Explaining this song to Q magazine in 1992, lead singer Michael Stipe said: "The words come from everywhere. I'm extremely aware of everything around me, whether I am in a sleeping state, awake, dream-state or just in day to day life. There's a part in 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It' that came from a dream where I was at Lester Bangs' birthday party and I was the only person there whose initials weren't L.B. So there was Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Leonard Bernstein... So that ended up in the song along with a lot of stuff I'd seen when I was flipping TV channels. It's a collection of streams of consciousness."
This was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, especially the way Dylan sang "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Stipe had once imitated Dylan in a low-budget film called Just Like a Movie, which was a play on the Dylan song "Just Like A Woman."
Stipe claims to have a lot of dreams about the end of the world, destroyed buildings and the like. His stream-of-consciousness writing style in this is very similar to the way a dream moves.
This started off as a song called "Bad Day," and had lyrics decrying the politics of the Reagan administration. R.E.M. finally released "Bad Day" on their 2003 hits compilation album, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.
When R.E.M. played this live, the audience reacted with a party vibe that threw off the band. They thought the apocalyptic lyrics would create a more subdued response.
Michael Stipe said that the lyrics were written to make people smile. The words he used tend to make your mouth smile when you speak them.
Suggestion credit: Andy - Indiana, PA
In the last verse, the line, "The other night I tripped at Knox" refers to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where the band had a night of fun.
This appears in the movies Dream A Little Dream, Independence Day, Tommy Boy and Chicken Little.
Suggestion credit: Jonathan - Johnstown, PA and John - Mountain Lakes, NJ
The government of the Soviet Union allowed this to appear on a 1990 Greenpeace album that was distributed there.
Billy Joel had a huge hit two years later when he used the rapid-vocal, stream of consciousness lyric style on "We Didn't Start The Fire."
This appeared in an episode of The Simpsons when Homer and Moe are fighting about Moe's new bar. Homer opens his own bar in his garage and then lies to REM about why they are playing there.
Suggestion credit: chet - saratoga springs, NY
Brett Anderson, lead singer of the all-girl band The Donnas, told Rolling Stone magazine that she is an "R.E.M. geek" and can recite all of the lyrics to the song.
Suggestion credit: Bri - Chelmsford, MA
The song's title was used as the name of a two-part episode in season 2 of Grey's Anatomy.
Suggestion credit: Rachel - Albany, NY
The opening lyrics, "That's great; it starts with an earthquake," could be a biblical reference, as earthquakes are sometimes seen a sign of the end times. It could also be REM's interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Here's Revelation 11:19 - "And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm."
Suggestion credit: Robbie - Dallas, TX
Although the official lyrics are "Don't get caught in foreign tower," many students at Boston University heard this line as, "Don't get caught in Warren Towers," which is an undesirable dorm where many freshmen at the university end up living.
The Mayans' doomsday prophesy of the end of the world for December 21, 2012, may not have happened, but this song registered a hefty surge in sales and airplay in the days before the potentially apocalyptic event. Most notably in Calgary, Canada, where according to a tweet of theirs, the alternative CFEX (X92.9) station played this tune "156 times in a row by our count."
Peter Buck tells a different story about the "jelly bean. Lester Bangs, boom" reference in the song. In the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011, he writes that he and Stipe went to a party at a journalist's house in 1980 when they first came to New York. "The guys from Joe King Carrasco and Lester Bangs were there. And all they had was birthday cake and jelly beans, and we were starving and ate that. A random story that popped into a song eight years later. At the time, I was really proud of that song."
Stipe remembers writing the lyrics while the rest of the guys went out for dinner. "It was pretty much done by the time they got back, and Peter hated it. He capitulated finally and it made the record. Thank God we have always had each other to convince ourselves how wrong and right we can be. He got me back with 'Electrolite.'"
The music video, directed by James Herbert, follows a young boy (Noah Ray) scavenging in a decrepit farmhouse. While the experience would seem like a dream come true for any teenager, the fallout from appearing in the video was a nightmare for Ray. "I was a poor white trash kid in high school, and all of a sudden, I had more popularity than the popular kids," he said in an interview for a making-of-the-video documentary. "Popular kids don't like to lose their popularity, especially to white trashy kids. It just made it rough."
Filming the video wasn't too bad, though. He recalled: "The only thing in the beginning that I was really made aware of was that [director] Jim had seen some kind of TV special on dream therapy, and there was a child who had lost a brother in Vietnam who kept having a dream where he was holding his brother's picture in an old house." He continued: "He'd give me guidelines, like telling me to rifle through stuff - not like a director in a movie sense. He just wanted to get me in front of the camera, and then focus on images. Most of it was people making suggestions, like 'Oh, yeah, this would be cool.'"
The first major usage of the title phrase appears to be in the 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, where a human says in preparation for battle with apes: "If we lose this battle, that's the end of the world as we know it."
