R.E.M. Sweetness Follows

And now for something completely different…

I believe the song is a condemnation on humanity. The tone throughout is bleak, without hope. The writer’s values are expressed in the negative, using a burial as a platform, speaking from a pulpit if you will. I could imagine shooting the video with Michael Stipe singing in such a fashion. The main value expressed is within the philosophy of humanitarianism; egalitarianism. I think it’s a mistake to think it’s his families funeral, speaking from a personal funeral, rather, think of Stipe, if you will, as the preacher, preaching to all of us, it’s any and everybody’s funeral.

The first line sets up the stage and he is speaking to us from it

Readying to bury your father and your mother

and we are hit with a question

What did you think when you lost another

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When he says “another” I believe he’s saying a fellow human being, not what did you think about burying yet another family member. And so the question really is meant to pull our thoughts away from the closeness of a father and mother and extend our thoughts to all humans “another” and what we think about losing yet another fellow human.

I used to wonder why did you bother,
Distanced from one, blind to the other

When he says “you” he’s saying “you humans” and he is expressing hypocrisy.

Listen here, my sister and my brother

That line certainly sounds like preaching, he’s calling the attention of his fellow human beings, his sisters and brothers

What would you care if you lost the other
I always wonder why did we bother
Distanced from one, deaf to the other

When he says What would you care if you lost the other I don’t think we’re being asked like when we were earlier What did you think when you lost another rather now it’s the condemnation, “what would you care if your fellow brothers and sister die, you don’t.”. This verse is also interesting because though he expressed hypocrisy earlier he now has included himself in it, why did ‘we’ bother. Finally, I think if we take the lines we have seen up till now and put them together what we see is his explanation as to why we don’t care; Distanced from one, blind to the other, and deaf to the other and what we get is an expression of the three wise monkeys proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” but in the Western sense of turning a blind eye.

Ooh, oh, ooh, but sweetness follows

I wasn’t sure what to make of this line at first but after some reading around I believe it does speak to an afterlife but I think condemningly so and it’s another reason given to us as to why we as humans turn a blind eye to another, because we believe it will all be better later so we don’t do anything or care now.

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and wonder
I always knew this altogether thunder
Was lost in our little lives

The first line speaks of the trivialities he believes divide us; I can see him thinking of things like “racism” here. The second line I at first thought was a message of solution but it just doesn’t fit with the narrative so my thoughts are this is yet another condemnation, a third reason why we turn a blind eye to our fellow humans, because we are too busy living a life filled with joy and wonder, ‘wonder’ specifically, I’m thinking something like an anti-consumerism message, while there is suffering all around us “lost in our little lives”. The third line tells us what was lost the “altogether thunder”; pure humanitarianism.

Ooh, oh, ooh, but sweetness follows
Ooh, oh, ooh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder
Yeah, yeah, we were altogether
Lost in our little lives

We see here the second line has changed from Live your life filled with joy and wonder to Live your life filled with joy and thunder so joy is ok but only in terms “altogether thunder”; pure humanitarianism, live that way and then there is joy. But we are reminded of the bleakness and how that won’t happen, Yeah, yeah, we were altogether, “So what? Yeah, we’re here quote unquote together in the physical sense but…” that though we were together it was a charade because in that same moment we were self absorbed fronting as if we care Lost in our little lives like we do at a funeral, reminded that sweetness follows and forgetting, again, our brother and sister here and now.

Oh, oh, ah

Ooh, oh, ooh, but sweetness follows
Ooh, oh, ooh, ooh but sweetness follows

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