Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Losing Your Religion

I did an informal survey of my work-study students recently to see if the younger generation had ever heard of R.E.M. not because I was a fan in my youth, but just to see if things really have changed that much. Several of them (at least half), had never HEARD of such a band. The other half said things like, "Of course I have. How could you not?" So, two extremes, it seems.

To me, R.E.M. was a great band in the 80's and 90's, and have churned out some of my favorite songs, but are clearly not that relevant anymore. Still, for 18-20 year-olds to not even hear of them seems strange. Wouldn't it be like me saying I had never heard of Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones when I was an 18-20 year-old? Now I realize that if you were to play "Everybody Hurts" for a lot of these kids, it would probably ring a bell, but they still don't know who the Hell sang it. And for the record, that song blows.

The point is that, yes, we all miss out on classics, I suppose. But my informal survey was actually born out of the fact that I was trying to illustrate a point through what may well be the gem in R.E.M.'s crown, "Losing My Religion."

First off, the students didn't know that one, either, which is weird because it was insanely popular (which is rare for songs that so heavily involve a mandolin.) It reached number four on the BIllboard charts, received several Grammy Nominations, and won Video of the Year. So, big doings, even for people who weren't born before 1991, you'd think.

The point I was trying to make to my students is that "Losing my Religion" is not about religion at all. The phrase "losing my religion" is an expression used predominantly in the south, meaning that you are basically at the end of your rope. The song, according to Michael Stipe himself, is about unrequited love. The idea is that you have this crush on someone, and you think they understand, but you're not sure. And you drop hints and you think they get it, but you're not sure. Basically, you've said too much, but you haven't said enough. And then you drop the "hint of the century," and that's it. You can't take it back. It was the slip that brought you to your knees. And do you the next word in the song?


I've been writing lately about the value of honesty and being straight with people, but my advice to the lovelorn is don't lose your religion, ever, over anybody. I would say if you are at that point, you better be 95% sure that they get you and have some similar feelings, or you'll be brought to your knees, too. Once you say something like that, you can't un-say it, and whatever friendship you had going before you opened your mouth is over, forever changed, and probably really awkward. Was it worth it?

This, I feel, is why anyone, but especially my 18-20 year-old work-study students, should familiarize themselves with R.E.M.

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