R.E.M. Lyric Annotations FAQ
R.E.M.: Lifes Rich Pageant: Begin the Begin


 [Lifes Rich Pageant]

Begin the Begin
The title plays on Cole Porter's song Begin the Beguine. [Chris Piuma]

"Birdie in the hand"
According to Mills, a middle finger gesture ("[flipping someone] the bird"); it's also play on "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" (i.e., it's better to have possession of a little of something than the potential to have a lot). [Ron Henry]

"The insurgency began"
An "insurgency" is a political revolt. [Ron Henry]

"Miles Standish proud"
Miles Standish was a soldier who accompanied the Pilgrims to the New World. [Ron Henry]

"A philanderer's tie, a murderer's shoe"
A philanderer is someone who is sexually promiscuous. [Ron Henry] * The original version of this lyric was supposed to be "a philanthropist's tie, a murderer's shoe", but according to ICFTS, Stipe "got it mixed up". [Chris Piuma]

"Life's rich demand creates supply in the hand
Of the powers, the only vote that matters"
This is an echo of "birdie in the hand" and wordplay on the economic "supply and demand" theory. The "only vote that matters" is presumably the "supply in the hand", economic power.
[Ron Henry]

"Silence means security, silence means approval"
"Silence means security" was a WWII slogan. [Ron Henry] * I believe this song predates the AIDS activists' slogan "Silence = Death". [Chris Piuma] * In early 16th century, during England's break with the Roman Catholic Church, Sir Thomas More was on trial for refusing to sign a testimony to the effect that King Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn were religiously orthodox. When asked by the examiners if he thought he should be beheaded, More refused to answer, and the prosecutor argued that the old Roman law custom of "silence means approval" proved that More wanted to be a traitor. More responded that, technically, his refusal to sign the oath was his silence, and under the Roman law should be considered patent approval of the King's divorce. The prosecution was flustered, but More was, of course, killed anyway. [hobbs_matt/furman]

"On Zenith, on the TV, tiger run around the tree/Follow the leader, run and turn into butter"
It's a direct reference to the book [Little Black Sambo]. Though it may sound politically incorrect in the '90s, "Little Black Sambo" displayed both the universal struggle of man against nature and the universal appeal of pancakes. [William T. Anderson] * I imagine it refers to watching a cartoon of the story on tv. The story as I recall it is that to avoid being attacked by the tiger, Sambo gets the tiger chasing him around the tree and then jumps out of the whirlwind (seems to me Bugs Bunny used to pull this stunt a lot too); the tiger, being butter-colored after all, after churning around and around the tree, turns into butter -- not only unthreatening, but nutritious! Sambo's mother makes breakfast and they eat the butter on his griddle cakes. (Hence Wm's comments above about pancakes...) [Ron Henry] * "Zenith" is both a brand of TV set and a word meaning "a culminating point or peak". [Chris Piuma] * "Follow the leader" is a children's game of blind obedience to the leader. [Ron Henry]

"like Martin Luther Zen"
Martin Luther lead Protestant protest against Catholicism. Zen is an Eastern philosophy of non-attachment to material world. [Ron Henry]

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Lyrics from Kipp Teague's Lyric Archive.