John Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960) is an American singer-songwriter and artist best known as the lead singer and lyricist of alternative rock band R.E.M.. He is known for his distinctive vocal quality, poetic lyrics and unique stage presence.
|Birth name||John Michael Stipe|
|Born||January 4, 1960|
Decatur, Georgia, U.S.
Possessing a distinctive voice, Stipe has been noted for the "mumbling" style of his early career. Since the mid-1980s, Stipe has sung in "wailing, keening, arching vocal figures" that R.E.M. biographer David Buckley compared to Celtic folk artists and Muslim muezzin. He was in charge of R.E.M.'s visual aspect, often selecting album artwork and directing many of the band's music videos. Outside the music industry, he owns and runs two film production studios, C-00 and Single Cell Pictures.
As a member of R.E.M., Stipe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. As a singer-songwriter, Stipe influenced a wide range of artists, including Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Bono of U2 described his voice as "extraordinary", and Yorke told The Guardian that Stipe is his favorite lyricist, saying "I loved the way he would take an emotion and then take a step back from it and in doing so make it so much more powerful."
Early life and education
John Michael Stipe was born on January 4, 1960, in Decatur, Georgia, to Marianne and John Stipe. He was a military brat; his father was a serviceman in the United States Army whose career resulted in frequent relocations for his family. His younger sister, Lynda Stipe, was born in 1962 and became the vocalist of her own band, Hetch Hetchy. Stipe and his family moved to various locales during his childhood, including West Germany, Texas, Illinois, and Alabama. In 1978, he graduated from high school in Collinsville, Illinois. His senior photo is pictured in the album art work of Eponymous. Stipe also worked at the local Waffle House. He was raised in and came from "a place of faith," as previous generations of his family were Methodist ministers.
While attending the University of Georgia in Athens, Stipe frequented the Wuxtry record shop, where he met store clerk Peter Buck in 1980. "He was a striking-looking guy and he also bought weird records, which not everyone in the store did," Buck recalled. The two became friends; they eventually decided to form a band and started writing music together, although at the time Stipe was also in a local group named Gangster. Buck and Stipe were soon joined by Bill Berry and Mike Mills, and named themselves R.E.M., a name Stipe selected at random from a dictionary. Stipe was the youngest member of the band.
All four members of R.E.M. dropped out of school in 1980 to focus on the new band. Stipe was the last to do so. The band issued its debut single, "Radio Free Europe," on Hib-Tone; it was a college radio success. The band signed to I.R.S. Records for the release of the Chronic Town EP one year later. In 1983, R.E.M. released its debut album, Murmur, which was acclaimed by critics. Stipe's vocals and lyrics received particular attention from listeners. Murmur went on to win the Rolling Stone Critics Poll Album of the Year over Michael Jackson's Thriller. Their second album, Reckoning, followed in 1984.
In 1985, R.E.M. traveled to England to record their third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, a difficult process that brought the band to the verge of a break up. After the album was released, relationships in the band remained tense. Gaining weight and acting eccentrically (such as by shaving his hair into a monk's tonsure), Stipe later said of the period, "I was well on my way to losing my mind." They toured in Canada and throughout Europe that year; Stipe had bleached his hair blond during this time.
In September 1983, a few months after the release of R.E.M.'s debut album, Stipe participated in a low-budget, forty-five-minute Super-8 film called Just Like a Movie, shot in Athens by New York Rocker magazine photographer Laura Levine, who was a friend of the band. Those with acting roles in the film included Levine, Stipe, his sister Lynda, Matthew Sweet (who formed a short-lived duo, Community Trolls, with Michael Stipe), and R.E.M.'s Bill Berry. The film remains unreleased.
Stipe had planned a collaboration with friend Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, in 1994, partly in an attempt to lure Cobain away from his home and his drug addiction. However, they did not manage to compose or record anything before Cobain's death. Stipe was chosen as the godfather of Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. R.E.M. recorded the song "Let Me In" from the 1994 album Monster in tribute to Cobain.
Stipe was once very close to fellow alternative rock singer Natalie Merchant and has recorded a few songs with her, including one titled "Photograph," which appeared on a pro-choice benefit album titled Born to Choose, and they appeared live with Peter Gabriel singing Gabriel's single "Red Rain" at the 1996 VH1 Honors and a few other times.
