten Says:

    Join the club of angry and disappointed fans, Dark Bob. At least you could travel interstate to go see them – they won’t even come to our country. Still, the addition of new dates (even though they’re in South America) does leave us with a tiny hope that they may add more in our direction.

  106. Dark Bob Says:

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed Kirsten

  107. Ignis Sol Says:

    Mexico City is driveable from Seattle. A very long, transnational (is that a word) drive, but driveable. Road trip anyone? I can start here and then pick up assorted R.E.M. fans along the way. We play their music all the way there and then rock out (yeah, I said rock out) at the concert. I catch Michael’s eye and he invites us all to backstage. He signs our t-shirts and posters. We exchange phone numbers, we become friends and pretty soon I am hanging with him and Anderson Cooper. Oh yeah, I will be sure to ask him why they won’t play Australia. I will tell him there is a sad and lonely girl there, a girl without a dream.

  108. Paul Alferink Says:

    Don’t mention her plan to kidnap them. They appearantly frown on such things.

  109. Andy Says:

    Dark Bob: UMich or State?

  110. Kirsten Says:

    That sound’s great Ignis – worth the flight to Seattle for the roadtrip.

    For the record: I was only going to kidnap them if they tried to steal my Reckoning LP. Otherwise they are (probably) safe.

  111. jim jos Says:

    I had a terrible dream. That I was going to come here and the last entry was up and this whole wonderful project would be at a close.

    I rushed to my computer in an effort to to try and and change the inevitable.

    How glad I am that the hour is not here. Maybe Matthew could let us all linger and communicate here for a good long while before he drives the final death nail into our R.E.M. lifeblood.

  112. Dark Bob Says:

    Andy, U of M, all the way!

  113. Q37 Says:

    “The last one will be up within a couple days” – I assume this refers to “It’s the End of the World,” but what about “Fascinating”? Will you review that one as well?

  114. yanina Says:

    What does the line “You wore your expectations like a two-dollar suit of love” mean?

  115. lenny Says:

    Hail to the Victors…

    I’ve been a Michigan Wolverines fan my whole life, and I really don’t know why. I think that when I was growing up, we had neighbors who were from Michigan. I went to a game there around 1999 or 2000 — Tom Brady versus Drew Brees of Purdue. Great game.

  116. Tim Says:

    And now an actual comment about the song:

    I love the part about 2:46 coming into the last chorus with Mike Mills Ahhhhhhhhh in the background…sets up the last chorus beautifully.

  117. Kenneth Says:

    Tim, I love just that very bit. It’s not on the live version on R.E.M. Live, sadly, but I’ve seen live videos with Mike doing the lovely “ahhhh” and it made me go “ahhhh”.

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