March 9 05

So, Dan Rather says his final goodbye this evening to CBS news.

I heard on the radio this morning (see, the radio IS, in fact, educational!) that Dan Rather was the inspiration behind REM’s 1994 hit, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

I have never understood that song, even though i know each and every word.
now, i know.

It seems that One night in October 1986, CBS News anchor Dan Rather was walking down a Manhattan street when he was punched from behind and thrown to the ground. His assailant kicked and beat him while repeating, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”

No one could explain the event, and the rumors flew fast and wide. Some speculated the assailant was a KGB agent, while others claimed the attack was the work of a jealous husband. Rather himself couldn’t shed any light on the subject. His explanation at the time?

“I got mugged. Who understands these things? I didn’t and I don’t now. I didn’t make a lot of it at the time and I don’t now. I wish I knew who did it and why, but I have no idea.”

This left many to believe that the event was a fabrication of Rather’s colorful mind.

The strange event moved R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, who said of the incident:

“It remains the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century. It’s a misunderstanding that was scarily random, media hyped and just plain bizarre.”
The attack inspired the 1994 R.E.M. hit “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth.” Being a good sport, Dan Rather even accompanied the band when they performed the song on a Late Show with David Letterman appearance.

In 1997, based on a tip from a psychiatrist, Rather’s attacker was identified as William Tager. According to the psychiatrist, Tager, who was currently serving time for killing an NBC stagehand, blamed news media for beaming signals into his head, and thought if he could just find out the correct frequency, he could block those signals that were constantly assailing him. Hence the enigmatic inquiry.

good times, folks, good times.

  1. Ali, this is tremendous! I’ve always wanted to know what the details of that incident were. Thanks for sharing this!

    BTW, would you mind me quoting and crediting you as the source of this little anecdote in an upcoming post I’ll be writing about REM? It would be a great sidebar to my story recounting my experience seeing the band play here in Nashville last October 21st. It’s something I’ve been trying to get to for months but now finally have the space and time on my blog to go ahead and write about it. Please e-mail me or just respond here.

    I like your blog a lot and am glad I found you! Take care and keep up the good work!

    AJ (All Your Blogs Are Belong to Us)
    Blog • E-Mail

    Comment by AJ on March 15, 2005

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