R.E.M.’s album Out of Time was recorded in September through October of 1990. Featuring the band’s most well-known single, Losing My Religion, Out of Time gave them their first #1 album in the U.S. and the UK. Despite the success of the album, the band did not tour to support its release in March of 1991. Unlike previous albums, Out of Time has a more country feel to it and features their first true love song.
Losing My Religion
Released in February of 1991, Losing My Religion became R.E.M.’s highest-charting hit in the United States. In the song, Michael Stipe sings the lines “That’s me in the corner/That’s me in the spotlight/Losing my religion”. The phrase “losing my religion” is an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one’s temper or civility, or “being at the end of one’s rope.” Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression. He told Q that Losing My Religion is about,
“Someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.”
Care to guess who Stipe could have possibly been pining over?
River and Michael Stipe first met in January of 1990 at a PETA benefit about eight months before the band began recording Out of Time. River would have been nineteen at the time with Stipe having just celebrated his 30th birthday on January 4, 1990. The meeting marked the beginning of Stipe’s lifelong obsession with River and a tumultuous love affair that led to a Shakespearian ending. Following the theory explored on this website, I believe Stipe was given the task of reeling River in and keeping his rebellion under wraps. I believe this was to be done through the use of drugs and hypnotism in a handler/slave relationship that dominates the entertainment industry. Stipe hints at his daunting task in Losing My Religion as he sings,
“I’m losing my religion, trying to keep up with you, and I don’t know if I can do it.”
This unrequited love and failure to tame River’s mounting agitation is also prevalent in the song Country Feedback where Stipe mournfully sings, “Crazy all these lovers have been tagged.” River had been tagged for death if he didn’t comply and they both knew it.
The album art for Out of Time depicts a stormy ocean. In the background behind the album’s emblem, streaks of light dominate the upper left-hand corner. Water, light and electricity are reoccurring themes in R.E.M.s lyrics and videos with water symbolizing hypnotism/mind control, and electricity referring to friction, energy and River himself.
The above cover art is from the limited edition album released in Spain. An oil painting by an unknown artist, the dominant image resembles a pyramid-shaped tent with a cat-like creature or possibly a scorpion walking across one of the flaps. At the bottom of the tent, an eel pokes its body through the opening. Eels are also used on P’s album art for their single Michael Stipe. A layered tunnel surrounds the canvas-looking tent, and it looks as though a body is lying supine on the inner level with a figure hovering over its legs. The art loosely reminds me of Dante’s Inferno and the Nine Levels of Hell. Various other creatures inhabit the tent as a figure emerges from the top, and another eel-like creature pokes its head out of the right side. A small green smiley face is also seen tucked away under the tent flap. The dark red colors and earthy tones give the artwork that inner-earth inferno feel.
On the flip side of the album, the art depicts a smeared whirlwind of earth tones sucking a figure into its center. The words Out of Time border the vortex.
I’ve only just stumbled across this artwork and my analysis is subject to change, but I do feel it’s another piece to the puzzle. Michael Stipe retained creative control over much of R.E.M.’s production and artwork, making album covers, videos and any other medium relevant to the cause.
During the months and year that Out of Time was conceived and recorded, River had recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend Martha Plimpton. After filming Dogfight he went on to star in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho playing a gay street hustler. As the rumor goes, he received oral sex from a male friend in preparation for the role. In the book, In Search of River Phoenix, a man named John Tanner (who claimed to be River’s good friend) states,
“The River blow job rumor? Some say it was Brendan Fraser, but it was not him. And it wasn’t Michael Stipe, either. River said so. But he, [the person who did it] did appear in MOPI, and all I can say is that he is quite the musician, unless River fibbed, and that is possible knowing Riv.”
Whether River experimented sexually with Flea (the musician friend), Michael Stipe and/or someone else, he certainly wasn’t exclusive to just one lover. In addition to his rumored sexual exploits, he also dated a woman five years his senior, Sue Solgot, during that time period.
Of course I can’t say for sure, but it sounds to me as though River just wanted to be friends, but Stipe (understandably) desired more.
R.E.M.’s Out of Time is said to have been just that, an album beyond its years, wholly different from anything produced during that time period, and while this is true I believe it holds a much more literal meaning. Stipe’s progression through the Masonic system led him to a crossroad. Unable to win River over and quell his rising rebellion, Stipe found himself stuck in the middle between his loyalty to the man/child he loved and his loyalty to The Kingship. Given his predisposition to being a victim of Monarch mind control, he ultimately had no choice in the matter. His time was up. His metamorphosis and ascension through the Masonic program collided with River’s, for he too was at a crossroad. A slave to the same system as Stipe, River was also out of time. He could either submit to the Kingship and further his career or suffer the consequences. River was to be Michael Stipe’s graduation present, but his debut role as a Handler fell short when River refused to let him take the wheel.
“I think I thought I saw you try, but that was just a dream.” (Losing My Religion)
In Search of River Phoenix: The Truth Behind the Myth (Barry C. Lawrence)