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The Meaning Behind The Song: Exhuming McCarthy by R.E.M.

The Meaning Behind The Song: Exhuming McCarthy by R.E.M.

Hey there, music lovers! Today, I want to talk about a song that holds a special place in my heart – “Exhuming McCarthy” by R.E.M. I remember stumbling upon this song at a friend’s house, and I was captivated when I heard it for the first time. The lyrics were thought-provoking, and the melody was infectious. Little did I know that this song had a deeper meaning behind it.

Understanding the Lyrics

The song begins with the lines, “You’re beautiful, more beautiful than me. You’re honorable, more honorable than me. Loyal to the Bank of America.” These lines immediately caught my attention because they spoke of a sense of admiration and reverence. But as the song progresses, it becomes clear that these lines are not meant to be taken at face value.

The chorus, “You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals. To improve your business acumen,” highlights the idea of people willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve success and financial gain. It seems to criticize the obsession with materialism and the cutthroat nature of capitalism.

In the third verse, references to an “enemy sighted” and “realpolitik” suggest a larger political commentary. It becomes evident that “Exhuming McCarthy” is a critique of McCarthyism, a period in the fifties when paranoia about communism gripped the United States.

Making the Connection to McCarthy

The titular McCarthy refers to Joseph McCarthy, a US senator during the Cold War. McCarthy claimed that there were numerous communists and Soviet sympathizers within the government. This era was marked by political witch hunts and paranoia, leading to the blacklisting and ruin of many innocent people’s lives.

By naming the song “Exhuming McCarthy,” R.E.M. draws parallels between the fear-mongering tactics of McCarthyism and the prevailing sentiments during the time the song was released. In 1987, the song served as a critique of the prevailing “Americanism” and the potential dangers of blind patriotism.

I always found R.E.M.’s ability to infuse political and social commentary into their music to be incredibly powerful. “Exhuming McCarthy” stands as a reminder that art can be a platform for challenging the status quo and questioning those in power.

A Final Word

“Exhuming McCarthy” is a poignant and thought-provoking song that urges us to question the actions and beliefs of those in power. R.E.M.’s ability to tackle complex issues through their music is commendable, and this song remains relevant even today.

So, next time you listen to “Exhuming McCarthy,” take a moment to reflect on the lyrics and the broader message it conveys. It’s a song that invites us to examine the world around us and perhaps inspire us to create positive change.

Keep rocking!


Produced By Scott Litt & R.E.M.

Written By Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills (R.E.M.) & Michael Stipe

Release Date: September 1, 1987


Rock, Eighties, Pop-Rock, Protest Songs, Alternative Rock

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