The R.E.M. Song Meanings FAQ, maintained by Chris [Steve] Piuma
Chronic Town
Fables of the Reconstruction
Lifes Rich Pageant
Out of Time
Automatic for the People
New Adventures in Hi-Fi

So many people want to know what such and such a song is about. Sure, you could always post your thoughts on the song to and have people debate your interpretation. But that takes such an effort, and it can be days before people come to a conclusion. Yes, Kipp's lyrics archive, Ron's FAQ, and that other weirdo's Annotations thingy (among other documents) help, but they're such trouble to read and even once you've plowed through them they still don't tell you the whole story. Sometimes they circle around it, but they never flat out tell you what the song is about already!

So for those of you who need to know right now what a certain R.E.M. song is about, I have decided to make up this list. You'll find every song off all the major albums (oh, all right, I didn't do Dead Letter Office, but no one ever asks what Ages of You is about anyways) in easy chronological format below.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Oh jeez, this can't be coming from Chris [Steve] Piuma! He can write 40K on just three words from Let Me In; I'll never be able to wade through his excess verbiage in order to glean what What If We Give It Away? is about! And anyway, he tends toward sesquipedalian words, and my dictionary is plumb worn out!" Fear not, Gentle Reader. I am well aware that these proclivities would render my attempts useless. So I've put a constraint on myself -- only one word per song. That way, even if it is a hard word, at least it's only one. And you'll be able to get the info you need immediately.

So enjoy! After 15 years of wondering, at last the Truth is lain out before you.

[Now, of course, I am nothing if not fallable. So if you disagree with my choice of words (er, word), please offer suggestions. And don't get too very silly, please. Green Grow the Rushes is not about "lint".]

Chronic Town

  • Wolves, Lower: Fear
  • Gardening at Night: Eccentricity
  • Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars): (Im)Mobility
  • 1,000,000: Braggadocio
  • Stumble: Surviving


  • Radio Free Europe: Freedom
  • Pilgrimage: Fate
  • Laughing: Ostracism
  • Talk about the Passion: Hunger
  • Moral Kiosk: Morality
  • Perfect Circle: Anxiety
  • Catapult: Television
  • Sitting Still: Socializing
  • 9-9: Fear
  • Shaking Through: Struggle
  • We Walk: Passage
  • West of the Fields: Death


  • Harborcoat: Protection
  • 7 Chinese Bros.: Loss
  • So. Central Rain: Sorrow
  • Pretty Persuasion: Advertising
  • Time after Time: Friendship
  • Second Guessing: Popularity
  • Letter Never Sent: Home
  • Camera: Memory
  • (Don't Go Back to) Rockville: Loneliness
  • Little America: Future

Fables of the Reconstruction

  • Feeling Gravitys Pull: Dreams
  • Maps and Legends: Eccentricity
  • Driver 8: Trains
  • Life and How to Live It: Eccentricity
  • Old Man Kensey: Aspirations
  • Cant Get There from Here: Comfort
  • Green Grow the Rushes: Exploitation
  • Kohoutek: Loss
  • Auctioneer (Another Engine): Escape
  • Good Advices: Homesickness
  • Wendell Gee: Mourning

Lifes Rich Pageant

  • Begin the Begin: Revolution
  • These Days: Power
  • Fall on Me: Environmentalism
  • Cuyahoga: Revolution
  • Hyena: Power
  • Underneath the Bunker: Escape
  • Flowers of Guatemala: Genocide
  • I Believe: Change
  • What if We Give it Away?: Communication
  • Just a Touch: Heroism
  • Swan Swan H: War
  • Superman: Control


  • Finest Worksong: Priorities
  • Welcome to the Occupation: Imperialism
  • Exhuming McCarthy: McCarthyism
  • Disturbance at the Heron House: Revolution
  • Strange: Strangeness
  • It's the End of the World...: Apocalypse
  • The One I Love: Exploitation
  • Fireplace: Revolution
  • Lightnin' Hopkins: Documenting
  • King of Birds: Inspiration
  • Oddfellows Local 151: Alcoholism


  • Pop Song 89: Communication
  • Get Up: Dreams
  • You are the Everything: Weakness
  • Stand: Awareness
  • World Leader Pretend: Self-awareness
  • The Wrong Child: Isolation
  • Orange Crush: War
  • Turn You Inside-Out: Power
  • Hairshirt: Choice
  • I Remember California: Politicization
  • 11: Comfort

Out of Time

  • Radio Song: Hegemony
  • Losing My Religion: Obsession
  • Low: Love
  • Near Wild Heaven: Imperfection
  • Endgame: Passage
  • Shiny Happy People: Exuberance
  • Belong: Hegemony
  • Half a World Away: Loneliness
  • Texarcana: Struggle
  • Country Feedback: Blame
  • Me in Honey: Pregnancy

Automatic for the People

  • Drive: Freedom
  • Try not to Breathe: Death
  • The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite: Insincerity
  • Everybody Hurts: Endurance
  • New Orleans Instrumental No. 1: Stealth
  • Sweetness Follows: Family
  • Monty Got a Raw Deal: Scandal
  • Ignoreland: Reagan
  • Star Me Kitten: Sex
  • Man on the Moon: Iconography
  • Nightswimming: Memory
  • Find the River: Adulthood


  • What's the Frequency, Kenneth?: Culture
  • Crush with Eyeliner: Image
  • King of Comedy: Media
  • I Don't Sleep, I Dream: Sex
  • Star 69: Alibis
  • Strange Currencies: Obsessions
  • Tongue: Sex
  • Bang and Blame: Control
  • I Took Your Name: Control
  • Let Me In: Connection
  • Circus Envy: Power
  • You: Lust

New Adventures in Hi-Fi

  • How the West Was Won...: Decline
  • The Wake-Up Bomb: Nostalgia
  • New Test Leper: Hypocracy
  • Undertow: Death
  • E-Bow the Letter: Fame
  • Leave: Escape
  • Departure: Travel
  • Bittersweet Me: Melodrama
  • Be Mine: Intensity
  • Binky the Doormat: Sex
  • Zither: Languor
  • So Fast, So Numb: Concern
  • Low Desert: Erosion
  • Electrolite: Freedom


  • Airport Man: Anonymity
  • Lotus: Fame
  • Suspicion: Dreams
  • Hope: Coping
  • At My Most Beautiful: Love
  • The Apologist: Hypocracy
  • Sad Professor: Waste
  • You're in the Air: Osmosis
  • Walk Unafraid: Acceptance
  • Why Not Smile: Simplicity
  • Daysleeper: Drudgery
  • Diminished/I'm Not Over You: Pleas
  • Parakeet: Escape
  • Falls to Climb: Martyrdom

Thanks to for suggesting "Mourning" for Wendell Gee.

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