Music Monday | Nightswimming – R.E.M. & Losing My Religion (R.E.M. Cover) – Passenger

Twenty-odd years ago when I was still in my teens, I worked at an American Christian summer camp. In our last week, before we all disbanded to travel back to our respective colleges, jobs, and to resume real life, a group of us went skinny-dipping in a shallow cove just around the corner from the campfire bowl. It was the naughtiest thing I’d done, up until that point. We weren’t even allowed to wear two-piece bathing suits at the camp.

R.E.M.’s Nightswimming always reminds me of that evening; bare, barely visible bodies gliding through the water in the dark. Occasionally, a flash of skin, shining in the moonlight. Hushed whispers became squashed giggles and suppressed shrieks. We absolutely could not get caught. I wasn’t self-conscious in the dark, not like during the light of day.

Years later, I learned to play this piece on the piano. And sometimes, when I want to be transported back to the most carefree time of my life, I still do.

Songwriters: Bill Berry / Peter Buck / Michael Mills / Michael Stipe
Nightswimming lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

I worked at a few other Christian summer camps in the years following, in Canada. And while I believed I believed in God, there was always the struggle. The effort of maintaining a personal relationship. Of course, there were times that I thought God talked back. But you can believe anything, if you really want to.

While Michael Stipe of R.E.M. has frequently said he did not write Losing My Religion about religion (“losing my religion” is an old expression from the southern region of the USA meaning to lose one’s temper or civility, to be at the end of one’s rope experiencing feelings of frustration and desperation, or that moment that politeness gives way to anger), I still associate this song with the loss of my own religion. Church was an integral part of my teens and early twenties but my experiences since have shifted my perspective dramatically.

It didn’t happen quickly and it didn’t happen publicly. I hid it for a good few years. But as I’ve deconstructed and deconverted, I’ve also recognised the damage and trauma that it has caused.

And now I have things to say.

Songwriters: William Thomas Berry / Peter Lawrence Buck / Michael E. Mills / Michael Stipe
Losing My Religion lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Music Monday | Outside the Lines – Birdtalker

After running a Spotify account for about two years, I’m finally starting to use it in a way that doesn’t involve just searching for my favourite songs and listening to them. Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the recommendations and last week stumbled onto this gem.

Birdtalker’s debut album One was released last year after an EP in 2016, and a new single came out just over a week ago.

When I met G, I sent him a list of my flaws; number nine of fifteen said “I listen to too much indie folk music.” Birdtalker’s debut One may not fit as neatly into the indie folk music genre as their EP Just This but it is still largely reminiscent of that soft, folksy Americana that draws me in.

But what Birdtalker has, in addition to sweet sweet sounds, is something magical in their lyrics. There is an existential heartache in their songs; the search for meaning and purpose by a couple who’ve deconstructed from Protestant religion. Perhaps it’s their rejection of exclusionary dogma, a mirror of my own trajectory, and the unpacking of the baggage of religious narratives that I resonate with. Perhaps it’s the way they challenge traditional hierarchies while they examine their role in maintaining such systems. Perhaps it’s that their songs sit in a liminal space I’m far too familiar with. Whatever it is, I love it.

In an article with Billboard prior to the release of the song I’m posting tonight, songwriter Dani Green said: “I was pretty angry when I wrote it, but I don’t think you would know that from listening to the song.”

Dani, who co-fronts Birdtalker with her husband Zack Green, tells Billboard about the gentle, harmony-laden folk song. Organized religion was Green’s intended target, but “Outside The Lines” carefully encompasses hypocrisy on a broader scale.

“I was tired of feeling like people in that arena could — because they say they’re believing in good things — treat people really poorly,” Green explains. “That just stirred up a lot of anger in me. The language of the song, the words, are very flowery and elevated to poke fun at the elevated, flowery language of religion, the ancient texts. It feels like it’s deceptive. That language, because it’s so nice and flowery, is like a shield you could put up in front of you, but then you go and treat people in ways that’s not at all reflective of the things you said.”

“Outside The Lines” is, however, representative of Green’s lyrical approach on the album’s 11 tracks. “It’s sort of a snapshot of a period of deconstruction and having a lot of open-ended questions,” she says. “It feels pretty open-handed and like it asks a lot of question and sort of targets mainstays or institutions, things that are kind of an unquestioned part of your life — until you decided to start questioning them. So it feels like a lot of questions, with a little bit of resolve.”