Stipe and Tori Amos became friends in the mid-1990s and recorded a duet in 1994 called "It Might Hurt a Bit" for the Don Juan DeMarco motion picture soundtrack. Both Stipe and Amos decided not to release it.
In 1998, Stipe published a collection called Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith. 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 titled 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. He recorded a song with Miguel Bose on the album Papito, "Lo que ves es lo que hay."
Stipe collaborated with Lacoste in 2008 to release his own "holiday collector edition" brand of polo shirt. The design depicts a concert audience from the view of the performer on stage. He appeared with Chris Martin of Coldplay live at Madison Square Garden and online to perform "Losing My Religion" in the 12-12-12 concert raising money for relief from Hurricane Sandy. A new recording from Stipe and featuring Courtney Love was revealed in 2013.The song, "Rio Grande," is taken from Johnny Depp's pirate-themed album, Son of Rogue's Gallery. Stipe also created the soundtrack for The Cold Lands (2013), a film by Stipe's friend director Tom Gilroy.
Stipe inducted the American grunge band Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 10, 2014. He debuted his first solo composition at Moogfest in 2017. Later that year, he performed with Fischerspooner on the new song "Have Fun Tonight" from their 2018 album, Sir. Stipe released the solo song "Future, If Future" on March 24, 2018, followed by “Your Capricious Soul” on October 5, 2019. "Drive to the Ocean" was released for his 60th birthday on January 4, 2020.
Photography has long been a passion for Stipe and he has been carrying a camera with him since his teenage years when he photographed shows featuring Ramones, The Runaways and Queen. In 2018, Stipe released a book of his photography entitled Volume 1, which featured 35 photographs of such celebrities as River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain. A second volume with Douglas Coupland, Our Interference Times: A Visual Record, was released in 2019.
Film and television work
In early 1987, Stipe and Jim McKay co-founded C00 Films, a mixed-media company that was "designed to channel its founder's creative talents towards the creation and promotion of alternative film works." Stipe and his producing partner, Sandy Stern, have served as executive producers on films including Being John Malkovich, Velvet Goldmine and Man on the Moon. He was also credited as a producer of the 2004 film Saved!
In 1998, he worked on Single Cell Pictures, a film production company that released several arthouse / indie movies.
Stipe has made a number of acting appearances on film and on television. Stipe appeared in an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete as an ice cream man named Captain Scrummy. Stipe has appeared as himself with R.E.M. on Sesame Street, playing a reworked version of "Shiny Happy People" called "Furry Happy Monsters," and appeared in an episode of The Simpsons titled "Homer the Moe," in which R.E.M. was tricked into playing a show in Homer Simpson's garage. He also appeared as a guest on the Cartoon Network talk show spoof Space Ghost Coast to Coast in the episode "Hungry." Stipe made several short appearances on The Colbert Report.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (April 2018)
With the success of the albums Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), R.E.M. became mainstream music stars. Around 1992, rumors that Stipe had contracted HIV began to circulate. He responded with
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 1994, with questions remaining, Stipe described himself as "an equal opportunity lech," and said he did not define himself as gay, straight or bisexual, but that he was attracted to, and had relationships with, both men and women. In 1995, he appeared on the cover of Out magazine. Stipe described himself as a "queer artist" in Time in 2001 and revealed that he had been in a relationship with "an amazing man" for three years at that point. Stipe reiterated this in a 2004 interview with Butt magazine. When asked if he ever declares himself as gay, Stipe stated, "I don't. I think there's a line drawn between gay and queer, and for me, queer describes something that's more inclusive of the grey areas."
In 1999, author Douglas A. Martin published a novel, Outline of My Lover, in which the narrator has a six-year romantic relationship with the unnamed lead singer of a successful Athens, Georgia-based, rock band; the book was widely speculated, and later confirmed by its author, to have been a roman à clef based on a real relationship between Martin and Stipe. The two had previously collaborated on two books, both in 1998: The Haiku Year (for which the two had both contributed haiku) and Martin's book of poetry Servicing the Salamander (for which Stipe took the cover photograph).
