Endless Loop: What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

remHave you ever had one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days…weeks…years? Sure you have. These are the songs that always make the cut. The songs on repeat. We all have them. I have a ton. Welcome back to Endless Loop.

“What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M.

Everyday this waking nightmare continues anew.

Everyday this horror show gets worse and worse.

Everyday my fear of what this country and this world may have in store for my sons grows and grows.

Everyday is an exercise in managing impending panic attacks.

The Joup Friday Album: R.E.M. – Green

remgreenI am the youngest of four siblings, with nine years separating me and my nearest brother. As a grade school-aged kid, I could wander from bedroom to bedroom getting a fairly thorough musical education from my teenaged siblings. There was the Zappa and Zep that wafted out of my oldest brother’s room along with a strange smelling smoke that would become more familiar to me as a teenager. If I hung out in my sister’s room, it was most likely the Who – she had every album, every single, every bootleg she could get her hands on. She was literally a card-carrying member of the official fan club and even had Who fan penpals – sadly lost artifacts of a bygone era killed by the internet. But the room I most frequently gravitated toward was my nearest brother’s where I was extensively educated in 80’s punk, new wave, and college rock. Though I later came to greatly appreciate the music my other siblings exposed me to, it was here in alterna-brother’s room where the musical preferences that would last a lifetime were first forged.
Having first heard R.E.M. in his room circa “Radio Free Europe,” they were always there in the background waiting for me to really notice them. Once I became a teenager myself, they found their way into medium rotation, up until I was about 15 when they released the album Green and my full-blown R.E.M. obsession struck with a vehemence that would amuse family, alienate friends, and become mildly embarrassing in retrospect.
Yes, R.E.M. could be obnoxiously erudite, showing off their smarty-pants in obscure allusions that are really nothing more than the intellectual equivalent of whipping your dick out on the table to make sure everyone sees how big it is. And yes, R.E.M.’s environmental and social consciousness could be overbearing, with a chiding smugness and pomposity that borders on being Bono-esque. And as a smug, pompous, socially and environmentally conscious honor student, that was right up my alley.
Fortunately, the high-handed lyrics were laid on top of some solid tunes. Despite my lofty airs, I was still a teenaged girl who was helpless against the wiles of a catchy pop hook, provided in songs like “Stand” and “Pop Song 89.” And as a teenaged girl who desperately sought some form of romance, the wistful, pretty “You Are the Everything,” “Hairshirt,” and the untitled 11th song were the perfect soundtrack for a hormone-fueled, why-can’t-I-have-a-boyfriend crying jag.
And then there are the vaguely political songs that made me feel really smart and, like, aware, man. I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War other than it was bad, and a song like “Orange Crush” allowed me to nod gravely and say, “Yes, Vietnam was bad. Bad indeed.” “Turn You Inside Out” seemed like it could be a defiant, cautionary tale against blindly following a leader or movement. Looking back on all of these songs and reading the lyrics today, they don’t seem early as deep or meaningful as they did back then, which makes my youthful take on “Turn You Inside Out” amusingly ironic.
“World Leader Pretend” was my favorite song on the album back then, with its self-doubt and moodiness, but what stood out most to me was the interesting percussion. R.E.M.’s tour for Green was my first-ever concert and I was delighted to see that the interesting percussion of this song was performed by Michael Stipe whacking on a metal chair with a drumstick. I’ll admit, I still think that’s pretty cool.
These days I get my politically-tinged pop culture served up in the form of fake cable news shows and I allow comedians, instead of rock bands, to keep me abreast of the things I should be outraged about. As for R.E.M., these days I can listen to these songs, give the lyrics a cynical smirk, and just enjoy the tunes.

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