Shane from Austin, TxI have a hard time believing that it's just coincidence that the first atom bomb dropped in Hiroshima was 'Little Boy' ...LB...that marked one of the most significant EOTWAWKI moments in history.
Sioraf from Macroon, IrelandAs I type this it's 23:34 GMT on the 21st of December 2012 and this song is the most viewed one on this site today because the Mayan calendar ended today so a number of people thought the world would end.
Molly from Niagara Falls, NyA votive...a votive candle.
Jeff from Liberty Township, OhWelcome to 2012! This year you will likely hear this song more and more frequently. I am too young (47) to really appreciate Lenny Bruce and his mark on the entertainment industry. Having said that, I wish I could ask Michael Stipe why Lenny Bruce is not afraid. Perhaps I am guilty of expecting deep intellectual reasons where their are none.
Willie from Scottsdale, AzA bad called Great Big Sea covered this song in 2:42, almost a minute and a half faster then REM. Wow!
Gj from Lodnon, United KingdomUsed as the main title theme to the BBC comedy The World as We Know It by Luke Sorba. Comedy about 4 people ( 2 women and 2 men ) who live together as flatmates, wake up one Monday morning to discover the entire human race has vanished from the planet. Suddenly a mysterious stranger appears from the basement of the house they live in, dropping clues as to how it all happened.
Dusty from St. Louis, MoWhenever I contemplate the end of the world and life, death, and the mysteries of the universe, this is almost always in my head.
Jason from Grove City, PaThe lyrics are niether "The other night I tripped at Knox" or "The other night I dreamt of knives", they are "The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide". ;)
Ryan from Detroit, MiIN the latter part of the 20th century, everyone was convinced the world wouldn't make it to the new millennium. People were convinced that the human race would destroy itself, either in a nuclear holocaust, or because of its own greed overcoming all moral values. Stipe, by reciting everything that is wrong with the world, seemed to be saying, The world as we know it will end, and what happens next will be better than what we have now. Not Armageddon as everyone was predicting, just the end of the world "as we know it" and he was saying, that's ok, I feel fine about that.
Robbie from Dallas, Tx'Thats great; it starts with an earthquake...' This song is REMs interpretation of the Book of Revelations. New Testament.
Alex from New City, NyMandy! I can sing the entire song along with Stipe also......there's something about me and fast/a lot of lyrics in a song. I know this, One Week, We Didn't Start The Fire, Here We Go, and Bang Bang (the last two are by Dispatch) by heart. XD
Jeff from Pekin, Ilis any body absolutely positive that michael says"tripped to knox"in its the end of the world? i am from galesburg,il. and my wife went to knox college in'87 so as u can guess rem was huge about that time and that line/lyric has always driven me crazy! please,please help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dylan from Dodge City, KsDoes anyone know all the words to this. It's Crazy
Jon from Enumclaw , WaI don't know how many times this song gets stuck in my head. What a great song!!!
Tristan from San Antonio, Txin the song, it dosen't say:"the other night, i tripped at knox" it say: "the other night i dremped of KNIFES" y'know... like the weapon...
Zach from Sacramento, Caa votive is a small candle, but i agree with brad from topeka- stipes says "motive"
Zach from Sacramento, CaI think that most bands just write random lyrics and then come up with stories and reasons for why they wrote the song.
Matthew from Milford, Ma...What's a "votive"?
Zachbon from Okemos, MiThomas Global warming, like the Therory of Evolution it dosn't exist
Jason from Boston, MaThe band is probably named R.E.M. because so much of his lyrics come from dreaming, and R.E.M. sleep is the state of mind in which your body dreams in when it's a sleep. Rapid Eye Movement your eyes move all the time when your dreaming and when they move too fast you have nightmares. anyway... enough of me being a sleep expert =) rem<3
Casey from Jerome, IdOk now i dont want to be a know it all but the song is refered to the lead singer was in Debate in highschool, now this is written about his experances he mentions "Tournemant Full Of Lies" ok next my debate coaches wehn i was in therer all taught us that.Also if you dont beleve me check Wikipeda about the song. Thank You
Dave from Cardiff, WalesFantastic song - one of REM's best
Mark from Concord, NhI heard that the song was referencing the 20th century and the lyrics "that's great it starts with an earthquake" was referring to the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
You have to remember this song was written in the Reagan years 1980-1988
I heard that the Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom referred to Ronald Reagan who always got Jelly Beans on his birthday but also had the red button at his disposal - hence the boom!
Also the that "Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign towers. Slash and burn, return" refers to the failed rescue attempt of the Iranian hostages by Jimmy Carter in 1979. The hostages were caught in "foreign towers", the helicopters stopped to refuel and one ended up crashing and burning so the mission was scrubbed and they returned.
Thomas from Londonion, EnglandSounds a bit like Global Warming. It could be that we always think the end of the world will be bad and painful, but actually you'd be more numb than anything else. This is the feeling you get when you're depressed- the pain comes from not caring about anything.
Mike from Hillsboro, NjOne of the weirdest songs I've ever heard, but it's great. I don't see it as a sad song, it's just a strange song.
