watch the original film clip here:
It’s hard to define exactly why this song is so great. How much can a video clip influence our reaction to a song? It was certainly the standout music video of the decade, and remains one of the best clips ever. Like a Hollywood Epic crammed into a few minutes, the song is both majestic in scope and acutely personal, evoking thoughts of loss and failure throughout the ages.
Besides, who can resist a mandolin?
In reading Peter Buck’s liner notes of this song for In Time: The Best Of REM, he said that the band members themselves sometimes do not have a full literal meaning of their songs. They connect with the feel of the song, or the collage of images that the song creates. Sometimes, all that you have is a word, or phrase that triggers an image, which provokes an emotional response in alignment with the feel of the song.
The ambiguous lyrics of Buck and Stipe are often intentional, inviting the listener to explore their own interpretation. Some believe that the song refers to the profound guilt and remorse the singer feels about the disintegration of a relationship due to some untold wrong doing. The phrase ‘losing my religion’ is apparently a saying from the deep south of America, meaning to lose one’s temper, get extremely angry or frustrated, or to feel totally overwhelmed and helpless. This certainly does correspond to the shattered relationship interpretation. However, I still relate to this song in the ‘big-picture’ way.
This is more than a song about one or two people. It is a song of many, of mankind, and our collective relationships. This song speaks to me about loss, regret, failure and its implications for the future on a grand scale. As Humanity splinters and cracks along the forks and cross roads, both discovered and created, this is the soundtrack that accompanies the footage of the wrong path taken. This the tune Judas was humming two thousand years ago when he and Jesus hatched their ambitious plot together. When Einstein ran from The Fat Man and a Little Boy in Manhattan, he was found cowering in the dark, clutching a compass and a violin, and whistling this tune. And in some parallel universe Stephen Hawking screams this song with rage and fury, at the difference between what is, and what could be.
This is monumental defeat on the big stage. Whether you are facing up to the loss of a loved one, or knowing you will never face the one you love, or spending your final moments staring down the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this is the deep sense of loss and remorse over potential unfulfilled. This is the realisation that you have nothing left. You can neither give nor receive. Everything you believed in has been proved not only to be false, but a total sham right from the start.
Losing My Religion is one of those rare songs where everything converges and meshes correctly. A song where the lyrics, the singing, the music, and the visuals are all aligned in perfection. The story is told that Buck purchased a mandolin, which led to the melody, which lent itself to the phrasing of the chorus. Stipe then completed the lyrics in five minutes, a subconscious streaming on paper, and later recorded the vocal performance on the first take. The Indian/Renaissance video clip is visually stunning and is the secret ingredient that brings out the flavour of everything else in the song.
When everything blends so smoothly, and fits so perfectly, well... Perhaps religion has been found.