John Michael Stipe was born in Decatur, Georgia, in 1960. Growing up in a southern environment until the age of 15, Stipe's musical interest revolved around the music his parents had: country and show tunes. When Stipe was 15 and in high school in St. Louis, he happened upon an issue of Creem magazine under his chair in study hall. Patti Smith was on the cover, looking like "Morticia Adams." Stipe went and bought Horses, which he claims "tore my limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order. I was like 'Shit, yeah, oh my god!' then I threw up."
Citing Patti as his reason for entering music, Michael continued to admire her throughout REM's career. During the 1995 Monster tour, Michael helped introduce a whole new generation of fans to Patti's music, because he frequently played all of Horses as warmup music for the crowd. Also on that tour, he finally got to perform with his idol. Patti gave her musical support to REM in various cities, singing "Let Me In" with them and performing "Dancing Barefoot" solo. Later that year, Michael provided emotional support to her when she was touring with Bob Dylan. Stipe says that he will be present at any Patti concert, as he was on March 23, 1996, at the Wiltern, when he just about cried with happiness after the show. That same show, he said was one of the ten best experiences of his life.
Recent collaboration: Patti appears on the song "E-bow the Letter" on R.E.M.'s recent album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi. She also appears in the video for this song, which has been in "heavy rotation" on MTV. Here's an excerpt from an interview with R.E.M. band members about the song:
The first curveball to be thrown (Mike Mills is an ardent baseball fan) with the new album is the band's first choice for a single, the brooding E-Bow the Letter, which Buck is 'sure will puzzle people (as) it doesn't have a melody except in the chorus, when,' he points out, 'someone who isn't even in the band sings!'
PETER BUCK: Musically it's like a proto-total rock dirge; and lyrically... Michael was actually writing a letter to an aquaintence, so it's got that kind of stream-of-conciousness, first-person thing. We wanted to have Patti Smith on the choruses as relief from the monodramatic type of feeling of the verses. And Patti was great, she did a really fine performance.
MIKE MILLS: She came to see us when we were touring and we're all big fans of hers. She came up and did one of her songs - Dancing Barefoot - with us a few times. And so when we made the new record we asked if she'd like to sing on this song and she said 'yes'. We're very glad she did. We actually wanted her to sing on Everybody Hurts from the 'Automatic for the People' album, but she was busy with her family, and she was working, and being a mother and a wife.
Buck says to have Smith sing on a song he helped write 'was just amazing' as she changed his life 'in a literal way' when he saw he perform in 1976. This was around the same time Michael Stipe was listening to her debut album 'Horses', which he says 'was just the most important thing in the world'. Stipe admitted on the Internet that whenever REM played Patti Smith's hometown he'd 'always dedicate a song to her hoping she might be there. She wasn't.'
But now these two icons of the iconoclastic are together on this song where Stipe sings 'this fame thing... this star thing - I don't get it.' However strange it might seem as a choice of single E-Bow fits right in there as a signifier of 1996 version REM.
For more info about Michael Stipe and R.E.M., visit the newgroup, rec.music.rem.
Murmurs.Com, the REM homepage
another page about REM and Stipe