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 StipeNightswimming 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 StipeLosing My Religion lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group