Stipe possesses a baritone vocal range. His role in the songwriting process for R.E.M. was to write lyrics and devise melodies. While each member was given an equal vote in the songwriting process, Peter Buck has conceded that Stipe, as the band's lyricist, could rarely be persuaded to follow an idea he did not favor. Stipe sings in "wailing, keening, arching vocal figures" that R.E.M. biographer David Buckley compared to Celtic folk artists and Muslim muezzin. Stipe often harmonizes with Mills in songs; in the chorus for "Stand", Mills and Stipe alternate singing lyrics, creating a dialogue. Early articles about the band focused on Stipe's singing style (described as "mumbling" by The Washington Post), which often rendered his lyrics indecipherable. Stipe commented in 1984, "It's just the way I sing. If I tried to control it, it would be pretty false."
"That voice. It's an extraordinary voice," said U2's lead singer, Bono, in 2003. "I often tell him I think he's a crooner, and he doesn't like that very much. But it is sort of one part some sort of Bing Crosby '50s laid-back crooner, and one part Dolly Parton", he added, laughing.
Stipe insisted that many of his early lyrics were "nonsense," saying in a 1994 online chat, "You all know there aren't words, per se, to a lot of the early stuff. I can't even remember them." In truth, many early R.E.M. songs had definite lyrics that Stipe wrote with care. Stipe explained in 1984 that when he started writing lyrics they were like "simple pictures," but after a year he grew tired of the approach and "started experimenting with lyrics that didn't make exact linear sense, and it's just gone from there." In the mid-1980s, as Stipe's pronunciation while singing became clearer, the band decided that its lyrics should convey ideas on a more literal level. Mills explained, "After you've made three records and you've written several songs and they've gotten better and better lyrically the next step would be to have somebody question you and say, are you saying anything? And Michael had the confidence at that point to say yes...." After what Stipe has referred to as "The Dark Ages of American Politics" [The Reagan/Bush Years], R.E.M. incorporated more politically oriented concerns into his lyrics on Document and Green. "Our political activism and the content of the songs was just a reaction to where we were, and what we were surrounded by, which was just abject horror," Stipe said later. "In 1987 and '88 there was nothing to do but be active." While Stipe continued to write songs with political subject matter like "Ignoreland" and "Final Straw," later albums have focused on other topics. Automatic for the People dealt with "mortality and dying. Pretty turgid stuff," according to Stipe; Monster, meanwhile, critiqued love and mass culture, and Reveal dipped into mysticism.
- "In the Sun" (with Chris Martin) (2006)
- "Rio Grande" (with Courtney Love) on Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys (2013)
- "Your Capricious Soul" (2019)
- "Drive to the Ocean" (2020)
- "No Time For Love Like Now" (with Big Red Machine) (2020)
- With The Golden Palominos: "Boy (Go)", "Omaha", and "Clustering Train" on Visions of Excess (1985); "Alive and Living Now" on Drunk with Passion (1991)
- With Our Favorite Band: "Dreamin' Of Eternity" Saturday Nights ... Sunday Mornings (1987)
- With 10,000 Maniacs: "A Campfire Song" on In My Tribe (1987); "To Sir, with Love" and "Candy Everybody Wants" on Few & Far Between EP (1993)
- With the Indigo Girls: "Kid Fears" on Indigo Girls (1988); "I'll Give You My Skin" on Rarities (2005)
- With Natalie Merchant and Mark Bingham and The Roches: "Opening Melody – Little April Shower" on Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films
- With Syd Straw: "Future 40's" on Surprise (1989)
- With The Blue Aeroplanes: "What It Is" on Swagger (1990)
- With Robyn Hitchcock: "She Doesn't Exist" on Perspex Island, and "Dark Green Energy", 'B'-side to "Ultra Unbelievable Love" (1991)
- With Billy Bragg: "You Woke Up My Neighbourhood" on Don't Try This at Home (1991)
- With KRS-One: "Civilization Vs. Technology" on the H.E.A.L. compilation Civilization Vs. Technology (1991)
- With Neneh Cherry: "Trout" on Homebrew (1992)
- With Kristin Hersh: "Your Ghost" on Hips and Makers (1994)
