John Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960) is an American singer, lyricist and visual artist. He was the lead vocalist of the alternative rock band R.E.M.
Stipe is noted and occasionally parodied for the “mumbling” style of his early career as well as his social and political activism. He was in charge of R.E.M.’s visual image; often selecting album artwork and directing many of the band’s music videos. Outside of the music industry, he runs his own film production companies: C-00 and Single Cell Pictures.
EARLY LIFE & THE R.E.M. FORMATION
Stipe was born in Decatur, Georgia on January 4, 1960. Stipe was a military brat; his father was a serviceman in the United States Army whose career resulted in frequent relocations for his family. Stipe and his family moved to various locales during his childhood, including Germany, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Georgia. He was raised Methodist. Stipe graduated from high school in Collinsville, Illinois in 1978. His senior photo is pictured in the album art work of “Eponymous”. Stipe also worked at the local Waffle House. Stipe later enrolled at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia as an art major; studying photography and painting.
While attending college 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 and eventually decided to form a band. Buck and Stipe started writing music together; at the time Stipe also spent time in a local group named Gangster. The pair were soon joined by Bill Berry and Mike Mills and named themselves R.E.M., a name Stipe selected at random from a dictionary.
All four members of R.E.M. dropped out of school in 1980 to focus on the band. Stipe was the last to do so. The band issued its 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. R.E.M. released its debut album “Murmur” in 1983, which was widely 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.
In 1985, R.E.M. traveled to England to record its third album “Fables of the Reconstruction”. The process was difficult and brought the band to the verge of break-up. Even 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 behaviour became more eccentric; he shaved his hair into a monk’s tonsure.
On September 21, 2011, R.E.M. announced their retirement in a news release on its website.
“When your day is long and the night, the night is yours alone, when you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on. Don’t let yourself go, ’cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.”
Everybody Hurts, from the album Automatic for the People