Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. were interviewed this morning on NPR. During the segment Michael Stipe discussed the lyrics to “Living Well is the Best Revenge” from their forthcoming album, Accelerate.
[The track] takes its title and inspiration from the English clergyman and metaphysical poet, George Herbert. “Living Well Is the Best Revenge” is a common phrase, and the band admits to only recently discussing what the term really means. Buck jokingly adds, “When I was 15, I had no idea what that meant. That made no sense to me. I thought revenge was the best revenge.”
Stipe had been reading much about the media around that time, and “Living Well” was his response. He imagines himself in the song turning a table onto a television personality, singing:
“Don’t turn your talking points on me,
history will set me free
The future’s ours and you don’t
even read the footnote now!
So who’s chasing you? Where did you go?
You disappeared mid-sentence
In a judgment crisis I see my anecdote for it
You weakened shell.
All your sad and lost apostles hum my
name and flare their nostrils
Choking on the bones you toss to them
Well I’m not one to sit and spin
‘Cause living well’s the best revenge
Baby, I am calling you on that
Stipe admits that the act is a little immature, but ultimately cathartic.
Because the lyrics include “talking points” and “sit and spin” it’s easy to imagine Bill O’Reilly as the target of his rage. I wonder how long it will be before Mr. Bill says their interview on NPR was just “Drive-By Stuff” and then bribes them, like he did Springsteen, to appear on his show.
Anyway, if you are in the mood to listen to an R.E.M. concert, you can stream their complete one hour and thirty-six minute concert from SXSW on the NPR website.