What's the Frequency Kenneth?
R.E.M. Lyrics


Jump to: Overall Meaning ↴  Line by Line Meaning ↴

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider's screen

I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I'd studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy"
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn't understand

You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh




I couldn't understand
I never understood, don't fuck with me, uh-huh

Overall Meaning

The lyrics to R.E.M.'s song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" are somewhat cryptic, but many have attempted to interpret their meaning. The song is believed to be inspired by a bizarre incident in 1986 in which CBS news anchor Dan Rather was attacked on the street by a man who kept repeating the phrase "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" as he beat Rather. The man, who turned out to be a mentally unstable former Marine, claimed that he was trying to find out the frequency at which TV signals were being beamed into his head.


The lyrics seem to play on the idea of misunderstanding and miscommunication. The singer is locked out from understanding the "frequency" that Kenneth is tuned into, and struggles to make sense of his behavior and attitude. Kenneth, on the other hand, seems to be wearing "irony" and "expectations" like an "armored suit," perhaps indicating that he is trying to protect himself from his own vulnerabilities and insecurities.


The song also seems to touch on themes of media saturation and information overload. The singer lists off a wide range of media sources, including cartoons, TV, movies, and magazines, suggesting that he has been struggling to make sense of the world around him. The phrase "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy" could be interpreted as a warning against becoming numb and indifferent to the world.


Overall, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" is a dark and enigmatic song that seems to be exploring themes of alienation, miscommunication, and the difficulty of making sense of a complex and overwhelming world.


Line by Line Meaning

What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I'm asking you to explain your strange behavior, which seems similar to the effects of a stimulant drug


I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I was disconnected, mentally slow, and unaware of what was going on around me


I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
I believed you were an unrealistic and foolish idea


Tunnel vision from the outsider's screen
I had a narrow and limited view of you from an outside perspective, like watching through a tunnel


You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
You carried the weight of the expectations that people had placed on you, like an impenetrable armor


I'd studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
I had analyzed all the media that you were involved with and consumed


Richard said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy"
Someone named Richard told me that being repelled by something is not the same as being indifferent to it


A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
Your smile was exaggerated and cartoonish, maybe even retaliatory


You said that irony was the shackles of youth
You expressed that the use of irony can be restrictive and limiting for young people


You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
You wore a bright and aggressive green color, which stood out and attracted attention


Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging the scene
You had a butterfly-shaped sticker on your car's mirror and were constantly following and observing what was going on


I never understood, don't fuck with me, uh-huh
I got increasingly frustrated and angry because I couldn't comprehend what was going on or what you were saying




Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Written by: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Michael Stipe

Lyrics Licensed & Provided by LyricFind
To comment on or correct specific content, highlight it

Genre not found
Artist not found
Album not found
Song not found
Most interesting comments from YouTube:

@Supersweetguy

@dread true
Here is how the song originated:

Here is the explanation from songfacts: This song is about an incident
that took place on October 4, 1986, when the CBS news anchor Dan Rather
was attacked on a New York City sidewalk by a crazed man yelling
"Kenneth, what is the frequency." The man turned out to be William
Tager, who was caught after he killed a stagehand outside of the Today
show studios on August 31, 1994. Tager, who was sentenced to 25 years in
prison, said he was convinced the media was beaming signals into his
head, and he was on a mission to determine their frequencies.

When Michael Stipe wrote the lyrics, Tager had not yet been identified
as Rather's assailant. He wrote the song after becoming intrigued by the
case and the media reaction to it, calling it "The premier unsolved
American surrealist act of the 20th century."



@Pride317

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider's screen

[Chorus]
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh

[Verse 2]
I'd studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy"
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

[Chorus]
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

[Guitar Solo]

[Verse 3]
"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rear-view mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

[Chorus]
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
I never understood, don't fuck with me, uh-huh



@micheledallamutta2503

What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider's screen

I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh

I'd studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy"
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn't understand

You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
I never understood, don't fuck with me, uh-huh



All comments from YouTube:

@edwardmclellan764

I'm 54 . Grew up in the 70s and early 80s, music was epic . This is the music of my youth . We thought youth would never end . But here we are .

@tracyseymour6059

I'm the same age as you. You're right... Here we are in middle age. Are we wiser? I don't know...

@claudec34

I'm 58 and I can relate

@80s_kid.

I'm same 54, i loved it back in the day, i used to walk around with my boombox playing tunes with my friends, meeting girls and having endless fun, i thought i was gonna live forever, but then i blinked and then i was old, and living alone, just waiting for the end. yes i know it's dark but it's just how i feel, i'd say 80s and 90s was the most awesome, soon as clock struck 12 on new year 2000, something changed, i have no idea what, but something went wrong, and now here we are on the brink of another War of the elites.

@edwardmclellan764

@@80s_kid. Can relate . Waiting for the end my friend . Trust and believe I can relate . Found myself a single father untill recently. Found my son Liam deceased in his room in an unspeakablely gruesome scene . Nov . 8 2021 . He was 21 plus 7 days . I'm here in the same house . But it's silent now . No bedlam . No, " hey dad that smells good , what time is dinner ready "? no video games In the background. My father and my son are gone . The generation before and after me . Now I just exist . Live alone with the cat my son picked out when he was 13 . His mother now married to another man and lives in a foreign nation. It's been a strange ride my friend . The 80s and 90s seemed like such a better time . Wish I could go back. Wish I could

@80s_kid.

@@edwardmclellan764 Damn man i'm so sorry about that, i'm gutted for you. i hold a secret myself, i've been chronically depressed since i was a kid, Anyone that hasn't had Depression don't have a clue what its like, for me, it's like a dark cloud above me, it's with me every day, everything i do, every where i go, you don't know where it's from, you don't know why of what or how. it's just there 24 hours a day, and no matter what you do you can't get rid of it, everything is flat, everything is the colour grey, everything is winter even when it's summer, you feel hopeless, useless, no point to life, can't see no future, no point in anything, you want to live but you don't, you want friends but you don't, you want a relationship but you don't. you lock yourself away, you don't contact anyone, visit anyone, ring anyone or text anyone, all you want to do is hide, and exist, but in a dark corner away from everyone. that has been me for over 40 years. i've never driven a car, never travelled, never been on holiday, i have seen doctors, psychologists, Psychiatrists, mental health workers, crisis team. now for the past 10 years i've been taking high dose pregabalin and fluoxatine. moral is, some people you can fix, but some people you just can't, i've lived alone in my bedroom for years mate again i'm sorry man.

33 More Replies...

@gak-man9642

When I used to work a pub and I noticed one of my regulars, an alcoholic Doctor who propped the bar, bopping his head and singing this song to himself along with the jukebox - I joined in, he looked up and said "this is a brilliant song, isn't it?". From that point, every time this on came on the jukebox, he looked at me with a nod - I knew we were in the same boat for those 4 minutes. Those moments, the connections which overcome everything else, are the one thing I miss about working a pub - People being genuine.

Doctor Bob - This one is out to you, pal. Even if it is 5 years later!

@mickfunny4185

Gak- Man ummm, should a Doctor be a drunk 😵

@anecdoteskywalker

An alcoholic doctor named Dr. Bob? I hope the irony isn't lost on you.

@housewifehoneybee2784

@@anecdoteskywalker😉

More Comments

More Versions