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.”

Music Monday | Friends – Michael W. Smith

Suitcase wheels whir and grate as I haul the rollaboard along behind me, running for the train. Two minutes to departure. And I still have to make it up a level, over the bridge and down an escalator to platform 15A. A lyric pops into my head as my feet beat against the white polished concrete floor of the bus terminal.

And friends are friends forever.

Conversations play out in my head, both real, and imaginary. Constantly. Mostly, I let them create scenes of their own accord and don’t pay much attention. But as I run, I replay the discussions I had over the weekend. I’ve been in Newcastle and Sydney for four and a half days, and due to my recent engagement, most of my talks with friends have centred around relationships, dating and marriage.

A question I used to ask prospective dates, I said to the friend I grew up across the street from in high school, was “How many close friends do you have, and how long have you known them?”

The answer was often indicative of how well a person could create and maintain relational bonds and boundaries. How well they could manage a relationship over time and all the challenges that came with it. How good a friend they could be. No close friends was always a worry. Short-lived friendships were a worry. But not making new friends was a worry, too.

Of the people I connected with this weekend, the range of time for which I’ve known them is between eight and twenty-eight years (or my entire life, if you count my parents). Long-term friendships require work from both parties; they need trust, respect, vulnerability, kindness and love to flourish. And I’ve always found that if you can be a good friend, you can be a good partner. But most of us don’t consider what makes us a good friend, nor what makes a good friend to us in return.

Although I don’t resonate with all of this song anymore in the same way I used to, it’s the one that popped into my head as I ran and the message is still meaningful.

A lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.

And I’m exceedingly grateful for mine.

Music Monday | Anthem – Leonard Cohen

We are just into our fourth week of travelling with one more to go. It feels both long, and short. I miss friends at home, and those living in places I’ve already been. But I can’t be multiple places at once.

Or maybe I can.

Today we were here, though. A little park in Montreal across the road from Leonard Cohen’s former residence. I loved Leonard Cohen but I don’t grieve for him. I don’t need to. Because he already knew what life was about.

img_2605

Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in

Music Monday | Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

In a darkened hall, the DJ on stage is pumping out tunes. Video clips play on a huge screen behind him. Coloured lights flash. Smoke hisses from the machine out across the dance floor and I bounce with my friends in a circle in the corner. You wouldn’t call what I’m doing dancing. I tug my ruffled denim skirt toward my knees. My purple shirt is knotted at my waist barely exposing my midriff but everyone is staring. She shouldn’t be wearing that.

Katie glides into the centre of the circle, arms swaying above her head, her gold sequined halter top creating our own mirror-ball. Years of dance training have given her rhythm and confidence both of which I lack. My feet remain glued in place to the floorboards and the only movement I can muster comes from bending my knees and bobbing jerkily. Sometimes I kick a foot up behind me. I have no idea what to do with my hands so they swing stiffly by my sides. Everyone else is doing the actions to Vogue. The Year 8 school dance is three hours of embarrassment. The only thing worse than looking awkward is not being seen there at all.

Dancing is of the devil, my church would say. As it would turn out, most fun things are “of the devil” but I’m less scared of going to hell and more scared of not fitting in. The DJ announces he’s about to play something new. The swarming, sweaty, teenage mass stops moving momentarily as he loads the next song. Then, there is a shift. No more melodic pop. Instead, a guitar-heavy grunge blares into the hall. The drum beat thumps through my chest cavity. I can’t understand what the hell they are singing but I know what they are feeling. Swinging my head and swaying in the dark to Nirvana is the closest I will come to rebellion at 13.

***

My dancing improved with practice, and the realisation that no-one is looking at me, judging me or criticising me more than myself.

A few weeks ago, a friend stripped back Smells Like Teen Spirit into a modern re-interpretation that gives us resignation instead of rebellion and defeat instead of defiance. My 13 year old self and my 39 year old self know each of these feelings equally.

***

Load up on guns, bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey

I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey

And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it’s hard to find
Oh well, whatever, never mind

Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido

A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial
A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial

Music Monday | Slow Fade – Casting Crowns

Content warning: This post contains discussion of sexual assault and rape culture.

Locker-room talk.

That’s how Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, describes his lewd conversation eleven years ago with Billy Bush.  In this conversation he brags, in vulgar and de-humanising terms, about kissing and groping women without their consent.

Let’s be clear.

Kissing and groping women without their consent is sexual assault.

Bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent is bragging about sexual assault.  Continue reading