Michael Stipe has announced his return to music after five years incognito, and lovers of all things rock & roll and LGBTQ feel all shiny & happy. Today, R.E.M. releases a 25th anniversary reissue of the classic album Out Of Time. The set includes unreleased demos, rare live performance recordings, and outtakes from early songs.
Out Of Time was an international breakthrough for the band, and Stipe has since earned luminary status as both a musician and queer icon.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He was the lead singer of a fabulous band
R.E.M. debuted in 1980 and quickly achieved cult status on the college for its blending of thoughtful lyrics and electric folk rock. Stipe served as lead singer and songwriter for the band, and his vocals, alternating between haunting mumbling and mournful wails, are some of the most recognizable in music history. His lean body, stage charisma, and ecstatic dancing set gay boys hearts aflame even if he didn’t come out formally until many years later. The gorgeous esoteric songs of the early years, from songs like the raucaus Radio Free Europe to the elegiac “Green Grow The Rushes” later gave way to more poppy but equally effecting hits like “Everybody Hurts,” “Shiny Happy People” and “End of the World as We Know It.” Here we should note that the chiming Rickenbacker riffs of guitarist Peter Buck perfectly complimented Stipe’s singing.
2. He came out way back in 1994
Stipe’s flamboyant stage persona and enigmatic personality attracted a good deal of speculation throughout the 1980s that he might indeed be gay. After allegations surfaced that Stipe had contracted HIV, the singer set the record straight in 1994, a time when many musicians were still deeply closeted. While HIV negative, he had the courage to label himself as “queer” and acknowledged relationships with both men and women over the years. He lives in a happy relationship with a man today.
3. He’s an acclaimed music producer
Besides his work with R.E.M., Stipe has collaborated and contributed to other musical work with acclaimed musicians, including his friend Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos, Chris Martin and Courtney Love. Stipe had planned to record an album with Love’s late husband, Kurt Cobain, as a means of helping Cobain kick his drug addiction. Unfortunately, Cobain committed suicide before the two had a chance to produce any recordings.
4. He also produces movies
Stipe hasn’t limited his work to music. He began producing short films in 1983, and his credits include producing Man in the Moon, Being John Malkovich and the queer-rock themed Velvet Goldmine.
5. He’s a sculptor
During his hiatus from R.E.M., Stipe turned to visual arts. He works mainly in bronze and brass, and his work has attracted a good deal of attention from New York art critics. After performing in a tribute concert to David Bowie, Stipe has decided he should return to music.
6. He worked at Waffle House
While a struggling artist in his college days in Athens, Georgia, Stipe worked as a waiter at Waffle House, the notorious southern diner chain. Stipe’s showbiz ascent from such modest beginnings proves, if nothing else, that everybody has to start somewhere.
R.E.M.’s 1987 song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” was used to violently excite the unthinking posse at a Tea Party rally this summer as Trump emerged. Stipe used the epithet again to describe then-Indiana governor Mike Pence when he signed the antigay “religious liberty” bill passed by the state legislature. We thus have a pretty good idea of how he feels about the outcome of the presidential election as well.