John Michael Stipe was born today, January 4, in 1960. He is a singer, songwriter, musician, film producer, music video director, visual artist, and philanthropist. He is best known as the lead singer and main lyricist of the alternative rock band R.E.M. from their formation in 1980 until their dissolution in 2011.
Possessing a distinctive voice, Stipe is noted for the "mumbling" style of his early career as well as for his social and political activism. 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 singer-songwriter, Stipe is considered to be an influence on a wide range of artists, including Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Bono of U2 described his voice as "extraordinary."
As a member of R.E.M, Stipe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, their first year of eligibility.
Stipe was born in Decatur, Georgia. Stipe was a military brat; his father was a serviceman in the United States Army whose career resulted in frequent relocations for his family, including West Germany, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Georgia.
While attending college at 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 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, which was a college radio success. 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 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.
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.
With the success of the albums Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), R.E.M. became mainstream music stars.
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 3 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."