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“Losing My Religion”

Posted by purplemary54 on February 28, 2012

A story on ABC’s World News Tonight about regional language inspired tonight’s song.

When “Losing My Religion” came out, it had to be explained that the phrase didn’t have anything to do with losing faith.  Although you never would have known it from the video R.E.M put out in support, what with all the angels and steelworkers and crucifixion iconography.  It’s something people say in the south (or at least the south Michael Stipe and company come from) when they’re talking about freaking out over something.  It’s appropriate in a way.  Religion is often something people wear like clothes.  It always looks nice and tidy until they’re confronted with some sort of crisis, and then the religious niceties get thrown off like a worn out overcoat.  Faith is different.  Faith is something you feel in your bones, and as far as I’m concerned, it has nothing to do with religion.

That is, in a roundabout way, kind of what the song (and the video) is about.  From the beginning, when Stipe sings “the lengths that I will go to, the distance in your eyes,” it is clear that this is some kind of crisis moment in the singer’s life.  A relationship is about to fracture, and the man in the song is trying to hold it together but he is just barely holding on to himself.  He almost seems to be having a mental breakdown, which probably explains the level of freaking out that’s causing him to lose his religion.  There is no emotional stability here, it’s a rollercoaster of tears and laughter and raging in corners.  He clearly wants to believe in the person he’s singing to, but is no longer sure if he can.  He has been outpaced, “trying to keep an eye on you” while worrying “what if all these fantasies, come flailing around?”

The video depicts a wounded angel fallen to Earth, with other angels watching from above.  Human workers find him, poke and prod at his wounds, and eventually build a pair of wings from steel.  Interspersed are clips of Stipe flailing about (much like those mysterious fantasies).  It is unclear if the wounded angel lives or dies, if the wings the workers built are for him or themselves, or if anything that happens will mean anything at all.  It’s up to the viewer to decide the morality of building wings out of a material too heavy to fly with.  Just like it’s up to the listener to decide if the singer is singing to anyone besides himself.  Maybe the only thing left to believe in is nothing at all.

Maybe that’s all there ever was to believe in anyway.

Or maybe not.

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