The Sidewinder is a venomous pit viper that belongs to the rattlesnake family. It’s sometimes called the horned rattlesnake because of the raised scales above it’s eyes. Hmm, a horned viper snake–that’s fitting.

March Madness

REM released their single, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight on March 19, 1993. The video was released in February. This was around the same time River updated his last will and testament. Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes formed their band P in March of ’93 emerging with their song, Michael Stipe. River also met with Dark Blood’s director George Sluizer for the first time in March of ’93.

The movie began filming about five months later. The film is centered around a Hollywood couple that shows up on Boy’s doorstep after their Bentley dies. More on Dark Blood later, but briefly, not once but twice does a sidewinder come into play. While River’s character Boy is hiking through the desert with Harry aka Mr. Hollywood, he stops in his tracks and fires off his shotgun, “Fucking sidewinder,” he says. A few moments later, it happens again. Boy fires off his shotgun nearly striking Harry in the head. “Sidewinder,” he says, “nasty motherfucker.”

Another Interesting Reference:


On the album marking John Frusciante’s return to The Red Hot Chili Peppers after a six year hiatus, 1998’s Californication features a song called Parallel Universe in which Keidis sings:

“Christ I’m a sidewinder, I’m a California King. I swear it’s everywhere, it’s everything.”

The cloudy blood-red swimming pool stands in stark contrast to the vast blue ocean outside of California’s tainted water.
River on the Run?

In Barry C. Lawrence’s book In Search of River Phoenix, an amused William Richert remembers how River used to show up at his house at all hours of the night, sometimes even crawling through the window at 3 in the morning scaring the crap out of Richert. When I say that River was on the run, I don’t mean that no one knew where he was, I simply mean he was laying low and was perhaps even afraid to be alone–especially while in LA.

River and Michael

Michael Stipe has said that River was on the set of the video for Drive, filmed in Los Angeles in 1992. According to Stipe, River got into a fight with Oliver Stone who was extremely drunk at the time. “The scene in the trailer was very, very funny,” recalled Stipe. Whenever asked about River, Michael either says, “we were good friends,” or, “we were brothers”. Obviously they were close. Stipe refers to River’s death as the single most earth-shattering event of his life. As a lifelong fan of REM, I can tell you that at least one song (usually more) is inspired by River on each album, up until their very last song (Blue) on their very last album. I own them all.

After River’s death, Stipe began displaying what appears to be the alchemy symbol for water at his concerts while performing the songs E-bow the Letter (a well-known song written for River) and Drive. Click the above links to view the live performances.


I used to think he did this as a tribute to River, like a personal gesture, a remembrance, you know, water=River, but he seems to do it quite often, not just while playing songs that remind him of River. He does it during photo shoots and even at social events. I’ve searched a number of websites for an explanation about this hand signal and if they don’t say its the occult symbol for water, they simply state it’s Illuminati. I don’t know what it all means, but in Stipe’s case I think maybe it has a double meaning. I think it is a tribute to River, but I also think it probably holds greater significance though I’m not sure what it would be. Water is a passive element, maybe he’s letting the big boys at the top know that he’s complacent and still drinking that amnesiac Kool-Aid I talked about in the last post.

In the above photo, Stipe displays the water symbol with a snake wrapped around his shoulders. At first glance I brushed this picture off as some Satanic, occultic, mumbo jumbo, Illuminati symbolism, I now wonder if maybe the snake is in reference to the sidewinder. After all, you can’t put a real rattlesnake around your shoulders. This photo is symbolic of something. The snake and the water symbol = The Sidewinder and River?


Released on October 5, 1992, Automatic has and always will be one of my favorite albums. It never gets old. I have every song memorized and can sing the album in its entirety backwards while standing on my head, but I’ve never fully understood some of the songs until recently. The most mysterious tracks on the album make since when I apply The River Factor. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight is probably the most telling. The lyrics frequently refer to making and avoiding phone calls.

“It’s about somebody that doesn’t have a place to stay. Part of it is also about what man can do that machines can’t. The rest of it – I don’t have any idea what it’s about.” Mike Mills

I believe that Stipe wrote the song about phone conversations he was having with River about his mother. Heart was under pressure by the Kingship to get her son in line and Michael Stipe was the middle man, acting as River’s dog in a sense, collecting information and reporting back to River. This dog reference comes up again and again in REM’s songs, in Stipe’s photo shoots, in Dark Blood (Boy’s dog, named Dog, is killed by Harry Hollywood) and even on P’s album cover we see a dead dog. In the video for Strange Currencies, we repeatedly see a wolf (Michael’s alter) devouring a piece of raw meat.

I have a working theory that River and Michael Stipe were devising some sort of plan to get River off the hook, but Stipe becomes the Judas in this story. He sold River out (or more to the point, his alter did) which inevitably led to River’s death. Consider the lyrics for I Took Your Name, from the album Monster:

I sequenced your arrival
I sealed your fate
I pushed the button and erased your master tape

I wrote the sales pitch
I threw the brake switch…

If there is some confusion of who’s to blame.

Is this the alter describing how he sabotaged and eventually killed River? Peter Buck said on record that Stipe was taking on different characters on that album, which was dedicated to River.

I believe The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight chronicles some of River and Michael’s phone conversations. Remember the lyrics for Strange Currencies, I don’t know why you’re mean to me when I call on the telephone. Remember also the running man in the video talking on a payphone while the car with the spotlight drives past. All these loose connections seem to tell a story when combined. Let’s look at the lyrics for The Sidewinder. Now, I will be having some fun and taking creative liberty as I have no idea if I’m right about who’s saying what. Here goes:

(It begins with River’s part. He calls to tell Stipe where he’s staying and sounds as if he’s giving him the run around.)

