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John Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960 in Decatur, Georgia) is the lead singer of the American rock band R.E.M. Stipe has become well-known (and occasionally parodied) for the "mumbling" style of his early career and for his complex, surreal lyrics, as well as his social and political activism. Stipe and the other members of R.E.M. are known as pioneers of alternative rock and are credited with having inspired many of the acts that went on to make up the 1990s' alternative music scene including Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Radiohead.
Stipe met Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills in 1980 while studying photography and painting at the University of Georgia. They formed R.E.M. that year and issued their debut single, "Radio Free Europe", on Hib-Tone. The song was a college radio success and the band signed to I.R.S. Records for the release of the Chronic Town EP one year later. Beginning with 1983's Murmur, R.E.M. released a series of critically acclaimed albums with a wide variety of mainstream success. A few hit singles and growing visibility as a social activist eventually made Stipe a star and also earned him a devoted fanbase. River Phoenix was among his friends, and 1994's Monster had the dedication "For River" in the liner notes. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, was also one of his close friends. According to Stipe, they planned a collaboration project, but did not manage to compose or record anything before Cobain's death. He is also godfather of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.
Rock legend Patti Smith has been a great source of inspiration for Stipe. Listening to her debut album Horses when he was 15 made a huge impact on him, and fuelled his creativity. Smith sings the backing vocals on "E-Bow the Letter". Stipe and the other band members are also friendly with the members of Radiohead due in part to Radiohead's stint as the opening act on R.E.M.'s 1995 tour in support of Monster. On Radiohead's 2003 tour, Stipe occasionally sang lead vocals on the song "Lucky". Likewise, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke credits Stipe as being an integral part in his personal life as he helped him deal with depression issues in the late '90s. Specifically, the title for the Radiohead song "How to Disappear Completely" originates from advice that Stipe gave Yorke.
Stipe was once very close to fellow singer Natalie Merchant and has recorded a few songs with her, including one entitled "Photograph" which appeared on a pro-choice benefit album entitled Born to Choose and they have appeared live with Peter Gabriel singing Gabriel's single "Red Rain".
In 1998, Stipe published a collection called Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith (one of his personal heroes) and worked on Single Cell, a film production company which released several arthouse / indie movies (Velvet Goldmine, starring Ewan McGregor, as well as Being John Malkovich, American Movie in 1999, American Psycho in 2000 and Saved! in 2004). The company as a whole recently purchased the rights to Canadian author Douglas Coupland's All Families are Psychotic and is considering it as a film.
He wrote haiku for a book published by Soft Skull Press called The Haiku Year.
In 2006, Stipe released an EP that comprised six different cover versions of Joseph Arthur's "In The Sun" for the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief fund. One version, recorded in a collaboration with Coldplay's Chris Martin, reached number one on the Canadian Singles Chart.. Also in 2006, Stipe appeared on the song "Broken Promise" on the Placebo release Meds. Continuing his non-R.E.M. work in 2006, Stipe sang the song "L'Hôtel" on the tribute album to Serge Gainsbourg entitled Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited and appeared on the song "Dancing on the Lip of a Volcano" on the New York Dolls album "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This".
Rumours that Stipe might be gay, or at least bisexual, began to circulate as soon as R.E.M. became big enough to draw attention. "I felt forced to talk about my sexuality, my queerness, just because I felt like I was being looked on as a coward for not talking about it, and I abhor that," he explained in 1998. "I thought it was dead obvious to everyone all along - I was wearing skirts and mascara in 1981, on-stage and in photo-shoots. All the lyrics I have written, for the most part, with a few exceptions, are really gender unspecific."
Around 1992, rumors that Stipe had contracted the HIV virus began to spread. "I know it bothered Michael's family," Peter Buck said in 1999. "No matter how much you tell your loved ones you're not dying, it's worrying for them to read it in the paper all the time. Still, as you can see, Michael's perfectly healthy. Stronger than I am."
Stipe decided not to make a statement when the rumors began to spread. "This might be really naïve, but my number one reason was – this is incredibly naïve, in retrospect – but I really felt like there are a lot of people who might respect me, for whatever reason, because of the music or just because I’m a celebrity, that think that [the AIDS story] about me might impact them in the way they handle their own private affairs, or in the the way they thought about people who were HIV positive or who had AIDS. And, number two, I felt like it was a ludicrous claim and I didn’t feel like sinking to kibbles-and-bits journalism to even respond to it. It was spawned from a ridiculous series of little things and I didn’t feel like it was worth answering."
