Oct. 13, 2020

Episode 12 - Discussing "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.

The Wolf AND The Shepherd look back at the song "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.



to this episode of the wolf and the


today we're going to talk about the song

losing my religion by rem

in the first part of the lyrics

they say oh life is bigger

it's bigger than you and you are not me

the links that i will go to

the distance in your eyes oh no

i've said too much i set it up

i remember when this song came out

and i remember the video on mtv

back when mtv actually played music


and you could actually see something

other than some

teen pregnancy show or some ridiculous

stuff like that and it was all about


i remember buying this album and


what a great song and and the song

actually has been misconstrued over the

years of

what it actually is about so today we're


talk a little bit about

how much this song has meant to us

as far as the band rem i mean they're a

great band

you can't you can't

turn around and say they weren't no

matter what you feel about the band they

had such great music that they put out

but uh this is one of those songs that

no matter if you heard it for the first

time today you would say

this would be a hit song and it was a

hit song back then

i think losing my religion for me it's

one of those songs which sits up with


nirvana smells like teen spirit smashing

pumpkins tonight tonight

or maybe like few fighters ever long


the opening four or five seconds evokes

so much emotion

even before the lyrics start and

you know growing up in england we didn't

you know understand what losing my

religion meant i mean it's a southern

term in the united states i mean right

losing my patient someone who stopped

being civil

you're getting frustrated but we i mean

actually a lot of people in the united


outside of the southern area and

obviously arie and from georgia

um you know don't understand what that

term means or don't hear it and so when

you hear losing my religion

for me when i first heard the title of

the song i just thought it meant oh

somebody's losing their faith you know

and it took more of a religious

thing rather than i mean

it really wasn't explained to us i mean

this was pretty much prior into

um prior to like that internet access

so sure to explain it and of course

there were there were probably a lot of

people that

saw this as an attack on religion right

yeah so

so you got a rock band right and they're


uh oh losing my religion oh you're

trying to attack

the fact that you shouldn't have

religion and

no one really read into the lyrics of

the song

they they never really understood what

michael stipe was

actually trying to say in the song

he was never trying to say get away from


yeah in no way shape or form was he

trying to say this right and the video

itself i mean it was modeled after uh

gabriel garcia marquez's short story

called a very old man

with enormous wings and it was about an

angel which fell from the sky and landed

in a small town and it was about

different uh townspeople's reactions

and you know there was a lot of other um


i guess symbolic stuff in it which

people assumed was based upon religion i

mean i think there were

a few references to stigmata and stuff

and so

it seemed like it had a very religious

feel to it

well you also have to remember

especially in the united states

at this time uh just before that

you had madonna that came out with the

like prayer oh yeah

yeah and so that that was on mtv

and they had burning crosses in the


yeah and she was you know dancing around

in front of the burning crosses and i

remember having mtv as a kid and my dad

coming in

and watching me watch this video

of this woman madonna dancing in front

of these burning crosses and saying you


not going to watch this this is terrible

even though there was a completely

different message

let's be honest you were just grateful

to see some cleavage

a little bit yeah


yeah a little bit a little bit yeah but

but the the message behind that video

of course was a powerful message yeah so

so then you

you take rem

which they never just threw a song out


that didn't really have some kind of

message and of course we're going to try


focus on losing my religion but there

are so many songs

that they had out there that were great


that had good messages behind them

or you know maybe good

good is a bad word maybe depending on

which side of the aisle you sit on but

they had a message behind them it wasn't

too charged but they had something they

wanted to say

yeah and that was what this song was


it wasn't nefarious by any means they

they actually had a message they were

trying to

get out there by this song yeah

and losing my religion it was released


february 1991 and it was obviously on

the out of

out of time album the same album which

you know amazingly shiny happy people

was on and you

you know correlate shiny happy people

and losing my religion

i mean you can't have two more distinct

songs on an album absolutely

you know shiny happy people was one of

those songs that

it especially if you watched the video


it was kind of comical right now maybe

they had

some other kind of message they were

trying to get behind that

but the way the video was done

and everything it was typical pop

it was you know shiny happy people

and and we're trying to be happy about

all this yeah

losing my religion though had this kind


dark side to it yeah it was hey

you ought to listen to this there's

something we're trying to

tell you here right and a lot of people

didn't get

it and and i think part of the problem

with the song

was the song was so good

that a lot of people didn't get what the


was you know it and there's only been a


songs that have came out maybe let's say

in the past

five ten years that have been that way


uh one of the songs that comes to mind

is uh foster the people uh

with the all the other kids right with

the pumped up

kicks if you listen to the lyrics of

that song you realize

how dark that song is

but it but it's so happy when you listen

to it right

but then when you dig into the lyrics

you realize how

dark that song is yeah this song

was presented as dark

but it really actually wasn't that dark

when you

dig into the lyrics and you realize what

they were trying to say

what michael stipe was actually trying

to say in the song

yeah and you know when when we started

this podcast

i spoke about the emotional

reaction to maybe the opening four or


seconds of the song before the lyrics

start and

i just kind of had this existential

moment where i realized that

you know the songs i mentioned like foo

fighters everlong

smashing pumpkins tonight tonight

nirvana smells

like teen spirit and you know arie

emily's in my religion

it's there's a lot of angst in those

songs and i don't know why

there's not necessarily any

particular super happy positive songs

which evoke

that same amount of emotion even before

the lyrics start

i think we are so stuck right now

with music especially in the pop music

that nobody cares what the real message


we've lost that yeah we've absolutely

lost that and

you can go back to this song

losing my religion you can go back to

the 70s with

maybe a led zeppelin or

pink floyd or something like that you

can go back farther than that with the


yeah you can go back farther than that

today's music doesn't really have

any kind of message behind it it's all


streams yeah and just wanting people to


yeah and and i you know there are a few

exceptions which surprised me every now

and then

i'd say was somebody like rihanna i mean

i'm not a fan

okay but you take the song stay and the

lyrics in that song are

very very beautiful um it's obviously


you know a relationship which is

breaking up and stuff but

i don't know i i think the music in that

the piano and the actual lyrics and that

song are really really beautiful and

every now and then a song

comes along like that which just

actually surprised me because

you know i expect i mean i don't listen

to the radio in terms of popular music

but i think if i listen to maybe the

billboard like top

30 i probably wouldn't like any of the

songs in there but every few months

you know a song will will come out

because it's almost now impossible for

an alternative artist to get into the

top 30

yeah you're never gonna see that

anymore that that is dead and and it's

kind of sad

because you look at uh even losing my


and we talked about this before with

how simple the song actually is

it's a four chord song for the

people listening that are actually


you know it's four chords it's e minor a

minor d and g

so those are four extremely

simple chords to play on the guitar uh

my son plays the guitar the

first probably

three chords i taught him was g

c and d so two of those three chords

are in this song so most people that

you know they they don't play guitar

they don't understand music

they don't get that part but it also


to the fact that you don't have to have


complicated song you don't have to have

complicated music to make a good song

and my son who plays the guitar

honestly if he was here right now

he couldn't play the song i would have

to say here's the chords

he'd have to listen to it a little bit

and he could probably

get it after a day or so

i i kind of know how to play the guitar

i'd probably have to listen to it a

little bit and i could knock it out in

like an hour whatever doesn't matter

but there's so much music out there

right now that you don't even have to

know what the chords are

because you can just program it into the


and the computer is going to go ahead

and play the music for you

and so all you have to have is somebody

like michael stipe

who sang these lyrics

and then all of a sudden he had a hit


but back then that didn't exist

there there there was no way

for him to do that and even the way

this song was created the mandolin

in the song rem didn't even have a


at that time yeah and i think the

simplicity of songs

really comes down to if you have a good

melody i mean we spoke

when we did the smith's podcast about

how neither of us

are particularly big fans of the beatles

but you know most of their songs were

like between two and four

chords and they were very very simple

songs but

they had the trick of finding a melody

almost an anthem type quality but then

you know we were talking about the

smiths and the complication of

you know johnny marr and his guitar

style where

right it's it's a million miles away

from four chords i mean he's playing

stuff which he can't even replicate


but again you know we talked about

listening to those early smith songs

and with those riffs that it just

brought you in but you could pick up a

guitar and

you may never be able to be able to play

that whereas i'm sure you could teach

your son how to play

90 of beatles songs in an afternoon

sure yeah you could uh based off the

fact that

there's that simplistic part

of music where you say you know

here's the chords that you have on the


yeah right and here's the g chord here's

a c chord here's the d

chord whatever here's how you play that

in fact the other nine

i was showing jake how to play another


uh four non-blondes what's up right and

i said it's actually a very simple song

