Lex Neon on Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)

Lex loves Michael Stipe, whose birthday is January 4. Happy birthday, Michael!

I can’t say that I related to all of the hoopla surrounding Michael Jackson’s Thriller. For me, it was all about the first R.E.M. album, Murmur. Their music hooked me because I could understand the basics – guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. It was exciting, but also a musical puzzle. Michael Stipe hid behind his long locks of hair and mumbled oblique lyrics like the bastard son of Bob Dylan.

Michael Stipe’s early mumble became a fabric sewn into R.E.M.’s groovy pop jangle. I remember many repeated listens to the albums, desperately trying to figure out lyrics to some of my early faves, like “Moral Kiosk,” “Pilgrimage,” “Pretty Persuasion,” and “Life and How To Live It.”

His voice finally opened up on Life’s Rich Pageant. There are certain parts of that record that still “do it” for me. I’m sure you’ve heard “Fall On Me.” Michael’s vocal really got to my musical heart on this track, as well as “Cuyahoga.”

By the time R.E.M. had become media darlings, Stipe was on MTV doing ads about toxic emissions, gun control, the Voter Registration Bill, and a host of topics that made me more politically aware. Barring “Just A Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock, I think Michael was the first pop star of my generation to call attention to the politics of the times. He had something genuine to say, and we needed to hear it.

With his music, book publishing, photography, acting, and film production, Michael distinguished himself from a lot of the pop stars that we once hailed back in the day. He’s always arty, interesting, insightful, and fun.

For almost 25 years, R.E.M. have been my “guys.” Once I saw them on Letterman in ’83, I saved as many allowances as I could to buy their music. I was a committed fan. To this day, I still save my allowances and each new release is highly anticipated. I think they still have a lot left to say musically, and that they’re one of the few bands I grew up with that will continue to release music as vital as the music of their “glory days.”

Michael’s lyrics are more than just words that get set to music. They’re a peek inside a very unique mind. And line by line, those words can take you to other worlds and make you feel heroic. At least that’s what they do to me. Thanks Michael, and happy birthday!

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

Currently watching :
R.E.M. – When the Light is Mine… The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987 Video Collection
Release date: 12 September, 2006
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~ by Poppermost on September 6, 2008.

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