…nightswimming deserves a quiet night

Back in 1980 one of Michael Stipe’s favorite haunts was the Wuxtry Record Shop. An art major at the University of Georgia (UGA), Stipe especially liked such “protopunk” artists as The Velvet Underground, Television and Patti Smith, which even in a college town like Athens (at the time) was unusual enough for the counter clerk to take notice.  A fellow UGA student named Peter Buck, the clerk happened to share Stipe’s distinctive taste in music and the two became friends.

As both were musicians they decided to give song writing a go, and then after meeting fellow student/musicians Mike Mills and Bill Berry, who also enjoyed their brand of music, they decided to form a band.  “There was never any grand plan behind any of it,” said Stipe about the four musical collaborators, who played their first show at a friend’s birthday party held in a converted church.  After considering such names for the band as Twisted Kites, Cans of Piss, and Negro Wives, Stipe randomly selected something from the dictionary that appealed to everyone: R.E.M.

With a few more gigs under their belt, the group established a local following and each dropped out of school to focus on their music, leading to the release of their debut single, “Radio Free Europe”  (with an independent record label) in 1981.  The song swiftly became a college radio success and after a notable concert opening for The Police, R.E.M. landed a major record deal.  Their 1983 debut album, “Murmur” would go on to win the Rolling Stone Critics Poll Album of the Year over Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the former UGA boys were on their way.

Featured as a track on “Automatic for the People”, R.E.M.’s eighth album, in 1992, today’s seasonal selection harkens back to those early years.  Mainly written by Mike Mills (most of the group’s songs were collaborative efforts with credit shared by all), it was “based on true events.”  According to Mills after the Athens, Georgia clubs had closed the members of the band often went skinny-dipping to cool down, and were regularly joined by “any number of these same 50 people. It was a very tight circle of friends.”

Recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami, with Stipe as vocalist, the recording also features former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and oboist Deborah Workman, with Mills (elatedly) playing the same piano used by Derek and the Dominos on that classic recording of “Layla”.



 Nightswimming deserves a quiet night

The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago

Turned around backwards so the windshield shows

Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse

Still, it’s so much clearer

I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge

The moon is low tonight

 Nightswimming deserves a quiet night

I’m not sure all these people understand

It’s not like years ago

The fear of getting caught

Of recklessness and water

They cannot see me naked

These things, they go away

Replaced by everyday

 Nightswimming, remembering that night

September’s coming soon

I’m pining for the moon

And what if there were two

Side by side in orbit

Around the fairest sun?

That bright, tight forever drum

Could not describe nightswimming

 You, I thought I knew you

You I cannot judge

You, I thought you knew me

This one laughing quietly underneath my breath


 The photograph reflects

Every streetlight a reminder

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night

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