here's how you play it because my wife

loves that song actually

i love that song but it's all about the


of the singing and so you look at losing

my religion

it has nothing to do really with the

backing of the music it's the

melody and the singing and the lyrics

yeah that makes the song great and

there's a lot of songs now

that you hear these lyrics

and it kind of like uh the foster the

people with the

pumped up kicks there's a lot of kids

that are singing along with this

they don't even realize what the message

is but

you take song like losing my religion

there's a

great message behind this song

that a lot of us

took hold of we we said hey we get what

you're saying michael stype

we totally get this this is a great song

it's a simple song music wise in the


but it's a great message yeah and i find

myself whenever it comes on my

playlist in the car or whatever i

sing the song kind of angrily or


and this and this was probably even

before i knew what the song was about

and you know just so our listeners know

you know if you don't really have the

background to the song

like we said earlier losing my religion

just means you know losing your patience

you stop being civil you're frustrated

the song was actually about unrequited


um right in an interview with the new

york times it explained

um you know it's about romantic

expression and about

having a crush on somebody who maybe

doesn't almost

seem like they know you exist and so the

song is about

trying to drop these hints that i like

you and that's where it goes i've

said too much and all this stuff in the

song that you know it's like have i made


too obvious you know am i going over the

top but there's still no reaction

oh no i've said too much right

i haven't said enough yeah and i didn't

real again when

when this song first came out especially

in england i mean out of time was the


rem album i'd heard after i heard that

album i went back and listened to a lot

of their other albums well the first few

albums like dead letter

office some of those other ones and they

were i guess even more basic and more

simple in terms of

the construction of the songs and

but you know out of time was a very

complicated album

you know again you've got shiny happy

people and losing my religion on the

same album

and then when you go to like automatic

for the people and monster i mean

monster especially

was a very very hard album to listen to

when you'd listen to the previous

realm albums um so so when they

were recording this have you

done any kind of depth in

you know we where was michael stipe in

this you know we

where where was he sitting there saying

you know i'm

at this point he's doing well

right he's he's not you know just some

random person right so he's doing well

and now he goes in the studio and he's

gonna record

this song have you

looked into what

he might have thought as he's standing

in front of that microphone

and starting to record the song yeah i


at the time he was going through an

existential crisis because i think after

i mean i think the previous most famous

song they had was it's the end of the


on the uh on i think on the green album

right but let's be honest

great song yeah a fantastic song but he


struggling with coming to terms of like

being famous

and he actually said himself after

losing my religion came out he can walk

down the street anymore or go into a

grocery store

sure because everybody knew what he was

and you know he went

into the studio and he was in a kind of

weird state of mind he was like

semi-naked i think just like wow

underwear and he he came in pissed off

and you know recorded the song

and you know is that by the way why


sitting here in your underwear right now

and making me uncomfortable

well now i i do that even if i'm singing

britney spears songs

okay okay um but you know

this song that reached number four on

the billboard 100 which was their

highest ever

you know placing and it was actually in

the chart for 21 weeks which is a long

period of time

very long period and in england i mean

it really didn't

place that high but you know i was into

alternative music

at the time and so i heard it and like i

said that's when i went back and

listened to stuff like you know the dead

letter office and green

those um albums and

you know it's more i think michael stipe

and peter buck always described the

music as

folk rock you know rather than

all rock you know it was more this kind

of hippie hippie type

alternative rather than trying to be

popular and i think

um michael stipe struggled with that


fame you know he this was a when they

when he actually had to record the video

this was the first video which he

actually lip synced as opposed to


sang along to um and

you know the video obviously won that

year the mtv

you know best video of the year it won

two grammys

um and and it propelled them almost out

of nowhere

you know into the this kind of star

spotlight and the

warner brothers you know the record

label at the time were very

non-supportive when out of time

when the first demo was presented and

they said we want to release

losing my religion they were trying to

push shiny happy people

because they said yeah you gotta

remember shiny happy people

was a happy pop song right

i i remember the movie that came out

uh that thing you do

great movie tom hanks movie

when i was in a band we used to watch

that movie

because you know here's this garage band

that had this one song and then all of a

sudden they got famous

and i remember that scene in that movie

where he's saying i want something happy

i want something peppy

yeah and he's sitting there and he's

snapping his fingers and he's saying

you know we gotta have that because

that's what most people want to hear

nobody wants to hear that sad

even in the movie they talk about the

lover's lament

or right whatever but

the sad thing is that's actually what

people want to hear

yeah and they they really want to hear

that terrible

stuff that is going on yeah that they

want to hear what's really going on

in the world yeah not shiny happy people

holding hands

they want to hear about losing my

religion or

it's the end of the world as we know it

yeah but he but even that song the end

of the world is

not i mean that was a very upbeat song

well it's an upbeat song but with a

very dark message it is and i mean

especially listen to the last two verses

of that song because first of all you

think it's kind of a

somebody's normally living a good life


you know they're just having a not even

a bad

day but you you think the title it's the

end of the world as we know it is just

like an overreaction to a very simple


but then you get to the end of the song

and you're absolutely correct

i mean it does actually it's actually a

kind of

dark thing it's looking at you know

society is just going to this angle to


area where there's no redemption and

you know the youth you know being

brainwashed and not to get too far off

topic but

you also have uh what is it uh billy


though we didn't start the fire right

yeah you know it it's kind of the same

thing you listen to the lyrics and that

and it's messy yeah like it's the end of

the world as we know it

there's all this just you know hurried


you look at it's the end of the world as

we know it that's great it starts with

an earthquake

birds and

so much craziness in that song

and the same thing with the billy joel

we didn't start the fight

but these are songs that came out

so long ago yeah and here we're

sitting right now and they're so much

more fitting

right now than they actually were before


and and we're talking about losing my

religion yeah

which was a song that you could honestly


it speaks volumes right now

but you to dig in so why have we

not been able to as a society

to figure out these songs is it the fact


most people are so ate up in the

kind of uh what do you want to call it

pop music whatever

that we don't actually look at what


are trying to say do we do we even care

do we even care what these artists are

trying to put forth well like i said

earlier every now and then a song will

come along which surprises me like i

said rihanna's stay

uh was a huge shock i mean i absolutely

love that song i mean

you know the music's beautiful the

lyrics are beautiful you know i think

we're losing my religion

like i said i even when i didn't know

what it meant

i sang those lyrics very kind of angstly

angrily i mean certainly like when you

get towards the second part of the song

where it's every whisper

every waking hour i'm choosing my


trying to keep an eye on you like a hurt

lost and blinded fool

oh no i have said too much i set it up

and i didn't

necessarily even think about what that

meant but that goes back to our smith's

podcast where

there's you know more people than are

willing to admit it

who resonate with these angst songs

who feel isolated i mean who

who on earth hasn't had an unrequited

love at some point

in their life who you know they like

somebody who didn't like them back or

didn't seem to notice them and so these

type of songs i think just subliminally

just connect with people and even if

they don't openly admit

they like a certain song these songs


something so deep and passionate to them

and this song to me

like i said even before i didn't really

even know what it meant

you know really struck really struck

home with me and

you know going back to why warner

brothers didn't want to release it at

the time in the early 90s if you were

releasing a pop song

it needed to be about three minutes long

and you're talking about a song here

which was four minutes 29 seconds far

too long

right that warner brothers like i said

tried to push shiny happy people as

being the debut

you know song off this album and let's

not forget that they also had a female

voice in there

so that was more like a song yeah

that was commercial yeah commercial now

what band was that lady from who's


on the shiny happy people i'm gonna say

the b-52

yes it was because they did love shot

right yeah yeah i

i always thought that was her i don't

know what that was right

okay but but i remember watching that


and it i always as a kid i'm like yeah

this is so much more happier yeah i i

would rather listen to this yeah but at

the same time

when losing my religion was out there i

was like

this is a great song yeah and then you

see michael stipe

dancing in the background and you're

saying well

wait what's going on here you know he's

trying to tell me something

you don't really get it maybe as a kid

yeah and now when you have

the new music

they don't know right you know that the

kids don't know

and i'm not saying that musicians

are woke so much

that they're gonna tell you what's going


yeah but they most of them have a


yeah and look a lot of them

have a good message right that they're

not nefarious they

they don't have a political agenda or

anything like that they're just saying


what about this yeah just think about


yeah and it's a good

way to look at music but there's also

music that you just need to sit back and


yeah that's a good song yeah i like

listening this song

this is a goofy song and i i want to

laugh at it and

and there's nothing wrong with that now

you have to remember

losing my religion had a message

that most people missed yeah now you

