I first met Michael Stipe in late 1989 or early 1990; he was tagging along with KRS-One, who was giving a talk (about world history, I believe) at Yale University. (They had not yet released their collaboration on Out of Time’s “Radio Song.”) I introduced myself to KRS-One’s publicist, Leyla Turkkan. She had a request: could I get them some coffee? Indeed, I knew where the kitchen was. When I returned five minutes later with coffee, Stipe looked me directly in the eye and said, “Thank you, Gavin.” Keep in mind, we hadn’t been introduced: while I was gone, he had made a point of finding out my name so he could be polite to me when I returned.
The second time I met Stipe was this past May at the Hollywood Bowl, where R.E.M. was headlining. When I mentioned his long-ago graciousness, Rolling Stone’s photographer chimed in with his own story of Stipe being polite, and the singer became visibly embarrassed. “Yeah, yeah, I’m a nice guy,” he said, and quickly changed the subject.
I was at the Bowl to write a backstage report on the R.E.M. tour as it began; it’s winding down now, but still has some dates in October and November. Unfortunately, the magazine only had room for about half of what I wrote, so I’ve added the original version of my article to the archives here.
Not in either version was some of the arcana I learned from my day at the Bowl: “Ignoreland,” for example, which became a staple on the tour, was originally suggested as a joke by Scott McCaughey when the band was brainstorming potential songs via email, but happily, the band took the idea seriously. McCaughey was baffled as to what the droning sound in the background of “Ignoreland” was; producer Scott Litt told him it was a harmonica (and threw in the bonus tidbit that the song was originally called “Howler Monkey”).
And who’s “Jack Pruitt,” who gets name-checked in the closing track on Accelerate, “I’m Gonna DJ”? Stipe says he just made up the name. “There’s no Mr. Richards, either,” he added.