- "My Gang" on Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness (1997)
- With Vic Chesnutt: "Injured Bird" on The End of Violence (1997)
- With Patti Smith: "Last Call" on Peace and Noise (1997); "Glitter in Their Eyes" on Gung-Ho (2000)
- With Rain Phoenix: "Happiness" on the soundtrack for the film Happiness (1998)
- With Grant Lee Buffalo: "Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary" on Jubilee (1998)
- With Spacehog: "Almond Kisses" on The Chinese Album (1999)
- With Utah Saints: "Sun", "Punk Club", "Rhinoceros" and "Wiggedy Wack" on Two (2000)
- With Community Trolls: "Tainted Obligation" (1983) on To Understand: The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet (2002)
- With Artists Against AIDS Worldwide: "What's Going On" (2001)
- With Faultline: "Greenfields" on Your Love Means Everything (2002)
- With 1 Giant Leap: "The Way You Dream" on 1 Giant Leap (2002); I Have Seen Trouble on What About Me? (2009)
- With Stéphane Pompougnac: "Clumsy" on Living on the Edge (2003)
- "L'Hôtel" (Serge Gainsbourg cover) on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited (2006)
- With The New York Dolls: "Dancing on the Lip of a Volcano" on One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (2006)
- With Placebo: "Broken Promise" on Meds (2006)
- With Miguel Bosé: "Lo que hay es lo que ves" on Papito (2007)
- With Maria Taylor: "Cartoons And Forever Plans" on LadyLuck (2009)
- "Souris nocturne" on Souris Calle (2018)
- With Rain Phoenix: "Time Is the Killer" on Time Gone (2019)
- With Big Red Machine: "No Time For Love Like Now" (2020)
Production In addition to co-producing most of R.E.M.'s output, Stipe has also produced the following:
- Hugo Largo: "Drum" (1988), "Opal/Warner Brothers" (1988)
- With Vic Chesnutt: "Little" (1990), "West of Rome" (1992)
- With Magnapop: Magnapop (1992)
- With Fischerspooner: Sir (2018)
- Michael Stipe: Volume 1. Damiani, 2018. ISBN 9788862085915. Contains 35 photographs.
- Our Interference Times: A Visual Record (with Douglas Coupland) Damiani, 2019. ISBN 978-8862086783
- Michael Stipe: Michael Stipe Damiani, 2021. ISBN 9788862087384
- Stipe, Carrey Duet On R.E.M. - Penned Soundtrack
Retrieved June 20, 2016
- Buckley, p. 87
- Fricke, David (October 24, 2011). "'The One I Love': Radiohead's Thom Yorke on the Mystery and Influence of R.E.M." Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
- The South Bank Show, May 12, 2003.
- "U2 Like REM like U2 like REM". U2. April 3, 2001. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
- "Michael Stipe: Songwriter, Singer, Activist, Music Producer (1960–)". Biography.com. Archived from the original on July 3, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars - Virginia Hanlon Grohl (2017)
- Fricke, David (March 5, 1992). "Artist of the Year: R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe on the Band's First Decade". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- Gross, Jason. "Lynda Stipe: Oh OK". Perfect Sound Forever. Archived from the original on July 19, 2001. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
- Hull, Shelton (December 27, 2017). "Oh, Henry! Rollins returns to Northeast Florida, bringing the whole world along". Folio Weekly. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
- Schonfeld, Zach (November 2, 2017). "Michael Stipe Reflects on R.E.M.'s 'Automatic for the People': 'It was F--king Dark Times'". Newsweek. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- O'Hagan, Sean (March 5, 2011). "Michael Stipe: 'I often find myself at a loss for words'". The Guardian. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- Millitzer, Joe (June 5, 2015). "REM's Michael Stipe surfaces in St. Louis Rocky Horror Picture Show report". Fox 2 St. Louis. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- "R.E.M. Tackles Songs of Faith and Revenge". Morning Edition. NPR. March 24, 2008. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- Buckley, p. 24
- Buckley, p. 50
- Buckley, p. 29
- Buckley, p. 39
- Buckley, p. 43
- Buckley, p. 135
- Cameron, Keith. "Captains of Industry". Mojo. July 2003
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved January 1, 2015.
Stipe, whose on-stage behavior was always slightly strange, entered his most bizarre phase, as he put on weight, dyed his hair bleached blonde, and wore countless layers of clothing.
