From Nightwatchman to Nightswimming

Michael Stipe photographed by Anton Corbijn, 1992

 

Photo by Jean-Marc Lubrano, 2004

 

Image from R.E.M.: HELLO (2008), by David Belisle

 

“Nightswimming deserves a quiet night

The photograph on the dashboard taken years ago,
turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every street light reveals a picture in reverse
Still it’s so much clearer

I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge
The moon is low tonight

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I’m not sure all these people understand
It’s not like years ago
The fear of getting caught
The recklessness in water
They cannot see me naked
These things they go away
Replaced by every day

Nightswimming,
remembering that night
September’s coming soon
I’m pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?
The bright tide forever drawn
Could not describe nightswimming

You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me
This one laughing quietly
Underneath my breath
Nightswimming

The photograph reflects
Every street light a reminder
Nightswimming
Deserves a quiet night
Deserves a quiet night”

 

Nightswimming is a song by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. It was released in 1993 as the fifth single from the group’s eighth album Automatic for the People (1992). Nightswimming is a ballad featuring singer Michael Stipe accompanied only by bassist Mike Mills on piano, a string arrangement by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and a prominent oboe by Deborah Workman in the latter part of the piece. Stipe sings about a group of friends who go skinny dipping at night, which draws from similar experiences in the band’s early days.

Bassist Mike Mills recalled he was playing a piano riff at John Keane‘s studio in the band’s hometown of Athens, Georgia. While Mills almost discarded the melody, it attracted the interest of singer Michael Stipe. Mills said, “I never thought it would amount to much because it was just a circular thing that kept going round and round and round. But it inspired Michael.” While the song was not included on Out of Time, the demo recorded during those sessions was used for Automatic for the People, with a string arrangement by John Paul Jones added to the track. Mills has also claimed he recorded the piano part at Criteria Studios in Miami, on the same piano used by Derek and the Dominos on the recording of Layla.

The inspiration for the song has been debated by the band members. Stipe, in a 2001 Esquire article, clarified the true origin of the song. “A few years ago, I wanted to write a song about night watchmen, so I hired one to guard the R.E.M. offices in Athens. I bought him a uniform and a flashlight and everything. He turned out to be kind of crazy and called me up in the middle of the night to tell me dirty stories about the Kennedys. I wrote the song about him, but he was so paranoid he said he was going to sue me, so I changed the lyric from Night watchman to Nightswimming.”

Conversely in the past, Mills said, “It’s based on true events”, explaining that in the early 1980s R.E.M. and its circle of friends would go skinny dipping after the Athens clubs closed at night. “We’d go to parties, we’d go to the clubs and we’d go to the Ball Pump, and there would be any number of these same 50 people, so it was a very tight circle of friends.” Peter Buck holds a similar interpretation. However, Stipe has denied that that is the topic of the song; rather, Stipe says the song is about a “kind of an innocence that’s either kind of desperately clung onto or obviously lost.” Stipe said there are autobiographical elements to the song, but insists most of it is “made up.”

 

To listen to this song, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

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More Than Them

 
 

The band that would become Travis was formed by brothers Chris and Geoff Martyn. Andy Dunlop, a school friend at Lenzie Academy, was drafted in on guitar, along with Andy Dunlop on drums, although the latter was replaced soon after by Neil Primrose. The line-up was completed by a female vocalist, Catherine Maxwell, and the band’s name became Glass Onion, after The Beatles song of the same name. Parting company with their singer in the spring of 1991, they auditioned for a new vocalist. Having met each other through Primrose pouring him a pint, an untrained art student, Fran Healy, then joined after being invited to audition by Primrose. Healy joined the band on the day he enrolled at The Glasgow School of Art, in the autumn of 1991. Two years later, with the option of music holding more appeal, Healy dropped out of art school, and inspired by song writers such as Joni Mitchell, assumed songwriting responsibilities. With brothers Chris and Geoff Martyn on bass and keyboards, in 1993, the fivesome released a privately made CD, The Glass Onion EP, featuring the tracks Dream On, The Day Before, Free Soul and Whenever She Comes Round. 500 copies of the EP were made and were recently valued at £1000 each. Other songs they recorded but were left off are She’s So Strange and Not About to Change.

