Sam Burnham, Curator
“...kind of a mistake. It’s a song that should have never been a hit single.” Michael Stipe
”Think about it. You’ve got a five minute song with no discernible chorus and the lead instrument is a mandolin. Why would anyone play that on the radio?” - Mike Mills
This is how two members of REM introduce a show featuring the creation of their 1991 single Losing My Religion. Yet this is the song that, after it was recorded, was the band’s consensus choice for the first single from their album Out of Time.
The new Netflix series Song Exploder offers a look behind the scenes into how these four men created one of the greatest songs ever released by a Georgia band. Seeing the magic of the creative process just added to the greatness and the mystique of the song.
Peter Buck teaching himself to play the mandolin and just building that iconic riff in the process booked the band a date with destiny. From there the show meanders through the creativity of Stipe, Mills, Buck, and Berry as each one made their mark. REM collectively decided to do something different. That’s what they did. It was different than anything they had done before and much different than anything else in the radio at that time. Stipe choosing an old Southern phrase is indicative of Georgia as an anchor for the music.
One of the greatest parts of the show is to see how they talk about the band and each other. So many bands out there that have the years together that these men have are burned out or even hate each other. These four are still very much friends and obviously love each other the way long time friends should. It’s refreshing.
I remember this song so vividly. Even on such a great album this one stood out to me. It was one that I listened to over and over. For me in 1991 that meant rewinding a cassette over and over, which I did. Whether it was on my stereo in my room or on my Walkman on the bus headed to a football road game, this song was never far away. In 2020, I find it just as enjoyable as I did in 1991. In fact, I’ve been through it 6 or 7 times while writing this piece.
I would have thought that the samples, those that were singled out in the show would have been detrimental. Such a mechanical separation of vocals, or percussion, or strings should peel back some of the magic and cost the song it’s soul. But it didn’t. It gave me chills, made me take notice. It proved to me, even more than I already knew, that this is just a truly great song.
If you are a fan of REM or even just enjoyed Losing My Religion then this is 25 minutes well spent. It is well worth your time.
Sam Burnham, Curator
We’re once again in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s a season that we look forward to and that I always hope to celebrate well but always struggle to engage. We’ve made our world so hectic and intense that it is hard to stop, to focus on what matters, and to truly be in the holiday spirit. I often find myself in a spirit more like Scrooge before his conversion. While I’m not hostile to Christmas, I’m not enjoying it until it has past and it is too late.
So I have to be intentional. I have to focus on things that matter - family and faith primarily. I thought I’d share some of what I do to get my mind and heart right.
Music plays a role in everything for me. While I don’t play an instrument and lack any semblance of a singing voice, I love music and my tastes are pretty broad. But at Christmas I’m pretty traditional. So here are a few of my go-to musical works.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Annie Lennox
a few years ago, Annie Lennox released a Christmas album. Lennox is incredibly gifted and the entire album is worth a listen but this one song stands out to me. The song focuses on the story of the birth of Christ and the announcement the angels made before shepherds, proclaiming the Incarnation - Messiah. In the video, Lennox ties many old Anglo-Saxon traditions and shows the way Christianity and Christmas would have been presented in Britain long ago.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, Number 8 “Christmas Concerto” - Arcangelo Corelli
I first heard this piece played as an opening overture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always been partial to strings and while I don’t understand the technical merits of this work, I find it stunning. It's a shorter work, only about 14 minutes, but well worth the time.
Messiah - George Frideric Handel
This quintessential Christmas opus is really an Easter celebration that has been adapted to Christmas. It fits both. So I just enjoy it during two seasons instead of just one. This one is long. It makes good ambient music in the house while you're doing whatever but is also stirring enough to hold your interest as a concert.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
This event was first held in 1918, after the dark spectre of World War I had finally passed. In the aftermath, the Festival was introduced as a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was broadcasted for the first time in 1928 and is now available all over the world, including on GPB radio in Georgia. The broadcast begins at 10 am Eastern.
I know I have fancier tastes in Christmas music than a lot of Georgians. And that’s ok. I wanted to share some of what I love but I also invite you to share your favorites below. Tell us what music, or other traditions, help you get in the Christmas spirit.
Most of all, take time to stop, truly absorb some of the season. Take time to appreciate it. Share it with us, with others, with yourself.
(Click here for our suggestions for Christmas viewing - film & television)
On this episode we have a conversation with Georgia author and writer James Calamine about his writing, his love of music and storytelling, and the people featured in his two volume book "Insured Beyond the Grave." We talk about his interviews with big names in the arts, many of which have ties to The South.
His new book, Insured Beyond the Grave: Volume Two, is now available from Snake Nation Press.
Catch the episode here
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire