Skip to main content

R.E.M. Become Part of Rock's Official History

The band R.E.M will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12. The Grammy winning band hails from Athens, Ga., and is considered a pioneer of alternative rock.

Singer Michael Stipe has fronted the band for all of its recordings, including the hits "Shiny Happy People" and "Losing My Religion." The band's latest CD is R.E.M.: The Best of the IRS Years 1982 1987, a CD-DVD combo.

Originally broadcast on May 11, 1998.

09:02

Other segments from the episode on March 9, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 9, 2007: Interview with Patti Smith and Michael Stipe; Interview with Michael Stipe; Review of the film "300."

Transcript

DATE March 9, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Patti Smith talks about her life and music career
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions right around the corner, we're
continuing our salute to some of the musicians being saluted by their peers at
Monday's ceremony in New York. Today's guests are Michael Stipe, lead singer
of R.E.M., and pioneer punk poet Patti Smith. We'll visit with Michael Stipe
in the second half of the show. But by means of introduction to Terry's
interview with Patti Smith, let's hear what he had to say about the influence
Patti had on him when he was younger. He spoke with Terry in 1998.

TERRY GROSS, host:

I think that Patti Smith is perhaps among the few women in rock music who not
only inspired other women to enter music but inspired men, too. I think men
are kind of usually inspired by men in music, to go into music, especially in
rock. You know, there's always this big division in rock between, you know,
the male thing and the female thing.

Mr. MICHAEL STIPE: Yes.

GROSS: So I wonder what it was like for you to be so inspired, you know, by a
woman.

Mr. STIPE: It didn't--I mean, I think there were definitely sexual elements
to it, but it had--it didn't make a difference to me that she was a woman.
She was very androgynous.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. STIPE: And, you know, the thing about her, I think, is that she was
incredibly sexy, but she was very--she was very sexy as a woman. She was also
very sexy as a man. You know, she just kind of like blurred all those lines
in a way that I don't think we had seen before, certainly for a female
performer. And it didn't matter whether she was a man or a woman, it was in
the music. It was in the energy of the songs and in the words and what she
was. What--you know, she was just so directly tapped into the source, and it
was so glaringly obvious when compared with the other music that was around
and was available. That this person had tapped into something that was very
uncommon. Also, I mean, for me the song on "Horses" that really did it was
"Birdland," and that was just--that was musically a song that took me to a
place that I had never been to in my life.

GROSS: Maybe we should...

Mr. STIPE: I'll never...

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. STIPE: ...I'll never forget the experience of hearing that for the first
time, and I think--I mean, I know that in my heart and I can speak for my band
on this one that, you know, when we make records, we want the same thing for
whoever's out there listening to it. I want--I want someone to--I want it to
take them somewhere that they've never been before, and I want them to, like,
have had some kind of experience that has some impact on them and hopefully a
good one, you know. It's in a way kind of passing the baton.

(Soundbite from "Birdland")

Ms. PATTI SMITH: (Singing) "But nobody heard the boy's cry of alarm. Nobody
there except for the birds around the New England farm and they gathered in
all directions, like roses they scattered, and they were like compass grass
coming together into the head of a shaman bouquet. Slit in his nose, and all
the others went shooting, and he saw the lights of traffic beckoning like the
hand of Blake, grabbing at his cheeks, taking out his neck, all his limbs,
everything was twisted. And he said, `I won't give up, won't give up, don't
let me give up, I won't give up, come here, let me go up fast. Take me up
quick...(unintelligible)..."

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: That's the Patti Smith song Michael Stipe loved so much. Now,
here comes Patti Smith herself.

Patti Smith is being honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, mostly for the
pioneering punk rock work she recorded in the 1970s. Yet every decade or so,
she has resurfaced with a dynamic new CD. Her brand-new one, an inspired
collection of cover versions is called "Twelve." It comes out next month. And
in 1996 when Terry spoke with her, Patti Smith had just released a CD called
"Gone Again," dealing with the grief she was feeling at the time over the loss
of her husband, her brother and her friend, the artist Robert Mapplethorpe.
Before we get to Terry's interview with her, here's a song from that album,
"My Madrigal."

