"I Believe" as written by and Bill Berry Michael Mills....
When I was young and full of grace
And spirited a rattlesnake
When I was young and fever fell
My spirit I will not tell
You're on your honor not to tell

I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract
Explain the change the difference between
What you want and what you need there's the key
Your adventure for today what do you do
Between the horns of the day?

I believe my shirt is wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

When I was young and give and take
And foolish said my fool awake
When I was young and fever fell
My spirit, I will not tell
You're on your honor, on your honor

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true
Think of others, the others think of you
Silly rule golden words make, practice, practice makes perfect,
Perfect is a fault, and fault lines change

I believe my humor's wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

I believe my shirt is wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

I was young and full of grace
As spirited a rattlesnake
When I was young and fever fell
My spirit, I will not tell
You're on your honor, on your honor
I believe in example
I believe my throat hurts
Example is the checker to the key

I believe my humor's wearing thin
And I believe the poles are shifting

I believe my shirt is wearing thin
And change is what I believe in


Lyrics submitted by xpankfrisst

"I Believe" as written by Bill Berry Michael Mills

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

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I Believe song meanings
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15 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentGreat great song and such a shame that there are only 3 comments.
    This seems, at times, to be about becoming fed up with things and wanting change. And also with accepting change as a good thing
    "Perfect is a fault and fault lines change"

    Stipe is absolutely incredible to me. He seems to explore so many ideas and seems to contradict himself throughout some of the songs he has written, has anyone noticed?
    In the dvd "tourfilm" he says:
    "I'll believe anything when I'm there"
    Which may explain the contradictions. There is so much stuff out there that it's hard to know what to believe but I think Stipe's song explore many issues very well if you are willing to take a look at them. They do it not by trying to impose a stone-chiseled view of things but by presenting things as he sees them at the time, and his vantage point does seem to change (which is what he believes in)
    laocoonon February 27, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think Shanier's comment sums a lot up - there's something about this song that just makes you want to throw off any shackles that might be holding you back, throw caution to the wind and just do what you feel.

    Stipe is a talented guy - I admire REM's music a great deal and his lyrics are so rich.... but there's something about this song that makes it a breath of fresh air everytime I hear it. The following just says it all for me:

    Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true
    Think of others, the others think of you
    Silly rule golden words make practice
    Practice makes perfect
    Perfect is a fault and fault lines change

    What a great song.
    fezmunson January 14, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe song was originally called "When I Was Young" and is listed as a track on "Fables of the Reconstruction", but was pulled at the last minute when the band realised it was no good. They then took it apart, kept the good bits and called it "I Believe", which Stipe took from a Mahalia Jackson gospel song.

    The song is positive and upbeat, as were most of the songs the band were writing at that time (1986). The old cliches the narrator sincerely believes in, like "think of others" and "practice makes perfect", are bolstered by humourous asides about sore throats and old shirts. Ultimately, what does he believe in? "Change" as a positive force in life.

    Interestingly, one of the best lines is the result of an accidental mis-reading. The first verse originally ended with "What do you do between the HOURS of the day", but when a friend read it as "HORNS" Stipe realised that was a much better image and kept it.
    darlomundayon June 27, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOne thing I've always loved about this song is the first 15 seconds of the album version on Life's Rich Pageant.

    I love how it starts with a very traditional banjo piece that sounds like something right out of back country Appalachia. Then, when the song launches - if you're really listening - you realize that the band did indeed take that traditional sound and gave it a modern makeover. I just find it fascinating musically. I'm not sure if it was meant to convey something about the song meaning itself, but it adds a special element.
    whitewolfbcon April 27, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe joys and fears of youth and aging!
    Adventure in the south! :-D

    Wonderful wonderful song.
    the_associateon December 20, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe references to rattlesnakes and coyotes make me think of the American Southwest. The rattlesnake, of course, symbolizes the idealized American spirit (lately, the Tea Party has tried to co-opt this symbol). Benjamin Franklin wrote in a famed letter to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1775):

    "... I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. ...she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.

    "Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? ...the rattles...[are] just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. ... One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.

    "... In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish. The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend their lives with her."

    It is sad that today's America does not conduct itself with the quiet, unpretentious dignity of the rattlesnake.

    (Interestingly, there is another R.E.M. song that also makes reference to a rattlesnake: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight.")
    picturesofthesunon June 10, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentR.E.M.'s finest, hands down.
    barfolimewon October 15, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentgreat song, about accepting changes
    Little_Baby_Nothingon June 12, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is the song I always listened to before I took any test--in high school, in college, learning to drive, et c. Or before any job interview. Something in this song always made me braver.
    shanieron March 01, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn response to what Laocoon said about Stipe's contradictions, I think Stipe is taking a lot of common-held beliefs and deliberately juxtaposing them to show how ridiculous some are. For example, the "practice makes perfect/perfect is a fault" comparison reveals that everyone wants to try so hard and repeat their actions till they've refined them to perfection, yet everyone seems to despise things that are perfect. It's like the student in school who gets straight A's working his rear off...everyone else in the class secretly hates the kid because of what he's able to accomplish. Thus for me, the "fault lines change" line is about how the razor line cut by society on things that are good or not is very fickle, and as you said, we should accept this change and really not get down over it. Most of the illusions to youth work with this well too, as when you are young you build up all of your ideas and get them knocked down by people as you go through the years, and you either interpret the believe in change to be that you should be welcome to changing yourself or that people will change around you and might accept you over time. Either way, it's a very uplifting song.
    realitysoldieron December 09, 2006   Link

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