"Harborcoat" as written by and Peter Buck Bill Berry....
They crowded up to Lenin with their noses worn off
A handshake is worthy if it's all that you've got
Metal shivs on wood push through our back
There's a splinter in your eye and it reads "REACT"

They shifted the statues for harboring ghosts
Reddened their necks collared their clothes
Then we danced the dance till the menace got out
She gathered the corners and called it her gown

Please find my harborcoat can't go outside without it
Find my harborcoat, can't go outside without it

They crowded up to Lenin with their noses worn off
A handshake is worthy if it's all that you've got
Metal shivs on wood push through our back
There's a splinter in your eye and it reads "REACT", R-E-A-C-T

They shifted the statues for harboring ghosts
Reddened their necks, collared their clothes
Then we danced the dance till the menace got out
She gathered the corners and called it her gown

She said


Lyrics submitted by xpankfrisst, edited by epiwoosh

"Harborcoat" as written by Peter Buck Bill Berry

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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Harborcoat song meanings
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  • +4
    General CommentIn 1988, Michael Stipe said that he thought this song was a "real simple narrative"! He also called it "violent and brutal" but so folded-in on itself that people would only pick this up as a general gut-feeling. Later he claimed that it was a rewriting of the "Anne Frank Diaries", though I'm not sure if that helps us understand the meaning.

    Other band members seemed to think that a "harborcoat" was some sort of metaphorical, perhaps emotional, protection, but Peter Buck later admitted that he had no idea what the song was really about.
    darlomundayon June 27, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General Commentit's interesting to note that so many songs from Reckoning, including Harborcoat, have references to water, in particuular 'bodies' of wate. I think any explanation of any of these songs has to come with an understanding of why this is so.

    As for harborcoat, I always felt that there was an undertone of sadness and frustration running throughout the song and that references to lenin and dockworkers and a gown made from drapes was a nod of empathy towards the poor working class that makes a living from the hardscrabble life associated with working with the sea. And knowing that Michael was/is always well-versed in literature, I see this song as romanticizing the proletariat which would fit in well with the mindset of a young recently matriculated liberal arts artist
    peacefrogxon June 18, 2010   Link
  • +2
    Lyric CorrectionThe lyrics are gone, so here goes:

    They crowded up to Lenin with the noses worn off
    My handshake is worthy, it's all that you've got
    Metal shivs on wood pushed through our back
    There's a splinter in your eye and it reads "react"

    They've shifted the statues for harboring ghosts
    Reddened their necks and collared their clothes
    Then we ditched the books but the menace got out
    She gathered the corners and called it her gown

    She said, oh, please find my harborcoat
    Can't go outside without it
    Find my harborcoat
    Can't go outside without it

    They crowded up to Lenin with the noses worn off
    A handshake is worthy, if it's all that you've got
    Metal shivs on wood pushed through our back
    There's a splinter in your eye and it reads "react" R.E.A.C.T.

    Oh, please find my harborcoat
    Can't go outside without it
    Find my harborcoat
    Can't go outside without it

    They've shifted the statues for harboring ghosts
    Reddened their necks and collared their clothes
    Then we ditched the books but the menace got out
    She gathered the corners and called it her gown

    She said, oh, please find my harborcoat
    Can't go outside without it
    Find my harborcoat
    Can't go outside without it
    epiwooshon February 25, 2014   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaningi think in the early years (frankly, i only own the first three rem albums) stipe and the group were just giving the listener a ball of clay, allowing his or her imagination to shape it into something.
    JudeJadedon March 29, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentStipe has always had a fixation on Russia, especially that time during the Russian Revolution: people rising up against a failing monarchy. It really is one of the more interesting times in history, and he sees the reflections of that time in other parts of history: McCarthyism, Reganism, Bushism, etc. Men who may have had good intentions but who were totally co-opted by evil, self-serving people (although I'm not so sure about McCarthy, but that's just because I haven't read up on him as much as the other two). Obviously, this was before Reganism and Bushism, but they would come later on...
    bernlin2000on January 14, 2012   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI believe this song is about every day people in Bolshevik controlled Russia.
    I could be completely wrong, but is any one really right when it comes to REM lyrics? anyways, here is the breakdown:

    "They crowded up to Lenin with their noses worn off" is referring to the revolutionaries who made the Russian revolution possible, being so sick of the old conditions.

    "A handshake is worthy if it's all that you've got"
    In Soviet Russia, the poor were given preferential treatment when it came to being admitted to schools, and employment opportunities. People with wealth were seen as class enemies and persecuted, meaning that if all you have is a handshake, then you are accepted, but if you have any more than that you would have to prove yourself someway to the Party.

    "Metal shivs on wood they push through our back"
    A reference to backstabbing. It was common for neighbors, friends, and even son's and daughters to report someone as a class enemy, which could lead to imprisonment and/or execution.

    "There's a splinter in your eye it reads react"
    The splinter here being the fault in the utopian visions of Lenin and Stalin. It's this flaw that is telling people to react, and do something about the oppressive methods of the regime.

    "They shifted the statutes for harboring ghosts"
    Ghost's referring to the Bourgeois, the oppressed, the ghosts of a Communist society.

    "Reddened their necks, and collared their clothes"
    Soviet citizens tended to shift their outward appearance and backgrounds to fit Communist ideals, hence "reddened their necks" means becoming more Communist.

    "Then we danced the dance till the menace got out"
    Citizens played the game to survive until the Soviet Union, red menace, fell in 1991.

    I don't understand the last line however, nor do I know what a Harborcoat is and why Michael Stipe needs it so badly.
    morganr1994on February 04, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's about people blindy rebelling and following the leader. "The crowd is up to Lenin" and "Reddened their necks" show it's about communism. "A handshake is worthy if it's all that you've got" and "with their noses worn off" are references to people idolising the figure and giving him gifts etc to try to get in his favour.
    tombomon February 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHarbor workers have been instrumental in many worker's revolutions, including the 1917 october revolution. The Krondstadt ship workers rebelled via their soviet in what would become the final attempt by the working class in russia to maintain their socialist gains without succumbing to centrism, but a military response by the state destroyed the uprising.

    I always thought it was an homage to lenin. note that "ignoreland" is in part an anti-trotskyists-turned-neoconservatives song, in which he condemns social democracy.
    DeanFSon February 21, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've always loved this song, but never had a clue what it was actually about.
    PeterPumkinheadon March 03, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song (or at least a large part of it) is about the Jews in Nazi Germany. Listen carefully and you'll hear the line is actually, "they've shifted the STATUTES for harboring ghosts" - statutes as in laws - the laws forbidding the harboring Jewish people in one's home.

    This makes the chorus make a lot of sense - Jews weren't allowed to walk around in public without a patch sewn on their coats with the six-pointed star identifying them as such. "Can't go outside without it."
    Zardoz28on October 09, 2012   Link

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