- Thompkins, Tim (August 29, 2007). "Michael Stipe (R.E.M.) Interview (1985)". Murmurs.com / YouTube. Retrieved January 1, 2015.
- "To Understand: The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet: Music". Retrieved August 1, 2013.
- Jovanovic 2006, p. 74 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFJovanovic2006 (help)
- How we met: Michael Stipe and natalie Merchant | The Independent
- "jam.canoe.ca". jam.canoe.ca. Archived from the original on April 17, 2005. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- Michael Stipe Holiday Collector's Series at Lacoste.com Archived November 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- "Live at the '12-12-12' Sandy Benefit Concert". Rolling Stone. December 13, 2012. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- "Michael Stipe and Courtney Love Bid Bon Voyage on 'Rio Grande' Duet | SPIN | SPIN Mix | Songs". SPIN. February 12, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
- "Michael Stipe reveals first new music since REM split". New Musical Express. June 4, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
- Murray, Nick (April 11, 2014). "Michael Stipe Inducts Nirvana Into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- Yoo, Noah (March 15, 2017). "Michael Stipe to Debut New Solo Composition at MoogFest". Pitchfork Media.
- Minsker, Evan (June 19, 2017). "Fischerspooner Team with Michael Stipe for New Song "Have Fun Tonight"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- "Michael's New Song: "Future, If Future"". R.E.M. March 24, 2018.
- "Michael to Release Solo Single "Your Capricious Soul" via MichaelStipe.com on October 5th". R.E.M. October 3, 2019. Retrieved October 2, 2019.
- "Michael Stipe to Release Second Solo Single 'Drive to the Ocean' on Jan. 4th". R.E.M. December 31, 2019. Retrieved January 1, 2020.
- Jonze, Tim (April 24, 2019). "REM's Michael Stipe on his 37,000 photos – of stars, lovers and Kurt Cobain's hands". The Guardian. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
- Battaglia, Andy (July 3, 2018). "'Here I Am—Take It': Michael Stipe's New Photo Book Bares All (or at Least Some)". ARTnews. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
- Sawyer, Miranda (October 20, 2019). "It's the end of the world as we know it... and Michael Stipe feels fine". The Guardian. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
- Martoccio, Angie (June 11, 2020). "Michael Stipe, Big Red Machine Drop 'No Time for Love Like Now' Video". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
- Buckley, p. 144-45
- Buckley, p. 296
- Saved! (2004) – Full cast and crew
- "Michael Stipe Teases His First Ever Solo Song". pastemagazine.com. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
- "Hear a 10-Second Teaser of New Solo Material from R.E.M. Frontman Michael Stipe". Spin. March 24, 2018. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
- McNair, Interviews James (November 8, 1998). "How we met: Michael Stipe and natalie Merchant". The Independent. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
- Cavanagh, David. "Tune in, cheer up, rock out". Q. October 1994.
- Farley, Christopher John. "Michael Stipe and the Ageless Boys of R.E.M." Time. May 2001
- Tilmanns, Wolfgang. "Non-Gay Queer Popstar from R.E.M. Collects Sugar Packets and Was De-virginised at Age Seven". Butt. February 2004.
- "Readings Listings", The Portland Mercury, July 27, 2000.
- "Turning Michael Stipe inside out" Archived February 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Daniel A. Kusner, Dallas Voice, 2001
- The Haiku Year Archived November 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Soft Skull Press
- Buckley, p. 85
- Fricke, David. "Living Up to Out of Time/Remote Control: Parts I and II". Melody Maker. October 3, 1992.
- Buckley, p. 180–81
- Sasfy, Joe. "Reckoning with R.E.M.". The Washington Post. May 10, 1984.
- Platt, John. "R.E.M.". Bucketfull of Brains. December 1984.
- Buckley, p. 88
- Buckley, p. 143
- Buckley, p. 150
- Olliffe, Michael. "R.E.M. in Perth". On the Street. January 17, 1995.
- Blistein, Jon (October 17, 2018). "Bono, Pharrell, Michael Stipe Contribute to Artist's Album Honoring Dead Cat". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
- Hugo Largo at TrouserPress.com
- "Michael Stipe | Signed copy Michael Stipe - 9788862087384F".