WHAT'S THE FREQUENCY KENNETH?
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The title of the song is not original to the band REM, which guitarist Peter Buck explains in the liner notes to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003. It refers to an incident in New York City in 1986, where news anchor Dan Rather was the victim of an unprovoked attack by one or two assailants who, between beatings, would ask, "what's the frequency, Kenneth?" (although the phrase Dan Rather says he actually heard was, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"). One of the assailants has been since identified as William Tager, who attacked Rather because he thought the media had taken control of him. Furthermore, in a 2001 Harper's article ("The frequency: Solving the riddle of the Dan Rather beating") this incident was tenuously linked by Paul Limbert Allman back to the late Postmodern literary giant Donald Barthelme's writings, which contained recurrences of a character named Kenneth and in the text “Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel” asks, "What is the frequency?"  The phrase "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is also used in Daniel Clowes' surreal comic Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron; it is supposedly used as a formal greeting and a way to contact a mystical figure. The phrase occurs in "Final Transmission", the first episode of the 1986 TV series Crime Story. The Beauty Shop Slayer character blurts out the phrase amongst other non-sequiturs whilst slaughtering the customers and staff of a beauty shop in the opening scene.
R.E.M./Mitch Easter cohorts Game Theory also recorded a song (produced by Easter) called "Kenneth-What's the Frequency?" on their 1987 release Lolita Nation.
Although not obviously audible, the song slows down slightly towards the end (from an original tempo of 96 BPM down to 94 BPM) because of bassist Mike Mills, who was in severe pain but, following his lead, the band continued to record the song until the end. Mills was then taken to the hospital and it was discovered he had appendicitis, which disrupted parts of the 1995 Monster tour (resulting in dates between 10 July, 1995 and 20 July, 1995 to be cancelled). R.E.M. never got around to re-recording the song.