January 30 ~  Celebrate the Contradiction Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003

"I'm prepared to look you in the eye.
Look me in the eye, and if you see familiarity
then celebrate the contradiction.
Help me when I fall to walk unafraid."
~ Michael Stipe, Walk Afraid

michael stipe

Born in Decatur, Georgia, REM's lead singer Michael Stipe (1960-) has written some of rock's most creative music beginning with the band's first album, Murmur (1983).

In 1998, the band released Up what Stipe called "the hardest record we've ever made."

Up was made without original drummer Bill Berry, who suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm while on tour, then changed his priorities, quit the group, and bought a farm. A watershed event for a band who at the time had been together for 18 years, a band that set the music industry standard for 90s alternative rock.

"What we do has a significance greater than anything I could do with anyone else," Stipe said.

Struggling for balance while creating, Stipe called the track Walk Unafraid, his "favorite mantra." Advised by veteran rock singer Patti Smith to "be fearless," Stipe explained that he "took her words and turned it into a song." He tried to write with "the same voice" as REM's big hits Losing My Religion and Everybody Hurts, songs of passion and raucous brilliance.

"There's a kind of universality to the song," Stipe added. "Specific enough that it doesn't seem like just a bundle of clichés tied together. But unspecific enough that pretty much anyone could listen to the song and apply it to themselves and to their own situation and their own life and take from it what they need to."

Taking what you need from the lyrics is pretty much the idea behind REM's music, so alive with colors and creative complexities. Stipe's cryptic automatic writing is engrossing, brave, and spiritual, but always open for interpretations. Familiar or otherwise...

Celebrate the contradiction.