I "found" music around the age of twelve or so.  

It was a different time.  You had to listen to the radio or hope that MTV would play your song if you were a broke kid.  Taping songs off the radio was not unheard of.  I found a lot of different music very quickly, and one of the big groups that hit me first was R.E.M. I'm pretty sure it was "Losing My Religion" that made me start to pay attention to them. But that song was everywhere that year, so that's not a big surprise.

And you know what I'm like, it kind of started back then. I find something I like, and I can't just casually like it. I have to grab it by the jugular and know EVERYTHING about it.  It was much harder to do that in the nineties.  Now you can just Google it and find out everything you did and didn't want to know.

So of course now that I had my hot little hands on the Out of Time record, I was saving my allowance money bit by bit so I could buy the others.  I think Document was the second R.E.M. tape I bought.  It's still a pretty solid album, and we play a couple of songs from it here and there, like "The One I Love" and, of course, "It's the End of the World As We Know It".

I was chilling in the studio the other day and it came on.  I let myself listen more intently and remembered the hours I would spend in my little room in the basement trying to figure out what the heck Michael Stipe was actually saying.  I would listen and study and write down what I thought I could get, but the tape didn't include a lyrics sheet (I don't think they ever did, but I might be wrong).

So I thought to myself, "Self, use your Google Fu.  Let's get to the bottom of this!" And that's exactly what I did. I was pretty confident I had figured it out back in the day, but.... I was wrong. I was so, so horribly wrong. Here are the actual lyrics, with what I THOUGHT he was singing all these years.

That's great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs

Doing pretty good so far. That's what I thought he said.
Don't mis-serve your own needs

What?! I thought he was saying, "Dummy, serve your own needs".  Strike one.
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height

Okay, strike two. I thought it was "fear of fight".
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn't coming in a hurry

Not even through the first verse.  This is not looking good. I don't know why I thought this, but I thought he was always saying "Lecter wasn't coming".  Why Lecter?
With the Furies breathing down your neck
Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped

Nope.  None of that. I thought he was saying like, Kevin Krump.  That's... not a thing. Maybe I thought he was a political figure or something that I didn't know.
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it'll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed

Again, wrong.  I thought he was still saying "dummy".
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

Okay.  Apparently what I thought I knew, I clearly did not know. The world is, in fact, ending.  At least my world when it comes to this song.
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Everybody knows this part.  I'm in the clear here.
Six o'clock, T.V. hour, don't get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

WAIT.  I GOT A WHOLE VERSE RIGHT. There might be light at the end of the tunnel after all!
It's the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
I feel fine (I feel fine)
It's the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

YES. I knew that's what Mike was singing in the background. YES.
The other night I drifted nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right, right

Okay, okay. Little rocky here.  I thought he said "slam book".  I don't think I got all the LB names right.  But, hey, mostly right.

I know R.E.M always wanted to have a bit of mystery to their lyrics, and sometimes Stipe would be deliberately mush mouthy, but... I thought I understood them. I thought I understood what they were trying to say to me, what my little teenage heart wanted. But no.  Wrong again.  I don't think kids today will ever know what it's like to spend the time on your bed with your cassette Walkman, trying to decipher lyrics.  I may have been wrong, but, dangit, I TRIED.

What are some of the songs you've misheard over the years? Did you ever hear something and just get it completely wrong?

Lyrically yours,


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