Born in Decatur, Georgia in 1960, John Michael Stipe is recognized for his complex lyrics and R.E.M.s' visual image. His interests extend outside of the music industry. He runs his own film production companies, C-00 and Single Cell Pictures. Of course, he is best known for being the lead singer of R.E.M., the alternative rock band from Athens Georgia.
Because his father was in the military, the Stipe family moved frequently when he was growing up, including a stint in Germany. Stipe said he was greatly influenced by Patti Smith's Horses album, Television's Marquee Moon and Wire's Pink Flag. During high school in Illinois, he joined a punk cover band. After graduating, Stipe enrolled at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, as an art major, studying photography and painting.
While attending college, Stipe often visited the Wuxtry record shop where he met store clerk Peter Buck in 1980. The two became friends, started writing music together and decided to form a band. At the time, Stipe was already in a local band named Gangster. Stipe and Buck were joined by Bill Berry and Mike Mills and named themselves R.E.M., a name Stipe selected at random from a dictionary.
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-----All four members of R.E.M. dropped out of school in 1980 to focus on the band. The band's debut single, "Radio Free Europe," 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.
R.E.M. released its debut album Murmur in 1983, which was popular and 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.
The band's second album, Reckoning, followed in 1984. Despite little mainstream airplay, Reckoning reached the Top 30 and with the darkly beautiful follow-up Fables of the Reconstruction, the band earned increasing MTV visibility for the videos "Can't Get There From Here" and "Driver 8."
In 1985, R.E.M. traveled to England to record Fables of the Reconstruction. After the album was released, relationships were tense within the band. Stipe said of the period, "I was well on my way to losing my mind." Stipe gained weight and his behavior became more eccentric; he shaved his hair into a monk's tonsure.
Following the tour to promote their album Green, in 1988 R.E.M. took an extended break, during which Stipe focused on his film company C-00, produced material for local discoveries like Vic Chesnutt and the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, and lent guest vocals to a variety of projects.
R.E.M. returned in 1991 with the chart-topping Out of Time, which generated the Top Ten hits "Losing My Religion" and "Shiny Happy People"; Automatic for the People followed and as alternative rock took over the pop charts, the band was widely acknowledged among the chief inspirations behind a generation of new artists.
While touring in support of 1995's Monster, Stipe was temporarily sidelined by hernia surgery; he returned to complete the tour and two years later, R.E.M. resurfaced with New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
With the success of the albums Out of Time and Automatic for the People in the early 1990s, R.E.M. became mainstream music stars. In 1994, with questions still being raised about his sexuality, Stipe described himself as "an equal opportunity letch," 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 has thrived on collaborating with musical artists he admires. He had planned a collaboration with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain in 1994, partly in an attempt to lure Cobain away from his home and his drug addiction, but did not manage to compose or record anything before Cobain's death. Stipe was chosen as the godfather of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.
Stipe was once very close to fellow 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 have appeared live with Peter Gabriel singing Gabriel's single "Red Rain."
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 to keep it in the vaults, though it was later slated to appear on the Empire Records motion picture soundtrack in 1995. The song remains unreleased and unheard.
In 1998, Stipe published a collection called Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith.
Through some changes in musical style, the band continued its career into the next decade with mixed critical and commercial success. 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.
In 2007, R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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