This here is the place where I will be staying
There isn’t a number, you can call the pay phone
Let it ring a long, long, long, long time
If I don’t pick up, hang up, call back, let it ring some more, oh
If I don’t pick up…

(Stipe cuts in: you better pick up because things are getting hot) 

pick up
The sidewinder sleeps, sleeps, sleeps in a coil

(River’s part. He’s talking about his mother. He doesn’t want to discuss any alternatives until his mother wake’s up to the corruption she’s serving. The Kingship wants River to drink the water, forget the abuse he suffered and submit. Heart apparently wanted the same thing.)

Call me when you try to wake her up. (repeat)

(Stipe’s part. In his lyrics, when Michael refers to River he usually calls him either Baby or Boy. Heart shows glimpses of coming around, but money talks)

There are scratches all around the coin slot
Like a heartbeat, baby, trying to wake up
But this machine can only swallow money

(River’s part. You can’t sweep the past under the rug.)

You can’t lay a patch by computer design
It’s just a lot of stupid, stupid signs

Tell her
Tell her she can kiss my ass
Then laugh and say that you were only kidding
That way she’ll know that it’s really, really, really, really me

Call me when you try to wake her up (repeat)

(Michael’s part. He needs more from River)

Baby, instant soup doesn’t really grab me
Today I need something more sub-sub-sub-substantial

(River cuts in and makes light of the situation)

A can of beans or black-eyed peas? Some Nescafe and ice?
A candy bar, a falling star, or a reading from Doctor Seuss?

Call me when you try to wake her up (repeat)

(Michael’s part: Not sure about this one, but possibly The Kingship and/or handlers reinforced their hold on Heart and/or Michael. Heart is smiling in every picture ever taken of her as if everything is hunky dory, so the second line is probably in reference to her. Heart is pretending everything’s okay, yes Hollywood is fake, but the enemy never sleeps and River’s dreaming if he thinks he can take them on and kill the sidewinder) 

The cat in the hat came back, wrecked a lot of havoc on the way
Always had a smile and a reason to pretend
But their world has flat backgrounds and little need to sleep but to dream
The sidewinder sleeps on his back

(River stands his ground. He can keep avoiding them and sleeps with one eye open)

Call me when you try to wake her up, call me when you try to wake her
Call me when you try to wake her up, call me when you try to wake her
I can always sleep standing up. Call me when you try to wake her, oh


(Michael’s part: we’ve gotta hurry up and do something)

We’ve got to moogie, moogie, move on this one

(Note: All the lyrics found on this website are taken from A-Z Lyrics with the exception of Soul Removal)

The video depicts a hypnotic spinning machine with a melting block of ice at its center. The band members are shown in separate rooms as Michael paces the sand-covered floors. Shadows flash across the screened walls creating a dream-like state as the spinning wheel rotates around the main room. The ice slowly melts as Michael’s room fills with water.

He enticingly runs his fingers through the water, but in different shots he takes on River’s character and avoids the water. He stands on the chair as he sings River’s part, I can always sleep standing up. He switches back and forth throughout the video.

He also shows his growing irritation when he sings River’s repeated line, Call me when you try to wake her up… He’s talking to a brick wall.

We see Michael appear as The Cat in the Hat which may be in reference to his own alter. The one who wrecked a lot of havoc. Nursery rhymes and children’s books are often used in conjunction with childhood-based trauma/mind control.

Michael slips into the water at the end of the video. We gotta hurry up on this one. The water is rising. Just submit. I can’t help but wonder if this video is something similar to the real process used for hypnosis, the water symbolizing whatever drug it is they’re given. Is this what’s going on up the Laurel Canyon way?

 Here’s how Michael Stipe’s alter felt about the whole ordeal:

From Circus Envy off Monster

I’ve got my telescope head in the haystack
I’m getting tired of your dodgeball circus act
Put pepper in my coffee, I forgot to bark on command

Here comes that awful feeling again
Make way for monster jealousy
The strong man kicked sand into my breakfast cereal bowl
I spelled your name with Oatios,
He messed it, messed it, messed it, messed it up

You’re mean, mean, mean
You tease, tease, tease me

In Conclusion:

I have no doubt that Michael Stipe loved River deeply, but through his lyrics on Monster we see a different side to him, meaner, callous and full of resentment. We see his alter take over and tell his side of the story.  As a writer, I don’t think I could devise a better storyline and just like the old cliché, truth is stranger than fiction. What better way to keep Stipe in line than to use him to kill his beloved friend, the lost boy he looked upon as a younger brother. There’s no going back after that. Michael Stipe was put in a difficult position and paid the ultimate price for failing to lasso the lion. He failed to change Heart’s heart, and broke the rules by rallying behind the boy in the well.

(I think I’ve finally figured out how to tell this story, just use Michael Stipe’s lyrics)

As for River, always the dreamer, he thought he could take on the system and save his friends and loved-ones from their corrupt environments. Dark Blood features a monologue read by Sluizer but intended for River’s character Boy in which he laments to Harry Hollywood:

“Do you believe in evil? Because there is evil, and it is as real as you or me. It gets in people’s brains. It takes them over and they don’t even know it. Politicians, military, big business, you think I’m crazy? Let me tell you, I’ve been close enough to evil to kiss it on the lips.”

He may as well have been talking about his own mother.


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