I feel like I’ve just finished a novel with the worst possible ending a writer could dream up. Give me happily ever after. Let me choose my own adventure. I demand a rewrite.

If anyone wants to know the real story behind the life and death of River Phoenix, just listen to R.E.M. Start with the album Out of Time and work your way through two decades of Michael Stipe’s emotionally draining lyrics until you Collapse into Now. Repeat as necessary. I can say with little doubt that the majority of his songs are about his tumultuous relationship with River. Were they lovers? It appears at one time they might have been. Did he have a hand in River’s death? Yes and no. The Cat in the Hat came back, unfortunately, the cat burglar couldn’t see in the dark.

Decode Stipe’s lyrics, solve River’s murder…easier said than done. Had I not been such a huge R.E.M. fan for the better part of my life, I’m not sure I could have made these connections. Words and phrases such as baby, luna moth, electron blue, climbing trees, birds, the fall, etc, are all direct references to River. He comes alive in Michael’s songs and haunts his dreams. He’s the wayward lover, the tease, the lost boy, the driving force behind Stipe’s gut-wrenching grief and sorrow. He’s the muse behind the music.

Cats and Birds

In the song The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight, Michael refers to The Cat in the Hat coming back and wrecking a lot of havoc. He even appears in the video wearing cat ears. In my last post I questioned whether or not this was in reference to his less than pleasant alter. After viewing the cover for Monster again, I’m positive it is.

The so-called monster used for the album art resembles a wide-eyed cat, and as shown in the pictures above, Stipe’s only tattoos are of the German cartoon characters, Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse. Michael is the lovelorn Kat who is repeatedly rejected and physically abused by the mouse i.e. River. Think Bang and Blame from the Monster album:

If you could see yourself now, baby,
It’s not my fault, you used to be so in control.
You’re going to roll right over this one.
Just roll me over, let me go,
You’re laying blame.
Take this as no, no, no, no, no.

You bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,
Then blame, blame, blame,
You bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,
It’s not my thing so let it go.

You kiss on me, tug on me, rub on me, jump on me.
You bang on me, beat on me, hit on me, let go on me. You let go on me.

We see the same jaded yet blasé attitude in the song, Lotus (from the album Up) where Stipe appears in the video with blood-stained sleeves. The lyrics describe his ongoing struggle with his dissociative disorder:

“Who’s this stranger? Crowbar spine (dot, dot, dot). . . and I feel fine. Let it rain, rain, rain, bring my happy back again.”

He also makes reference to a cat in the song:

“That cat can walk like a big bad man. So happy to show us, I ate the lotus.”

The Canary in the Coal Mine:

The canary in the coal mine is an allusion to caged canaries (birds) that miners would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately. (Wiktionary)

Birds are a reoccurring theme in Michael’s lyrics and appear to symbolize his peers, his fellow celebrities who are also slaves to the Kingship.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1995 album)

“Brother can you see those birds? They don’t look to heaven. They don’t need religion they can see. They go down to the water, drink down on the water, fly up off the water, leave it be. I’m drowning me.”

His peers don’t need religion. They do what they’re told and leave it alone. River did the opposite and it ultimately got him killed. By all accounts, River managed to keep his religion and refused to drink Hollywood’s water. We can hear Michael’s bitter indifference battling it out with his lovesick grief throughout the album (throughout his career, really). In a song off the same album, he again uses religious allegory in reference to River’s death:

How the West was Won

“Blood from a stone, water from wine, born under an ill-placed sign [the hanged-man, the 23 enigma]. A stroke of bad luck, wrong place, wrong time, this flyer is out of line.” (Flyer=Bird. River was forever out of line, which is why I’m such a huge fan)

In the same song he also refers to River as the canary in the coal mine, substituting uranium for coal:

“The canary got trapped in the uranium mine. I struck bad luck, now the bird has died.”

 Be Mine:

“I’ll ply the tar out of your feathers. I’ll pluck the thorns out of your feet. You and me. You and me. I’ll eat the lotus and peyote. I want to hear the caged bird sing.”

Monster (1994 album)
Let Me In:

“Well I got tar on my feet and I can’t see all the birds look down and laugh at me, clumsy crawling out of my skin. Hey, let me in.”

Although Stipe has said that this song was written for Kurt Cobain, the lyrics include an interesting part that doesn’t seem to apply to Cobain but instead describes River’s death to a tee:

“I only wish that I could hear you whisper down, Mister fisherman, to a less peculiar ground. He gathered up his loved ones and he brought them all around to say goodbye. Nice try.”

Mister fisherman seems more like a religious reference to Jesus Christ and His fishers of men quote from the bible. Stipe references Jesus more than once in his songs which we’ll explore later, but the line, “he gathered up his loved ones and he brought them all around to say goodbye,” sounds more like River’s last night at the Viper Room surrounded by his friends and loved ones (The Last Supper if you will) than Cobain who died alone.

Circus Envy:

(Up a tree)

“If I were you I’d really run from me. I really really wish that I were you. When I get loose I’ll climb a tree and drop a load on your head, this monster in me makes me retch, you messed it, messed it up.”

Automatic for the People (1992 album)
Monty got a Raw Deal:

I saw the ocean meet the man.
I saw you buried in the sand.
A friend was there to hold your hand,
said, “walk on by”.
So, I went walking through the street,
I saw you strung up in a tree,
a woman knelt there said to me,
said, “Hold your tongue, man. Hold your tongue”.

