Lisa Borders is the author of the novel Cloud Cuckoo Land and a contributor to Don’t You Forget About Me: Contemporary Authors on the Films of John Hughes.
Thanks, Lisa, for letting us know that JAN. 4, 2010 is Michael Stipe‘s 50th Birthday.
Distiple: An Obsession in Ten Albums by Lisa Borders
It’s early 1983 and a friend lends you a cassette of an E.P. called Chronic Town by a band from Athens, Georgia called R.E.M. The sound quality of this tape is already slightly shot – it has been passed around a lot — but you like it: jangly guitars, mysterious lyrics, energetic drumming. It sounds nothing like the synthesizer-heavy dreck on the radio, nothing even like the punk rock your college station plays. The black-and-white photo of the band on the back of the cassette is hard to make out, but the singer has long curly bangs that nearly cover his face. He looks interesting.
R.E.M.’s first full-length album comes out while you are home from college for summer break. You feel lucky to find it at the crappy record store in the mall near your South Jersey hometown. The songs on Murmur don’t merely speak to you; they cry out. Listening through the album from “Radio Free Europe” through “West of the Fields” is like surfing an elegant mood wave with a Rickenbacker. You bring Murmur back to college and you and your closest friend fall into a habit of listening to it late at night, after the bars have closed or the parties are over.
In October R.E.M. appears on the David Letterman show. You settle cross-legged on the floor of your student apartment in front of an ancient television that requires a pair of needle-nosed pliers to change the channels, a bowl of popcorn by your side. The band launches into “Radio Free Europe”; as soon as you see the lead singer, Michael Stipe, you stop eating the popcorn. His eyes are large and blue; his cheekbones distinct; his lips a perfect cupid’s bow. Ringlets of curly brown hair frame his face and hang in his eyes. He looks as if he stepped out of a Renaissance painting; a DaVinci, perhaps, or a Botticelli. You barely register the other guys in the band. From that point on, you are not just a fan of R.E.M; you are now instantly, hopefully in love with Michael Stipe. Hopefully because you are twenty years old and you think that surely there is a way to meet this man, and that once you meet, he will fall as instantly in love with you as you have with him. You are soul mates. You know all this from watching him perform two songs on Letterman. (more…)