Stipe Hunting



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They were so much younger then.

I ran out of time before vacation to write a proper piece about this, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least acknowledge that R.E.M. — a.k.a. my favorite band since 1993 -- is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame today. This is relevant to the area since vocalist Michael Stipe spent time in the Metro East, attending high school and (some) college — before, of course, landing in Athens, Georgia, where he met the rest of the band (Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills) and made history.

When I saw R.E.M. at the Fox in 2004 (yes, I traveled there, I wasn't even in St. Louis yet), Stipe pointed out seats where he saw legendary concerts — Lou Reed, Blondie, Springsteen — which my predecessor, Jordan Harper, detailed in a column here. (Stipe's notorious for telling stories at shows; any 1980s bootleg features him rambling about song origins or other miscellaneous things that sprang to mind.)

At the same time, everyone locally seems to have a story about Stipe and his Illinois years — whether it's someone who says the yearbook he was in kept being stolen from Collinsville High School (aside: I wonder if it is the same "they airbrushed my face" photo found in the liner notes of the greatest-hits CD, Eponymous, which I cannot find online?), or fans who've sent me scanned-in newspaper clips of near-forgotten bands he was in while living here.

Then there's Love Expert/Finn's Motel member Steve Scariano. He dedicated an entire post on his blog, Roll Away the Stone, to early St. Louis new-wave-rock history — a screed that's incredibly interesting and well worth a read — and mentioned this tidbit:

The Welders opened the show, and I remember all of their unique Welders' wonderfulness being particularly "on" that night. Also in attendance was then Collinsville, Illinois resident Michael Stipe, a shy newbie to our scene, who had just joined on as singer in our friend Joe Haines' fledgling band, Bad Habits. I recall standing next to Joe & Mike during part of the Welders set, and Mike, in very heavy eye make up, was blowing kisses to the Welders and jumping up and down like a little schoolgirl during their cover of the Dolls' "Lookin' For A Kiss". It's a wonderful image that's vividly burned forever in my memory. Bless that Michael guy, wonder whatever happened to him?

(I believe Stipe quit SIU-Edwardsville within the next few years; correct me if I'm wrong, Steve.)

Speaking of the Dolls, writer Rob Trucks, profiling Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls last fall, managed to extract this nugget from him in our pages:

[Sylvain] tells the story of being approached by R.E.M. singer and Dolls fan Michael Stipe (Stipe contributes vocals on the Dolls' song "Dancing on the Lip of a Volcano" on their new album, One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This) at a late-'90s Patti Smith concert in Atlanta. "He told me that he had come and seen my show, me and David Johansen, when we worked together in 1978 in Missouri," Sylvain begins. "In Missouri of all places. How I handed him a bottle of Perrier water during my performance and so on and so forth, and how boring this must be, him telling me this, and 'You must have heard this a thousand times,' and how groovy we were that night and stuff. "And I said, 'Well, Michael, you know, if I didn't get, every now and then, 'Hey man, I saw you back then and your music really spoke to me' and whatever, then I wouldn't have shit. Because, basically, I didn't really get paid for whatever I did in this business, you know, because you can't deposit influence."

Sylvain might be right; but one can't also underestimate the impact that a band such as R.E.M. can have on one small life. I don't exaggerate when I say that its music got me through teenager-dom, and it continues to make me indescribably happy to this day. So congratulations, boys.

-Annie Zaleski


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