Up (1998 album)
Parakeet is a haunting melody that poetically describes the moment before death and the freeing of the spirit after death. Below are the first two and last two stanzas:

You wake up in the morning
and fall out of your bed
mean cats eat parakeets
and this one’s nearly dead.

Open the window
and lift into your dreams
lately, baby,
you can barely breathe.

You wake up in the morning
to warm Pacific breeze
where mean cats chew licorice
and cannot climb the trees.

Open your window
and lift into a dream
baby, baby
baby starts to breathe.

Full lyrics here

6018f0fa7a4b36dd10cb83542e12452dIs Michael Stipe the monster from his album cover? The Cat in the Hat who wrecked a lot of havoc? The mean cat who climbs trees and eats birds? Unfortunately, yes.

Judging by his songs (his open diary) I have a feeling he didn’t always know what happened the night River died. I think he experienced moments of clarity but then went down to the water to bring his happy back again. In the song Diminished he sings, I watched you fall, I think I pushed…Smallpox blanket? No way...Baby I loved you, baby I loved you, baby I’m finished. He admits to witnessing River collapse on the sidewalk and suspects he may have been the cause, but the reference to a smallpox blanket implies there may have been others.

In previous posts I’ve eluded to the possibility that Stipe had a hand in Cobain’s death, as well as Heath Ledger’s. I have yet to research this further but if Stipe was used as a mind-controlled patsy, I don’t see the evidence in any more of his lyrics. That is to say, I don’t see the painful regret and remorse he reserves for River, his baby.

Michael Stipe’s lyrics tell a story, and much like John Frusciante, I think he wants the truth to be told.

The Worst Joke Ever, a song from the 2004 album Around the Sun, is arguably one of the most telling of the bunch. It deserves its own post but I wanted to include it here as it plays a key role in the cat/alter theory. As with many of his songs, Stipe switches back and forth between characters (mainly himself and River) and it’s difficult to tell who’s saying what. This song deserves our undivided attention but I’m not quite done making sense of it, however, it does suggest that the official story of River’s death is just that, the worst joke ever. A fabrication. Complete nonsense.

River is the cat burglar in this story which leads me to believe he did in fact have some sort of plan. It also suggests that he knew about Stipe’s condition. The cat burglar can’t see in the dark which may explain why River drank the poison, unable to recognize his disguised friend, but the last three lines of the first stanza fit right in line with River’s supposed speedball overdose. For the chorus, Stipe sings, “give me a minute and I’ll tell you my version of the greatest life story,” which could be translated as, give me a minute and I’ll tell you what really happened at the Viper Room that night.

I’m not sure if this song is through Michael or River’s perspective but the fourth stanza suggests it might be from River’s. Like I said, it needs more analysis but one’s thing’s for certain, this song is 100% without a doubt, I’ll see your bet and raise you fifty, about River.

The Worst Joke Ever

You see there’s this cat burglar who can’t see in the dark,
he lays his bets on 8 more lives, walks into a bar,
slips on the 8 ball, falls on his knife,
says, “I don’t know what I’ve done, but it doesn’t feel right!”

Some things don’t hold up over the course of a lifetime,
when’s the first time you heard that one, 1954?
Get to the punch line, fall to the floor.

Give me a minute and I’ll tell you the setup for
the worst joke ever, I never.
I’ll tell you my version of the greatest life story,
don’t bore me.

Now I am floating,
I feel released.
The moorings have been dropped,
the weights unleashed.
Everything is crystalline, simple and free.

The crime of good men who can’t wrestle with change,
or are too afraid to face this life’s misjudged unknowns.
You’re not hurting anybody else’s chances,
but you’re disfiguring your own.

Give me a minute and I’ll tell you the setup for
the worst joke ever, I never.
I’ll tell you my version of the greatest life story,
don’t bore me, I NEVER.
Give me a minute and I’ll tell you the setup.

You see there’s this feeling that I’ve heard this one before.

Quasimodo Heart

If you’ve ever wondered what inspired such timeless R.E.M. classics as Losing My Religion, Drive, or Country Feedback, I’ve got two words for you: River Phoenix.

16ad29515d74338bffb89e30652721cfOn R.E.M.’s final album Collapse into Now, Stipe mentions his Quasimodo heart in the song All the Best. Quasimodo is a fictional character and the protagonist in the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Born with a hunchback, Quasimodo was feared by the townspeople as a sort of monster but he finds sanctuary in an unlikely love that is fulfilled only in death.

If I haven’t already said it, Michael Stipe is a genius when it comes to song lyrics. I can only hope I’m doing him some sort of justice. In 2004’s song Around the Sun, he sings, “I want the truth to set me free. I wish the followers would lead with a voice so strong it could knock me to my knees.”

Okay…I’ll tell Michael what I told John, and that is, let’s do this thing


8 thoughts on “Mean Cats Eat Parakeets

      1. No problem. Michael Stipe is very sick in the head. His album dedicated to River is more disrespect to River than a tribute to him. Michael seems sexually frustrated and downright cold hearted towards River. River had very fake friends. John Frusciante says he wishes River was never born. It’s messed up how his family don’t want to talk about him as well. I feel so bad for River. These people in the industry are cold hearted and sick.


  1. What you have un covered is simply amazing! I don’t doubt any of it! It’s almost as if River is whispering in your ear. This is chilling, eerie & beautiful all at once. River needed this terribly! Probably the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for River’s legacy.
    I have also uncovered things about Jim Morrison… Again almost like Jim himself was guiding me 2 the info…whispers in the ears if u will.


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