Brad from Topeka, KsWhy does every lyric source state the lyrics 'Light a candle, light a votive...' (which does make sense) but, to me, it's VERY clear Stipe says 'Light a candle, light a motive...'?
Brian from Dallas, TxHomer from The Simpsons tries to sing along with the band and sings this "Leonard what's-his-name, Herman Munster motorcade, birthday party Cheetos, pogo sticks and lemonade, you symbiotic stupid jerk, stir-fried Flanders, I am talking about you."
Dave from Cardiff, WalesThis was REM's first hit in the UK after several near-misses; however I think they had already had several US hits up to this point
Camille from Oz, WaI love this song. The way it goes from the fast paced, almost manic verses to the courus with the really pretty, and well pulled off, hormony. This song is really fun to dance to, no matter how sad the lyrics may be.
Josh from Boca Raton, FlPart of this song (with changed lyrics) was used in Comedy Central's Last Laugh 2006 as the introduction.
Josh from Boca Raton, FlNow that you mention it Daniel, you're right. Kinda scary, is it not? But I love the song anyways. Sure there are other things in the lyrics that have recently happened.
Daniel from Fontana, Cahaven't these things happend recently? Earthquake:Thailand 2004 Birds:Bird flu 2005 Airplane:9/11 2004 or 2003 Hurracaine:Katrina 2005 Combat site:Iraq Don't get caught in forighn towers:9/11
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaI envy u Mandy. I wish I knew the words. Dave, y would Microsoft want this? I don't get it? Interesting thing about the dream./. ...
Mit from New York, NyThis song is cousin to we didnt start the fire by billy joel. This Rem song has a meaning that the world is ending in chaos and we feel fine about it. a meaning to we diddnt start the fire is that they are not responsible for the world ending but they try to stop it..... its interesting.
Jorge from Mexicali, MexicoYup, this song's in Disney's "Chicken Little" and it plays when the aliens invade town and all hell breaks loose. Funny son, with a catchy, hapyp peppy rythm while the worlds in ending.
Alex from Loveland, CoI love this song and I could listen to it over and over again
Joy from Kewanee, IlThe lyrics are not 'the other nite I tripped at Knox' it is 'the other nite I dreamt of knives.' The lyrics were officially published when the Soviets wanted to review them for the Greenpeace album. The knives line is pretty much official, in that case. Although, the Knox thing would be cool, as that's my home area..but, alas, tis not to be.
Mike from Germantown, MdIf you listen carefully, you can hear this in the commercials for the Movie Chicken Little.
Bethany from Carrier Mills, Ili agree with justin gregg. i love the lyrics and they really do make you smile when you sing them.
Max from Laguna Niguel, Ca"That's right Flanders, I'm talkin' 'bout you...". R.E.M. was one of the funniest and best implemented guest stars. Also, this song rocks when your sleep deprived... among other things.
Dave from Brisbane, AustraliaMicrosoft wanted to use this song to launch Win 98, but REM said no, they used Start me up by the Stones instead.
Holly from Nottingham, EnglandSo is it "The other night I tripped at Knox" or "The other night I dreamt of knives" which I always thought it was, and far preferred! Plus it rhymes with the next line of "Continental drift divides..."
Mark from Burlington, CanadaThis song was also covered by Great Big Sea. It's faster, rockier and way tougher to sing.
Mike from Chicago, IlI still remember the day I found the lyrics for this song back in 1995. I went back and must have listened to the song 30 times trying to catch everything. A great song, one of R.E.M.'s top five.
Mandy from Smalltown, NyThis is the song that got me into REM. After extensive practice, I can now sing the entire thing with Stipe. It's an icebreaker at parties.
Peter from Fort Worth, TxThis is one of my favorite rem songs and is a perfect example of stipe's style, a constant stream of words and thoughts that go from thing to thing. In almost every song they have strange lyrics, read e-bow the letter's lyrics.
Rhett from Melbourne, Australiai luv REM but never really thought that much of this song untill reading here and finding out what it is actually about.
Karl from Bangladesh, IndonesiaIn the Simpsons episode Homer is making up his own words and interprets one of the lines as "Moe is a she-male" I couldn't stop laughing when I heard it and it still makes me chuckle now.
A.k. from Westchestertonfieldville, IaMy favorite line is "offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline"...it implies that no matter what, we won't back down from anything--even "the end of the world". excellent.
Epp from Pittsburgh, PaClasic rapid fire song about arrmegedon. Really weird writing style, which makes it a catchy song.
Jason from Wylie, Txit was also played in a movie called flashback starring dennis hopper and keifer sutherland
Michael from Fayville, MaIt has also appeared in Independence Day.
Mo from Ft.lauderdale, FlCovered by No Doubt on MTV's Millenium Cellebration.
Justin Gregg from Harrah, OkThe song is probably about learning to accept things at they are and being content with them.
Bryon from Carlisle, PaThe song also appeared in the movie Tommy Boy.