Monty Got a Raw Deal

The American band R.E.M. has been a steady favourite of mine since a friend introduced me to their music in the early 1980s. Their sound was unique, bold and adventurous, always set upon a solid alternative rock foundation; their music also journeyed into other post-punk sub-genres, including folk rock, college rock, jangle pop and baroque pop.

Formed in 1980, the band put out an impressive body of work from 1981 until they disbanded amiably in 2011: “fifteen studio albums, four live albums, fourteen compilation albums, one remix album, one soundtrack album, twelve video albums, seven extended plays, sixty-three singles, and seventy-seven music videos,” a Wikipedia article devoted to the band’s discography says.

In addition to their rich, well-developed sound palette, which often includes instruments like mandolin and accordion, lead singer Michael Stipe has a distinctly robust and expressive voice that I like a lot.

“Monty Got a Raw Deal” strikes me as a mysterious song, so I set out to learn its meaning. The sites I consulted were almost unanimous in their statements and comments from readers claiming the song is about the American actor Montgomery Clift (1920-1966). His film career is unfamiliar to me, so I’ll go with the expert/consensus view.

“Monty this seems strange to me.
The movies had that movie thing,
But nonsense has a welcome ring
And heroes don’t come easily.
Now, nonsense isn’t new to me.
I know my head, I know my feet,
But mischief knocked me in the knees.
Said, Just let go. Just let go.

I saw the ocean meet the man.
I saw you buried in the sand.
A friend was there to hold your hand,
Said, Walk on by.
So, I went walking through the street.
I saw you strung up in a tree.
A woman knelt there said to me,
Said, Hold your tongue, man. Hold your tongue.

You don’t owe me anything.
You don’t want this sympathy. (waste your breath)
Don’t you waste your breath. (waste your breath)
For the silver screen.

That nonsense doesn’t mean a thing,
They tried to bust you in a sting,
But virtue isn’t everything
So, don’t waste time.
Now, here’s a rhyme that you can steal.
Put this on your reel to reel.
Mischief threw a rotten deal.
Monty’s laying low.
He is laying low.
Just let go, just let go.

You don’t owe me anything.
You don’t want this sympathy. (waste your breath)
Don’t you waste your breath. (waste your breath)
Monty this seems strange to me.”

“Monty Got a Raw Deal,” by Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Bill Berry.
Lyrics retrieved from

The drums come in with an urgency that punctuates the beginning of the verses, perhaps symbolizing the angst the young actor would have felt after a 1956 car crash that left him badly injured, including facial damage that plastic surgery of the day couldn’t completely restore; this must have been devastating for a person known (and employed at least in part) for his dashing looks.

“Monty Got a Raw Deal” is the first track on the B-side (or, as released, the “ride” side, with side A being the “drive” side) of R.E.M.’s eighth studio album, Automatic for the People (1992). I previously posted a longer piece about “Drive,” which is the opening song from (you guessed it) the “drive” side of the album.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here. Please enjoy the official audio from the remhq YouTube channel:

With warm regards,


8 thoughts on “Monty Got a Raw Deal

    1. My pleasure, Rosaliene. 🙂 A friend introduced my sweety and me to Joy’s poetry a few years ago and we find her deeply inspiring. I really appreciated your post on her.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love R.E.M and this song. I actually first heard of this song because it’s about Montgomery Clift. I read an article about it and that’s what made me get interested in the song.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. True, it’s also interesting how that often makes us decide whether we love or hate the song. Like if someone I hated recommended a song I probably wouldn’t like it even if it’s an okay song.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s an interesting observation. I wonder if that’s because the person’s recommendation attaches their “baggage” in a way that is difficult to separate from the song itself.

          Liked by 1 person

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