R.E.M. Lyric Annotations FAQ
R.E.M.: Monster: What's the Frequency, Kenneth?



What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
The title of the song itself, it needs to be explained, refers indirectly to the incident in Oct. 1986 in which Dan Rather, anchor for C.B.S.'s network news broadcast, was attacked by two unknown men in the street in New York City wearing suits and sunglasses. The men kept asking Rather "What is the frequency?" and called him "Kenneth" while they shoved and accosted him; to date the incident has never been explained completely (though some have theorized that "Kenneth" might be Ken Schafer, an electronics expert with whom Rather had worked in connection with Soviet TV broadcasts). Since the incident, "What's the frequency?" and calling a clueless person a "kenneth" have become a trendy youth culture catch-phrases (which is probably, why Stipe wanted to use it, rather than an interest in Rather). [Ron Henry]

"is your Benzedrine"
Benzedrine is an amphetamine, a derivative of ephedrine, used as an inhalant to relieve nasal congestion and as a stimulant of the central nervous system. [boink]

"an idiot's dream"
Compare Macbeth, "life is like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". [Ron Henry]

"Richard said, 'Withdrawal in disgust...'"
A quote from Richard Linklater, director of the film Slacker [Ron Henry] * It's also an actual line IN the film. [billg3man]

"tooth for a tooth"
This is from a Biblical saying that wrongs must be retaliated with like reaction ("an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth"). [Ron Henry]

"You wore a shirt of violent green"
The "shirt of violent green" mentioned in the lyric may by a reference to a Spider Robinson short story entitled "Lady Slings the Booze," which also makes use of the phrase "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" [Ron Henry]

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Lyrics from Kipp Teague's Lyric Archive.