According to Stipe, he did not start the rumor and he does not know who did. "Not that I can tell. I wore a hat that said 'White House Stop AIDS'. I’m skinny. I’ve always been skinny, except in 1985 when I looked like Marlon Brando, the last time I shaved my head. I was really sick then. Eating potatoes. I think AIDS hysteria would obviously and naturally extend to people who are media figures and anybody of indecipherable or unpronounced sexuality. Anybody who looks gaunt, for whatever reason. Anybody who is associated, for whatever reason – whether it's a hat, or the way I carry myself – as being queer-friendly."
In an interview, Stipe said he likes his sexuality being indecipherable. "Yeah. I kind of like gender-fucking. We’ve done it from the beginning. I think the songs should be heard by anybody and not necessarily have a male voice. I have written certain songs from what I consider to be a very female perspective, where the protagonist of the song was, in fact, female. 'Sweetness Follows' is the most recent and obvious example of that. To me, it’s a very female song. I like fucking around with that stuff. Blurring the edges a little bit. I don’t really like binary thought, no matter where it lands. And I think sexuality is a really slippery thing. I think a lot of people agree with me."
In a 2001 Time interview, Stipe described himself as a "queer artist" and revealed that he had been in a relationship with "an amazing man" for three years at that point. In previous interviews he has described himself as "an equal opportunity lech" and said he doesn't define himself as gay, straight, or bisexual, but that he was attracted to and had relationships with both men and women.
This article contains a list of miscellaneous information. (May 2007)
- Stipe was originally offered the role of "John Doe" in the 1995 film Se7en. The part ultimately went to Kevin Spacey.
- He made a cameo appearance in an episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete as Captain Scrummy, an ice cream salesman. R.E.M. also made a guest appearance in The Simpsons episode "Homer the Moe," performing "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" in Homer's garage.
- The Canadian author Douglas Coupland, a close personal friend of Stipe, dedicated a story in his book Life After God to Stipe. The story was entitled "In the Desert."
- Stipe's vocal contributions to songs on other artists' albums include backing vocals on the 10,000 Maniacs' "A Campfire Song," Indigo Girls' "Kid Fears," Kristin Hersh's "Your Ghost," Placebo's "Broken Promise", and two tracks by Hugo Largo. He also sings on the Neneh Cherry song "Trout," and his voice is sampled in many tracks on the Utah Saints album Two.
- He was the one who suggested the name "Concrete Blonde" to IRS labelmates Dream 6.
- Stipe mentioned in a 1983 interview for Trouser Press the artists who most influenced his vocals were female country singers Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, and Wanda Jackson.
- Stipe is mentioned in the fourth line of the song "Let Her Cry" by Hootie & the Blowfish.
- In the Family Guy episode The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Peter makes a reference to Stipe while arguing with Chris' bully.
- Stipe is mentioned in the fifth line of the song "Superliga" by the Danish band Nephew stating: "Michael Stipe er vis", which means "Michael Stipe is wise".
- Stipe is mentioned in the song "Maybe" by The Wonder Stuff from their 1991 album Never Loved Elvis: "Maybe I should take a mic/Stand up tall like Michael Stipe/And try to solve the problems of the earth"
- In the "Losing My Religion" video, Stipe wanted to look as small as possible. The video itself was shot in such an angle as to show how small he was in the corner and in the spotlight. On VH1's I Love the '80s he admitted to being closer to 5 foot than his listed 5 foot 9 inch height.
- Often wears three-inch specially-designed pads in his shoes.
- For releases with R.E.M., see R.E.M. discography
- With Community Trolls: "Tainted Obligation" (1983) on To Understand: The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet (2002).
- Flynn, Paul (2006). "oh, frances!" (reprint). i-d magazine. Retrieved 2007-06-05. Unknown parameter
- VH1.Behind the Music R.E.M., orig airdate 1998-12-08.
- Q Magazine, May 1999
- Q Magazine, October 1994
- Farley, Christopher John (2001-05-16). "Michael Stipe and the Ageless Boys of R.E.M." Time. Time Inc. Retrieved 2007-06-05. Check date values in:
- Esquire magazine, April 1999
- Q magazine, April 1999
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