EML’s Favorite Songs – R.E.M.: “Losing My Religion”

REM Losing My Religion

“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. is a gorgeous and haunting musical masterpiece. Released in February, 1991, it’s my favorite song from the 1990s, and one of my top ten favorite songs of all time. From their seventh studio album Out of Time, it’s their highest-charting hit in the U.S., reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Modern Rock and Album Rock Tracks charts. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards in 1992, including Record and Song of the Year, and winning for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Short Form Music Video.

Although R.E.M. had been around for ten years, releasing six albums and scoring two top 10 hits, “The One I Love” and “Stand”, they were still primarily considered an “alternative” rock band whose music was played on mostly college and FM radio stations. The immense popularity and commercial success of “Losing My Religion” and Out of Time broadened their audience beyond its original fanbase, and catapulted them to international fame. When asked at the time if he was worried that the song’s success might alienate their older fanbase, band guitarist Peter Buck told Rolling Stone, “The people that changed their minds because of ‘Losing My Religion’ can just kiss my ass.”

I agree, as it really irks me when people bitch about an indie artist or band who they feel they discovered “selling out” or “going mainstream” if they have a commercially successful breakout hit. Jeezus, we should celebrate our favorite artist or band’s success, though I suspect there’s an unhealthy kind of jealousy that occurs when all of a sudden everyone else is loving a band we felt an odd sort of intimate connection or obsession with, but I digress…

One of the many aspects that make “Losing My Religion” such an amazing song is the stunning mandolin riff that serves as the track’s driving force. Buck wrote the main riff and chorus for the song on a mandolin he’d just purchased and was learning how to play while watching TV one day. Recording of the song began in September 1990 at a music studio in Woodstock, New York, with mandolin, electric bass, and drums. Bassist Mike Mills developed a bassline inspired by some of the work of Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie, and the band decided to have their touring guitarist Peter Holsapple play acoustic guitar. Singer Michael Stipe recorded his marvelous vocal in a single take, which is remarkable in that it’s so perfect. In an interview with Guitar School, Buck later recalled, “It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel.” The beautiful, soaring orchestral strings, arranged by Mark Bingham, were later added to the song by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Soundscape Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.

With regard to the compelling lyrics, Stipe has repeatedly stated they’re not about religion. The phrase “losing my religion” is a regional expression from the southern U.S. that basically means “losing one’s temper or civility” or “feeling frustrated and desperate.” Stipe told The New York Times the song was essentially about romantic expression, while he told British music magazine Q that it’s about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.” Well, they’re very powerful, and deeply resonated with me and millions of others.

Oh life, it’s bigger
It’s bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
Consider this, the hint of the century
Consider this, the slip
That brought me to my knees, failed
What if all these fantasies come
Flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
Try, cry, why try
That was just a dream
Just a dream
Just a dream, dream

The beautiful and rather surreal music video for “Losing My Religion” was directed by Indian director Tarsem Singh. Stipe wanted a straightforward performance video, however, Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be melodramatic and very dreamlike. Singh won the argument, which among other things, required that Stipe lip sync the lyrics rather than sing them on the video. Singh has said the video is modeled after the Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” in which an angel crashes into a town and the villagers have varied reactions to him. He also drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio, and the video features portrayals of religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian, the Biblical episode of the “Incredulity of St. Thomas’, and various Hindu deities. The video was nominated in nine categories at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, and won six, including Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Art Direction, Best Direction, and Best Editing. [Wikipedia]

5 thoughts on “EML’s Favorite Songs – R.E.M.: “Losing My Religion”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.