Album: Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
Play Video


  • "Cuyahoga" is the name of the river in Northern Ohio that the city of Cleveland was built around. There were many tribes of Indians which used to live in the region ("This is where they walked, swam, hunted, danced and sang"), and they simply called the river the Crooked River due to its zig-zag nature and many U-shaped turns. "Cuyahoga" is an Indian word meaning "crooked."
  • The lines, "This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it," "Underneath the river bed we burned the river down" and "Bury, burn the waste behind you" refer to how the once-pristine river became so polluted that it famously caught fire several times between 1929 and 1969. The last river fire in 1969 garnered much national attention, and helped expose the problems industrial waste was having on our environment. This helped spur the creation of the Clean Water Act as well as led to the formation of a new government agency, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Cleveland, OH, for above 2
  • R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe explained in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: "It's an Indian word I mispronounce in the song. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire in 1969 because of pollution dumped into it. The song addresses environmental devastation and our history with Native Americans, which isn't pleasant."

Comments: 6

  • Bill Bee from OhioREM learned about the Cuyahoga River when they played an early gig in Cleveland Ohio. One of them smelled the polluted river, and someone told them about it: that's how they learned what it was. They are probably pronouncing it correctly in the song.
  • Margaret Perrine-white from Niles OhioCuyahoga is named by the Iroquois who's territories extended to what's now the state of Ohio during the French and Indian war if I'm remembering correctly there's lots of places in Ohio that were named by the Iroquois and if I'm remembering correctly Michael Stipe is actually pronouncing Cuyahoga properly in the language of the Iroquois not mispronounced the way Ohioans do.
  • Chris from Ashtabula, OhNever heard this song, came across it on a list of guitar tabs... Was excited that maybe someone famous had some history here in NE Ohio. Turned on the song, heard him sing COY-ah-HOE-ga and laughed, nope he just read about the river fires. We say KY-uh-HOGG-uh.
  • Marty from Cleveland, OhIt's a nice song and all, but Jeez, how hard would it have been to call up someone who lives here and ask how you pronounce Cuyahoga? (It's not Cuy as in coy, it's Cuy as is buy.) Come on, man.
  • Joaquin from San Francisco, Caamazing song and great message!!!!!!
  • Kevin from Reading , PaA really good REM song. A song with a conscience that doesn't hit you over the head with it's message and wins you over with its power and conviction (especially the singing on the chorus and the guitar chords on the chorus.) The entire album, their fourth, holds up pretty well these days. If only REM could make records half this good today they'd be in good shape. A las, they don't.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

What Musicians Are Related to Other Musicians?

What Musicians Are Related to Other Musicians?Song Writing

A big list of musical marriages and family relations ranging from the simple to the truly dysfunctional.

Mac Powell of Third Day

Mac Powell of Third DaySongwriter Interviews

The Third Day frontman talks about some of the classic songs he wrote with the band, and what changed for his solo country album.

Director Nick Morris ("The Final Countdown")

Director Nick Morris ("The Final Countdown")Song Writing

Nick made some of the biggest videos on MTV, including "The Final Countdown," "Heaven" and "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)."

Steely Dan

Steely DanFact or Fiction

Did they really trade their guitarist to The Doobie Brothers? Are they named after something naughty? And what's up with the band name?

Gentle Giant

Gentle GiantSongwriter Interviews

If counterpoint and polyrhythms are your thing, you might love these guys. Even by Progressive Rock standards, they were one of the most intricate bands of the '70s. Then their lead singer gave us Bon Jovi.

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner of Soul AsylumSongwriter Interviews

Dave explains how the video appropriated the meaning of "Runaway Train," and what he thought of getting parodied by Weird Al.