"Beat A Drum" as written by and Michael Mills Peter Buck....
The sun reflected in the back of my eye
I knocked my head against the sky

The dragonflies are busy buzzing me
Seahorses if we were in the sea

Halfway from coal, halfway to diamond
My fall knocked a mean chip out of me

I'm gathering as far as I can reach
We're perched up on the precipice
And this is what I've seen

This is all I want it's all I need
This is all I am it's everything
This is all I want it's all I need

A Blue Jay hectors from the felled catalpa tree
Doctorate in science and a theologian's

The dragonflies are trying to lecture me
Seahorses if we were in the sea

This is all I want it's all I need
This is all I am it's everything
This is all I want it's all I need

Beat a drum for me, like a butterfly wing
Tropical storm across the ocean

But don't explain, I'm sure I'll want to know
But don't forget, we're just halfway from coal

This is all I want it's all I need
This is all I am it's everything
This is all I want it's all I need

Lyrics submitted by xpankfrisst

"Beat a Drum" as written by Michael Mills Peter Buck

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

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Beat A Drum song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentMy take on the coal and diamond reference is that it's an attempt to position human life as just another part of nature... coal is a "dirty" form of carbon and diamond a "beautiful" form of the same element. We humans are a carbon-based lifeform somewhere between the dirtiness of coal and the beauty of diamond, hence: "Halfway from coal, halfway to diamond" - we're far from the pedestal of perfection we like to think we are.

    We are reminded of our position later on in the song: "Don't forget, we're just halfway from coal".

    It's a beautiful song that celebrates nature - it just has that edge of bringing us down to earth.
    ThePrinon February 18, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentSometimes, on those beautiful summer evenings, you can't help being too aware that science doesn't explain things all that well, and that nothing fills in the gaps like spirituality. It sounds like he's seeking the meaning of life by combining both ("A doctorate in science and a theologian's dream").
    Akakuroon August 16, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentA tribute to drummer Bill Berry - who halfway through his life (and after an aneurysm) decided he would rather be a farmer than a pop star. After all, Bill Berry was the one who used to "Beat a Drum" for REM.
    gnarlyborison July 14, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis song is an ode to Bill Berry.

    This was REM's first album in the post-Berry era following Bill's near death aneurysm that he suffered while on a European tour. Basically, he had told his bandmates that enough was enough, that he had gotten all that he ever wanted out of being in a great band - wealth, fame, and most importantly, security. He wanted a more simple,family-man type of lifestyle, and he chose to retire to his large piece of farmland down in Gerogia to become a farmer.

    With that in my mind, go back and listen to the song.

    It's all about Bill and his choice.
    peacefrogxon May 18, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Halfway from coal, halfway to diamond" is all about being in the middle of some kind of journey or transformation. The next line, "My fall knocked a mean chip out of me", indicates that the narrator has 'seen the light' in some way. Something happened that knocked them off of their pedestal. However, the process of going from 'jerk' to 'nice guy' (or whatever the transformation is) takes a long time, sort of like the amount of time it would take a lump of coal (with sufficient heat and pressure) to become a diamond...

    unless you're superman.
    bagofbeefon October 21, 2004   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationA song of love on the edge of 'normal' society.

    It was instant 'Shakespearian' love at first sight. Is this love returned? I do hope so.

    The people involved are different from others around: they are seahorses; they look different; they act different but they still belong in their environment.

    Around them are the dragonflies - the gossipers buzzing around because they have nothing of value to say. The bluejays, authority figures who look down on them. They may be educated and have 'high moral standards' but who are they to judge? Their high viewpoint has crashed down, they are on the same level, their society is no better than that of any other.

    Coal is easily damaged, but given the love he yearns he can become as hard as diamond, indestructable. A second view on this could be that coal is something society rips thoughtlessly from the ground and burns up, it is as cheap and dirty but is it inexhaustible? The journey to diamond, the thing he is looking for, the thing that could make or break him,is the journey to be valued and treasured, perhaps by one person only, the person he loves, the person who may wear it on their finger.

    The most beautiful lines ever written - "Beat a drum for me, like a butterfly wing. Tropical storm across the ocean." The drum is the drum of the heartbeat, and beat it for him, think of him, as gently as a butterfly wing (according to chaos theory) it will set the storm raging in his heart wherever he is.

    Is the person ready for this? He acknowledges they are 'still halfway from coal'. He wants to know, but 'Don't explain', the hurt would be too much.

    A song of love, a song I love. Inspired by nature and simplicity.

    annaplaysgameson July 18, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Commentone last personal point to make about this song ...

    IMO - this may be one of Michael's most beautifully written lyrics OF ANY song in the entire REM catalogue. It is like a beautiful mosaic or water color in which every word contributes to the picture that he lovingly creates. Contrary to an epilogue or a eulogy with its finalities and overtones of death, this is much more of a tribute to a life led and more importantly, a life to still be fully lived.

    Just a beautifully written song.
    peacefrogxon May 18, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't know if I quite understand the thought of insomnia in here... I always thought it was just an appreciation of nature.
    showackbianhoon July 01, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song always reminded me of when it's a beautiful summer evening and you just lay back and just think "this is all I need."
    I always thought the line "Don't forget, we're just halfway from coal" was "home" instead of "coal," and I sort of prefer it that way. 'Coal' makes it sound like something bad could happen, while 'home' always sounded like "Don't worry, if anything goes wrong, we're close to home."
    bobwronskion May 11, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNote for rhapsody users:

    apparently this song is called "All I Want" in their database.

    Lovely song, by the way.
    pumkinhedon May 15, 2007   Link

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