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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Without Exceptions

 
 

Everybody Hurts is a song by R.E.M., originally released on the band’s 1992 album Automatic for the People and was also released as a single in 1993.

Much of the song was written by drummer Bill Berry, although as R.E.M. shares songwriting credits among its members, it is unknown how much he actually wrote. Berry did not drum on the song—a Univox drum machine took his place—but he was responsible for the sampling of the drum pattern on the track. The string arrangement was written by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

Guitarist Peter Buck commented on the making of the track saying “Everybody Hurts is similar to Man on the Moon. Bill brought it in, and it was a one-minute long country-and-western song. It didn’t have a chorus or a bridge. It had the verse . . . it kind of went around and around, and he was strumming it. We went through about four different ideas and how to approach it and eventually came to that Stax, Otis Redding, Pain in My Heart kind of vibe. I’m not sure if Michael would have copped that reference, but to a lot of our fans it was a Staxxy-type thing. It took us forever to figure out the arrangement and who was going to play what, and then Bill ended up not playing on the original track. It was me and Mike and a drum machine. And then we all overdubbed.”

In the liner notes of the album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003, Buck writes that “the reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers”, and “I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.” Incidentally, the song was used in the 1992 film of the same name that preceded the show.

In 2005, Buck told the BBC: “If you’re consciously writing for someone who hasn’t been to college, or is pretty young, it might be nice to be very direct. In that regard, it’s tended to work for people of a lot of ages.”

Everybody Hurts was included as a bonus track on Patti Smith‘s 2007 album Twelve.

 
 

Stills from 8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

 
 

Michael Stipe in a still from  Everybody Hurts music video

 
 

In the video for the song, directed by Jake Scott and filmed along the double deck portions of I-10 near the I-35 Interchange in Downtown San Antonio, Texas, the band is stuck in a traffic jam. It shows the people in other cars and subtitles of their thoughts appear on screen. At the end, all the people leave their cars and walk instead; then they vanish. The video was heavily inspired by the traffic jam in the opening dream sequence of Fellini’s .

Jake Scott is the son of director Ridley Scott, and nephew of the late Tony Scott and brother of directors Jordan Scott and Luke Scott.

The music video can be watched on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

A Letter Never Sent

The words ‘For River’ are visible in the bottom of the rear view mirror that appears on the song’s single sleeve. Photo by Ian McFarlane

 
 

E-BOW THE LETTER

(Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe)

“Look up, what do you see?
all of you and all of me
florescent and starry
some of them, they surprise

the bus ride, I went to write this, 4:00 a.m.
this letter
fields of poppies, little pearls
all the boys and all the girls sweet-toothed
each and every one a little scary
I said your name

I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
dreaming of Maria Callas
whoever she is
this fame thing, I don’t get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
this star thing, I don’t get it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

will you live to 83?
will you ever welcome me?
will you show me something that nobody else has seen?
smoke it, drink
here comes the flood
anything to thin the blood
these corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
phone, eat it, drink
just another chink
cuts and dents, they catch the light
aluminum, the weakest link

I don’t want to disappoint you
I’m not here to anoint you
I would lick your feet
but is that the sickest move?
I wear my own crown and sadness and sorrow
and who’d have thought tomorrow could be so strange?
my loss, and here we go again

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

look up, what do you see?
all of you and all of me
florescent and starry
some of them, they surprise

I can’t look it in the eyes
seconal, Spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene
cherry-flavored neck and collar
I can smell the sorrow on your breath
the sweat, the victory and sorrow
the smell of fear, I got it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

pulls us near
tastes like fear…

nearer, nearer
over, over, over, over
yeah, look over
I’ll take you there, oh, yeah
I’ll take you there
oh, over
I’ll take you there
over, let me
I’ll take you there…
there, there, baby, yeah”

 
 

E-Bow the Letter is the first single from R.E.M.‘s tenth studio album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It was released in August 1996 just weeks before the album’s release.

Patti Smith sings guest backing vocals on this song. The song’s title refers to the EBow, an electromagnetic field-generating device that induces sustained vibration in an electric guitar string (creating a violin-like effect), and to a “letter never sent” by Michael Stipe. It is believed that the letter in question was written to actor River Phoenix expressing Stipe’s concern for his friend’s spiraling substance abuse with the letter never being sent due to Phoenix’s death. Guitarist Peter Buck can be seen using an EBow in the video for the song at approximately 1:27 to 1:30. R.E.M. has also played the song live with artists including Thom Yorke singing Patti Smith’s vocal part.

“I first saw Patti Smith perform in 1976, and I remember thinking that I would gladly give 10 years off my life to be the bass player for her group. I know Michael was equally as inspired by Patti, and when he came up with a Ronettes-style vocal chorus, it was obvious who we had to call. It was such an incredible experience watching Patti sing this song – a song we wrote! I had all the cliche reactions; chills ran up and down my spine, the hair stood up on the back on my neck, etc. My life did not flash before my eyes, but it was a close thing.”

Peter Buck
(Liner notes for the hits compilation In Time)

The music video can be watched on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

Property of a Lost Thing

…”Everything that I had lost

Is mine, irretrievably mine

So distant from me that it is abandonment.”

Mario Benedetti

Property of a Lost Thing 

 
 

The phrase “losing my religion” is an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one’s temper or civility, or “being at the end of one’s rope.” Michael Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression.

He also told Q that “Losing My Religion” is about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.”

Stipe compared the song’s theme to Every Breath You Take by The Police, saying, “It’s just a classic obsession pop song. I’ve always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”

 
 

Michael Stipe participated on the production, packaging and photography of the album’s artwork, alongside Frank W. Ockenfels

 
 

The song was released as the first single from the group’s 1991 album Out of Time. Based around a mandolin riff, Losing My Religion was an unlikely hit for the group, garnering heavy airplay on radio as well as on MTV due to its critically acclaimed music video. The song became R.E.M.‘s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and expanding the group’s popularity beyond its original fanbase. It was nominated for several Grammy Awards, and won two for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.

The music video for Losing My Religion was directed by Tarsem Singh. As opposed to previous R.E.M. videos, Michael Stipe agreed to lip sync the lyrics. The video originated as a combination of ideas envisioned by Stipe and Singh. Stipe wanted the promo to be a straightforward performance video, akin to Sinéad O’Connor‘s Nothing Compares 2 U. Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a certain type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be “melodramatic and very dreamlike”, according to Stipe.

 
 


Still from The Sacrifice (A. Tarkovsky, 1986)

 
 

Still from Losing my Religion music video

 
 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio, c. 1601–1602. This picture is probably related to Saint Matthew and the Angel (1602) and the The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603), all having a model in common

 
 

“Consider this…” (around minute 2:26)

 
 

Final scenes

 
 

Martirio di San Pietro (Crucifixion of Saint Peter), Caravaggio, 1600

 
 

The video begins with a brief sequence inside a dark room where water drips from an open window. Buck, Berry, and Mills run across the room while Stipe remains seated. A pitcher of milk drops from the windowsill and shatters, and the song begins. Director Singh drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio and Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky‘s The Sacrifice . The video is laden with religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian and Hindu deities, portrayed in a series of tableaux.