John Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, film producer, music video director, and visual artist. He was the lyricist and lead singer of the alternative rock band R.E.M. from their formation in 1980 until their dissolution in 2011.
Stipe is noted 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 the music industry, he owns and runs two film production studios, C-00 and Single Cell Pictures.
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, 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 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. Their second album, Reckoning, followed in 1984.
In 1985, R.E.M. traveled to England to record its 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 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. On October 2, 1985, the group played a concert in Bochum, West Germany, for the German TV show Rockpalast.