"It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M. (Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe)
Document, 1987; Eponymous, 1988. (2 C!s)

(official lyric sheet)

That's great, it starts with an earthquake,
birds and snakes, an aeroplane--Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn--
world serves its own needs, don't misserve your own needs.
Feed it up a knock, speed, grunt no, strength no.
Ladder structure clatter with fear of height, down height.
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
in a government for hire and a combat site.
Left her, wasn't coming in a hurry
with the furies breathing down your neck.
Team by team reporters baffled, trump, tethered crop.
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.
Tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right--right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light,
feeling pretty psyched.

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.

Six o'clock--TV hour.
Don't get caught in foreign tower.
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn.
Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting.
Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate.
Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down.
Watch a heel crush, crush.
Uh oh, this means no fear--cavalier.
Renegade and steer clear!
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies.
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

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.

The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide. Mount St. Edelite.
Leonard Bernstein.
Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!
You symbiotic, patriotic,
slam, but neck, right? Right.

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...fine... It's time I had some time alone.

And so, deconstruction begins.

1987: Iran - Contra scandal. Reganomics. Colombia. The Iran - Iraq War. Intifada (IIRC). Life was not good.

Now, as it has often been mentioned, this seems in the tradition of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Guitarist Peter Buck even admitted in an interview that the song was '"Subterranean Homesick Blues' with a chorus."

The song works with imagery overload, natural, mechanical, and sociopolitical, beginning with earthquakes and hurricanes (typical apocalyptic imagery) and beasts in revolt. But it grows to encompass a world in upheaval--governments invading, book burning anti-intellectualism, and so on. It works by presenting a world in chaos, as presented watching, say, the news--a barrage of images, things beyond our control, flickering lights, quick edits of destruction every night for your infotainment pleasure.

But what's odd is that it doesn't say this is the end of the world, only the end of the world as we know it. For in most eschatological beliefs, the old world passes away, but it is replaced by a new one. The universe doesn't cease to exist, only changes radically. Ragnarok only brings about Baldr's reign; Armageddon brings the New Jerusalem.

It ends, oddly enough, with a dream Michael Stipe once had, combined with a true story. The story is that in 1980, Michael and Peter, back before R.E.M. was even a formal band, drove up to New York City with some fellow Athens music scenesters, and ended up at a party with Lester Bangs, who was Peter Buck's idol. It was a strange meeting, with Buck unable to say much to a very out-of-it Bangs, who called Buck "a rotten cocksucker" (thanks, CloudStrife). Years later, Michael had a dream about the party, but instead, everyone there had the initials "L.B."--Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Breznev, Lenny Bruce, Lester Bangs. It's interesting to note that two were counterculture figures, one was a composer that flirted with the counterculture, and the third was the leader of the Soviet Union.

The end of the world is always coming, just as tomorrow always comes. But the end of the world as we know it? Let's think about that--the end, not of the world or existence, but the world as we know it.

The first time that happened was when my father died. I was seven. It was Christmas. Things were never the same again. Having a parent die is like having the world crumble. The world exists, but it's fragmented, impossible to put together the same way.

The second time was when my family moved from Philadelphia to Gilbertsville, a small town in rural Pennsylvania. To be taken from a large city and placed in a small town is a culture shock. Especially when you're suddenly exposed to things like the Klan or farms next door to my housing development.

The third--puberty. But that's true for everyone.

The fourth? Oddly enough, this song. I heard it the first time watching MTV Unplugged. And I was mesmerized by the rapid fire of words and images. The next day I ran out and bought a cassette tape of Document--the first album I ever owned. I was 13. I spent an entire weekend trying to memorize the lyrics, constantly rewinding and replaying the song. Over and over again. Mesmorized. There have since been others, but this was the most radical, this lead to the other "end of the world as I knew it" events.

And I wanted to learn guitar, and I wanted to form a band. Music suddenly seemed like more than silly pop songs about love. Music had meaning, music could make you think, music was an overload. Music could promulgate ideas. From this song, I suddenly dived into the world of rock and roll, and my whole world, the old order, collapsed.

Because it was the end of the world as I knew it, and I felt fine.