have to remember at the time because

rem weren't i guess that popular in

terms of chart success

that warner brothers felt they had the

upper hand

as in warner brothers felt like you know


were lucky to be signed to warner

brothers and you know probably

what they said about the losing my

religion song was

it was a very unconventional track

because for a pop song and they still

considered at that time rem to kind of

be a pop band

that you know it didn't really have any

chorus to speak of which the song


you know right it repeats a few lyrics

here and there

um and you're leading with a mandolin

that that's going to be a lead that's

going to be a lead

um thing how on earth do you make a

popular song with the mandolin being the

main instrument right but

well if you're in a band

right and especially playing the guitar

so if you know how to play the guitar

you're automatically gonna know how to


a select set of instruments right

you can play the bass you can play a

ukulele you can play

banjo you can play the mandolin yeah so

it even when peter buck decided that

they're gonna put a mandolin in there i

remember picking up a mandolin

and looking at a chord chart and saying

god i i can play mandolin

like it it's this simple right

so i i think something happened

with this song where he's like well let


pick up this mandolin and

rather than playing an acoustic guitar

let's see how this sounds with a


and it made that song so powerful

yeah just changing the instrument right

so if you're a musician

you might get this but

you can actually pick up another

stringed instrument and play

those same chords and it sounds totally


and it's really not that much more


right but it all you say is well

i know how to play this on the guitar so

you're saying

put my finger here on the fretboard and

go ahead and strum it this way and

you're giving me this

goofy instrument that looks like this

and you're gonna mic it this way okay

that's fine

that's powerful yeah and um

peter buck i mean he actually admitted

that he wrote that riff while he was

watching tv

and he was actually recording himself

when he came back the next day and

listened to it and just decided

oh that sounds like a good riff and that

was you know the basis for losing my

religion and then

obviously michael stop added the lyrics

but you know i think there comes a point

where you're i guess

such a good musician in terms of being

able to create

melodies and most of rem songs

the appeal you know outside of michael

snipes voice

is very simplistic melodies that

you know when i went back and listened

to their earlier albums

i mean every single song had a very

simple simple melody

but it was very attractive every song

you know and there were some dark ones i

mean you go back again like i said to

dead letter office

and some of the songs you know we're

pretty dark in terms of you know the

lyrics but

the melody kind of pulled you in anyway

regardless of what you thought about

what michael scott was singing about but

but that should be the goal of rock


it it should be something that you sit

there and repeat

uh you take rage against the machine

a lot of people don't realize

which is unfathomable

to me today that rage against the


is a political band right they have a

political message

but their music is so powerful yeah

that they get people behind their

political message because

they love their music rem

was more of a

ideological band to say

you know we want you to like our music

we have a message here it's not it's not


it's ideological so get behind

our ideology that we're seeing here


this is the message we're trying to put


yeah uh same with uh it's the end of the


as we know it man on the moon

night swimming i mean hell we could

sit here and i could list off tons of

songs by rem

with the messages that they had they're

all great songs

yeah and michael stipe is sitting there

giving a message and the band behind him

which he obviously was a

very big part of of

creating the music to get you to want to

hear this song yeah and i think

you know michael stipe you know you

can't call it lucky but he just has one

of those voices where

i think he could sing almost any song

even some of the trash

you know in the charts at the moment and

make it sound good

you know his voice is so iconic you can

always recognize him

and you know i mean he doesn't have a

great voice i mean if you talk in terms

of range

and everything he doesn't have a

classically beautiful voice i mean you

take tom york from radiohead

again doesn't have a great voice but you

recognize it

and it's like almost anything they sing

uh it just sounds kind of beautiful in a

way i mean i could literally listen to


sing almost any song and even if it was

a song i hated before

i would probably like it because he's

singing it oh

sure i mean it great singer

uh great artist uh

i wish he would put out more

and as we close i i just kind of

like to read the last lyrics

of losing my religion

i thought that i heard you laughing i

thought that i heard you saying

i thought i saw you try but that was

just a dream

that was just a dream that's me in the


that's me in the spotlight losing

my religion trying to keep up with you

and i don't know if i can do it

oh no i've said too much

i haven't said enough

i thought that i heard you laughing i

thought that i heard you sing

i think i thought i saw you try

but that was just a dream

try cry

why try that was just a dream

just a dream just a dream

beautiful thank you for

tuning in to this episode of the wolf

and the shepherd

we hope we will meet with you

next time and maybe we

won't get so deep but maybe we will