Deserves a Quiet Night

that bright tight forever drum could not describe nightswimming…

On Sunday nights at 9 one of the local radio stations has this feature called “long player” where they play a classic album in its entirety, commercial-free. This week’s selection was R.E.M.’s album Automatic for the People, which is one of my favorite albums EVER, so of course I was thrilled to get to listen to the whole thing on my way home from work.

“Nightswimming,” in particular. Oh, how I adore this song. I think it’s quite possibly one of the most perfect, lovely songs ever composed. And my love for this song didn’t fully realize itself until after I had an experience that made me realize how exactly perfect its sentiment is.

Now, when I hear it, especially driving at night, I’ll always be thinking, with nostalgia I can smell and taste, of that one perfect night in early September. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where the air was barely warm and the water freezing cold, and we slipped into the black lake in tank tops and underwear, none of us having brought suits, as swimming was never in our plans.

There were many of us there in the lake, but it was so dark out that you couldn’t see anyone else unless you were right next to them, so it felt utterly intimate. We were treading water in the cold lake, looking up, counting every star in the late summer sky. Now and then a laugh would ring out, a voice, from somewhere nearby, but we were hushed, mostly, knowing that if we were caught this would all end.

Some disembodied voice in the dark dared us all to take off our clothes, and in this world, where nothing was usual, we never considered not doing it. I remember finding myself swimming near S, who couldn’t see me well, and wanted to hold my tank top and panties in his hands as proof that I wasn’t wearing them. So we switched, and I held his shorts, and he held my clothes, and we swam there, legs brushing gently against one another, naked but not caring. Being naked felt absolutely right.

these things they go away/replaced by everyday

It had to end, eventually, and we were all utterly silent as we wound our way back through the woods, not wanting the spell to break. And the next morning, we saw the others bleary-eyed, and even though we couldn’t see them the night before, we knew who had been with us, and we knew who had gone to sleep like every other night and missed it all.

I’m so glad I wasn’t one of them.

Comments 5

  • It's a favorite of mine as well. I wrote a whole novel based around that song.

  • sadly, i was not a part of this.

    i think i only shirked sleep once while i was at camp, and it made me regret every ounce of sleep i got every other day spent up there.

    we had a class in lake geneva once i was in grad school, and i learned just bow beautiful it is up there. i love the idea that i could go back there, still, and know my way around; here is the place where they did not successfully lake dr. peterson; there is the cornsoycornsoy; there is the stretch of lake where one of my classmates treaded water, naked, performing until the camp shut us down; there are the steps where laura fell apart because she couldn’t handle the stress of being a junior who just joined band and didn’t know if she could hack it; over here is the phone where i called my mom and all i could say was “it’s hard, mom. really, really hard.”

  • […] “Nightswimming” – R.E.M. […]

  • […] Of the five albums on this list, Automatic For The People is the only one that still feels current. In fact, I had to look up its release date to remember that I got it in high school. I feel like I’ve had it forever. I feel like it just came out. When asked to name my favorite albums of all time, it’s very difficult for me to narrow the list down, but this is always on the list. I’ve written about “Nightswimming” before, and it’s one of my favorite songs in the world, but the truth is that I feel a personal connection with most of the other songs on the album too. Automatic For The People has grown with me over the years and I’ve come to appreciate different parts about it in different places in my life. I’ve changed so, so much since high school, and I listen to a ton of music now that I’d never even heard of back then. I was definitely not cool, and I was not on the cutting edge of anything, and I didn’t know myself at all. So it’s interesting that I stumbled across one of the most important albums in my life back then. […]

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