The band named themselves after the Harry Dean Stanton character Travis Henderson from the film Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984).

Travis have twice been awarded best band at the BRIT Awards, and are often credited for having paved the way for bands such as Coldplay and Keane (Coldplay’s Chris Martin has called himself “a poor man’s Fran Healy”, while saying that Travis “invented” Coldplay “and lots of others”).

The band won a talent contest organised by the Music in Scotland Trust, who promised £2,000 so that Travis could deal-hunt at a new music seminar in New York. Two weeks before they were due to leave, however, the prize was instead given to the Music in Scotland Trust Directory. When sent a copy of the directory, the band noticed that it seemed to feature every single band in Scotland—except for them.
The band showed promise but had yet to evolve into a decent line-up capable of fulfilling it and spent several years treading water. According to their publisher Charlie Pinder: “They were a band that everyone in the A&R community knew about and would go and see every now and then. But they weren’t very good. They had quite good songs; Fran always did write good songs.” While on a visit to Scotland, American engineer and producer Niko Bolas, a long-time Neil Young and Rolling Stones associate, tuned into a Travis session on Radio Scotland, and heard something in the band’s music which instantly made him travel to Perth to see them. Healy: “He told us we were shit, took us in the studio for four days, and taught us how to play properly, like a band. He was ballsy, rude, and New York pushy. He didn’t believe my lyrics and told me to write what I believed in and not tell lies. He was Mary Poppins, he sorted us out.” The band recorded a five-song demo, which included the song All I Want to Do Is Rock.

With the sudden death of his grandfather, a grief-stricken Healy shut himself away, refusing to talk to anyone. Emerging a week later, and with a clear vision of where he now wanted Travis and their music to go, Healy dispensed with the band’s management and publicity agent. Having been repeatedly knocked back by the British record industry, the band couldn’t afford to stay around the country for another few years and so decided to move to New York, feeling that the U.S. might be more suited to their style of music. However, before leaving Healy told the band that they should send the demo to Charlie Pinder of Sony Music Publishing, who they had known for a few years and regularly sent songs to, saying: “If he’s not into it, then we’ll go.” Pinder was immediately impressed by the song All I Want to Do is Rock, which he felt was a dramatic change for the band: “It was harder, more exciting, sexy; all things that they never really were. They turned a corner.” After performing a secret gig for Pinder and his boss at Sony, Blair McDonald, they were signed to Sony Music Publishing. The immediate impact of what was a very secret deal was that the line-up was changed – keyboard player Geoff Martyn was removed, and the bassist, Geoff’s brother Chris, was replaced with Healy’s best friend Dougie Payne – and the band was moved to London, where they were given a rehearsal room and a house

Produced by Steve Lillywhite of U2 fame, Travis’ first studio album, 1997’s Good Feeling, is a rockier, more upbeat record than the band’s others to date. Recorded at the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, the place where Travis favourite The Band recorded, the album contained singles such as All I Want to Do Is Rock, U16 Girls, the Beatle’esque Tied to the 90s, Happy and More Than Us.

Real Love

For my dear π

Other music videos directed by Kevin Godley:

Don’t look back (Fine Young Canibals, 1989)
Can’t stop this thing we started, All I want is you, Thought I’d died and gone to heaven (Bryan Adams, 1991)
Even better than the real thing (U2, 1991)
I’ve got you under my skin (Frank Sinatra and Bono, 1993)
Numb (U2, 1993)
Fields of Gold (Sting, 1993)
Hold me, thrill me, kiss me… (U2, 1995)
My father’s eyes (Eric Clapton, 1998)
The sweetest thing (U2, 1998)
Run back into your arms (Rod Stewart, 2000)
Is it any wonder (Keane, 2006)