"The Ascent of Man" as written by and Mike Mills Peter Buck....
So hesitation pulled me back
I'm stronger when I don't attract
In your eyes I'm a lamb without a rack
And I am getting confused.
I'm a cactus trying to be a canoe.
As you pan for ore
In the desert, floored,
I say to you.

That I could never imagine a place so beautiful
I could never steal your gold away.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

(I try to walk like a big wham bam
I came across like a battering ram
I try to float like a telegram sam
I'm trying to divine you)

My book is called "the ascent of man".
I marked your chapter with a catamaran.
The accent's off,
But I am what I am.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

(I try to walk like a big wham bam
I came across like a battering ram
I try to float like a telegram sam
I'm trying to divine you)

I looked for you, it's my last grandstand.
A motor-scootered goat legged pan
Figure eighting in quicksand

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

(I try to walk like a big wham bam
I try to float like a telegram sam
I came across like a battering ram
I'm trying to divine you)

(I try to walk like a big wham bam
I try to float like a telegram sam
I came across like a battering ram
I'm trying to divine you)

So hesitation pulled me back
I'm so in love I don't attract.
And with my hands tied I won't crack
('Cause in my mind I called you back)


Lyrics submitted by Lyra

"The Ascent of Man" as written by Mike Mills Peter Buck

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

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The Ascent of Man song meanings
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8 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentThis is actually my favorite song. I really mean it. Like, favorite song of all time....

    There is just something mysteriously beautiful in some of the prose, like panning for ore with this person on the desert floor, admitting to them " that I could never imagine a place so beautiful; I could never steal your gold away."

    I absolutely love that line. As if he has found someone he loves but he is both so grateful for and self deprecating, that it's not his place to pursue a love so grand.

    Aside from the entire 'selfless love' theme going on in this song, I'm particularly drawn to the line "I looked for you, it's my last grand stand. A motor scooter goat-legged Pan. Figure-eighting in quicksand."

    Like no matter how hard to tries to "divine" or connect his love to this person, they have him completely awestruck and there's really no way he can find to do it, but he loves them anyways, with nothing in return.

    **
    In the live version, there's a break in the song when it goes to instrumentals where Stipe says the words, "I look at you, but you look right through me. What's a man to do? What's a man to say?"

    Also, at the end of the song in the live version the last line (completely,) is:

    And with my hands tied I won't crack
    'Cause in my mind I called you back

    Just fyi.
    HelloPenguon March 20, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow - at first I thought this song was terrible, mainly because of the chorus (kind of sounds like 'Stipe does Lithium by Nirvana'), but it's really grown on me.

    I would love to know what it's about. Sort of echoes 'I'm Not Over You' from Up (a much better album IMHO), about someone who is in love with another person but not able to tell them - "with my hands tied I won't crack" etc.

    The Ascent of Man is a science/philosophy book about the biological and mental development of humanity. Not sure what it has to do with this, but I assume the reference is because the protagonist is reading it.

    "The accent's off/But I am what I am" seems to be a Popeye reference (!).

    Incidentally the lyrics above seem to be a bit off, possibly based on a live version or something? And the chorus at the end seems a bit muddled around.
    caitsith01on October 17, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't think there are any live versions of this song, are there? I got the lyrics from their official site, they sound ok to me. Every other lyrics site I've checked has the same lyrics too...
    Lyraon October 21, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMaybe I'm crazy, I just don't hear that bit at the end. However, I bow to your no doubt more accurate version. :)
    caitsith01on November 03, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyeap, you're right. I didn't notice before but he doesn't sing that last line, plus the previous two verses are a bit muddled around, sorry :s.I'll fix it.
    Lyraon November 08, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is the best song on around the sun. It connects feeling with the music better than any other track.
    BobWoodwardon March 13, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere is a live version on the R.E.M live CD/DVD.
    And I much prefer it live!

    I've not got much to say on the meaning, for now, though.
    Sorry!
    xx
    MeelieDon January 01, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've been into this song lately. The lyrics have a more dreamy an abstract feel to them than the rest of Around the Sun.

    I love caitsith01's point about the Popeye reference. Stipe seems to really love cartoon-like stuff and this song has some cartoony images. Popeye, of course. Then, the Big Wham Bam was an Ed the Sock show (a sock puppet, not a cartoon, but still). Then, plays with words like "I'm a cactus trying to be a canoe" and "marked your chapter with a catamaran" sound like cartoon images. The part about panning for ore and gold kind of makes me think of Yosemite Sam. It seems like he's bringing up 70s rock also; Telegram Sam was a T. Rex song.

    I see this song as the protagonist putting together the images and memories of cartoons and rock music from his childhood and constructing a character out of them. The character is navigating the present though and is totally confused by it.
    logeson August 06, 2009   Link

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