REM: Perfect Circle Meaning
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Perfect Circle Lyrics
Eleven gallows on your sleeve
Shallow figure, winner's paid
Eleven shadows way out of place
Standing too soon, shoulders high in the room
Standing too soon, shoulders high in the room
Standing too soon,...
anonymous Jun 7th 2019 report
To me, this song seems like a strong criticism of racism. The first and second verses could dramatize some possible interactions between slaves at a slave auction. The second line of the second verse may refer to how families were torn apart there, including separating parents from children. Specifically, in the phrase 'where I left off,' the speaker could be a slave awaiting auction who's asking someone else who has a family there, 'who of your family will you lose during this?' while describing as 'off' someone who already has been so traumatized as to have become possibly catatonic. The 'I' would refer to the bereaved person's lost loved one; the rhetorical separation of the bereaved's "I" from the speaker's "I" could be meant as some explanation of the bereaved person's state of mind, especially if someone had 'lost themselves' with grief. 'Winning' may refer to the unpredictability of the auction process. 'Perfect circle' could refer to only the 'white' people present at the slave auction, rather than to all people which is a more perfect, or to the circle of all life which is an even more perfect, circle. The third verse speaks some words of support and encouragement to people of color. The chorus may describe a physical posture of standing with one's head bowed so low as to be visibly lower than one's shoulders. This posture could be expressive of shame, or possibly of some attempt at self defence by shielding one's head. Also, the rhetorical contrast of 'two' (as a homonym) against 'hi' describes how all who are singled out against their will as 'others' oftentimes do have placed upon their shoulders the burden of it, when even it is unjust in the extreme. In this historical case, it's real and extreme trauma suffered by so many African Americans, and it's more money enjoyed by a racist white culture. By 'in the room,' R.E.M. completes the action of using their white privilege to bring attention here and now to unjust injury, thereby creating more opportunities for justice and understanding, and thereby working to disempower racist people.
anonymous Jul 25th 2017 report
I believe Bill Berry wrote this. No idea what it's about though.
anonymous Oct 27th 2016 report
REM sometimes writes lyrics with the sound of the words having more importance than their dictionary meaning. I think this is one of those songs. It's a sad song with a slow tempo. The lyrics "put your hair back" and "pull your dress on" suggest an adult relationship but that's about it.
anonymous Aug 6th 2016 report
The "perfect circle" is your life to death at a funeral for someone too young to die (Jesus would qualify, as would Brian Piccolo or your friend who died from an accident).
We put our hair back for funerals, or dresses on, when it's over we "stand too soon", our "shoulders high" with "heaven assumed".
Every life is a circle of relationships wherein we "coin a phrase" and "speak out sometimes".
anonymous Mar 19th 2011 report
I agree that the second verse sounds very much like a relationship ending for two people who are part of a wider social circle. The first verse I have heard could relate to Jesus and the twelve apostles, most notably Judas. The reference to Eleven gallows on your sleeve and eleven shadows way out of place would refer to the other eleven apostles who left the scene and alot of them later ended up martyred. The lines Put your hair back, we get to leave would be consistent with those times in reference to long hair and Jesus and Judas leaving. shallow figure and winners paid would refer to Jesus being taken by the soldiers and Judas then being paid his 30 pieces of silver.
Perhaps the first verse is an analogy as a lead in to the second verse meaning that one of the people involved in the relationship betrayed the other a la Judas to Jesus.
I once heard this song (I have a video cassette of their live tour made around 1989) and thought It's about being on acid and having hallucinations:
"eleven shadows way out of place"
"eleven gallows on your sleeve"
and trying to make sense out of all the chaos around you.
"drink another coin a phrase"
Hence the title, "Perfect Circle" You know, if you have ever taken acid, that it helps to be around good, very good, friends and to be comfortable, very comfortable, because weird things, very weird things, tend to occur.
I know this interpretation is pretty strange but hey it's Stipe and I don't think it's too weird and strange and elliptical for a guy like Stipe.
Hey kids, why doesn't somenone attempt an interpretation for "Drive"?
anonymous Sep 1st 2006 report
I have some abstract thoughts on this song, but nothing concrete. I can offer this, though...
I read on several blogs that mills was inspired to write this song (I think it was mills, anyway...) while watching a high school football practice ending. Apparently, he was quoted in some interviews attesting to this fact. Then why the line about a dress?
The football practice story may account for the number 11 (11 players on a football team). But what about the dress? I hesitate to say that this may be a girl's physical encounter (reluctant or not, who knows?) with a bunch of football players. I am wrestling with the lines, 'pull your hair back', 'pull your dress on', 'drink another', and 'speak out sometimes'. Is this a girl being exploited, but is too needy and insecure to say/do anything about it? Also, why such a somber mood to the song?
As obtuse as many REM songs can be, I think this one might losing someone as a relationship wanes and comes to a close. Maybe one moment two people are naked next to each other and then the next moment, they are at a party together and as you look around the room you can't help but wonder how long the relationship will last and "Who will leave you, where I left off?" Maybe one of the 11 shadows are acquantances who you share laughs with but might be the hangman that takes away the one you love.
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