(Soundbite from "My Madrigal")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) "We waltzed beneath God's point of view, knowing no
ending to our rendezvous. We express such sweet vows. Oh, till death do us
part. Oh, till death do us part. Oh..."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Patti Smith from her new CD "Gone Again."

Patti Smith, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's a pleasure to have you back.

Ms. SMITH: Thank you.

GROSS: I think some of the songs on this CD are really unlike some of the
songs you've done in the past, such as the song we just heard, "My Madrigal."
There's an emotional straightforwardness in this song, and that almost chant
quality of "till death do us part" that I just find different from your
previous work.

Ms. SMITH: Well...

GROSS: Do you feel like you're writing out of a different kind of energy now?

Ms. SMITH: Well, definitely. Well, the--for--I mean, for "Horses," a lot of
the material on "Horses" was gleaned from four or five years' work before it
was recorded, so I really started working on the work that came out on
"Horses" when I was about 21 years old. So naturally, a lot of the work
encompasses a lot of the anarchistic adolescent energy of, you know, sort of a
late blooming 22-year-old. So, you know, and subsequent records were really
involved in, you know, pursuits, you know, artistic pursuits involved in
exploring language, exploring the sonic areas of the electric guitar,
exploring the alchemy of live performance with my band members. So I was--and
my concerns were different. You know, I was concerned with censorship, with
the continuum of rock and roll as being a grass-roots art form with global
communication, and at this time of my life, my concerns were really a lot more
basic. Had concerns had to do with survival, pretty much, on "Gone Again,"
and so...

GROSS: Till death do us part, I'm assuming, of course, is about the loss of
your husband. How long did it take before you started writing songs about his
death?

Ms. SMITH: Well, actually, not the first month. I really think I really
started writing a little more than a month after he passed away when my
brother passed away. That actually had a different type of effect on me. My
brother was the same age as Fred. They were both 45. My brother was a very,
very supportive, high spirited, youthful man and he loved to see me work. He
was, in the last month of his life, trying to help me get back on my feet,
encouraging me to get back to work and to get back to performing and song
writing, and he said that he would help me, and my brother was once--was the
head of my crew and the Patti Smith Group. And he did encourage me and fill
me with a certain amount of energy. So when my brother passed away, all of
the energy that he put into me, all of that encouragement, all of that love, I
didn't want to go in vain, and so I picked myself up and began to work really
hard after my brother passed away.

BIANCULLI: Patti Smith speaking to Terry Gross in 1996. We'll hear more of
their conversation after a break.

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR.

Let's return to Terry's 1996 conversation with Patti Smith, whom The New York
Times once called the "godmother of punk." She's being inducted this year into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

GROSS: Now I know when you were young, you were a Jehovah's Witness for
several years. Was that the religion of your parents or something that you
joined independently?

Ms. SMITH: My mother's religion.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: I was a Jehovah's Witness until I was about 12. And in those
days, Jehovah's Witnesses were stricter about one's pursuits outside of being
a Witness. And I decided I wanted to be an artist. I went to the
Philadelphia Museum of Art with my father and saw art in person and
immediately wanted to become a painter. And it--some of my desires sort of
collided with their teachings. So I made the choice. I left the Witnesses to
become an artist. I think they are much more benevolent and more
understanding a group right now, and--but at that time, they--I didn't get any
sympathy or encouragement for that kind of way of life. So I--my drive to be
an artist was extremely strong as a 12 or 13-year-old, and...

GROSS: Now did you try other organized religions, or was that the end of
organized religion for you for some time?

Ms. SMITH: No, I looked in--I thought of--for a while, I wanted to be
Jewish, but I think that was my Anne Frank period. Because I didn't realize
that you just can't be--you know, you don't turn Jewish. I--well, I had great
sympathy. I mean, when I grew up, you know, in the late '50s and early '60s,
there was, you know--of course, a lot of information came out about the
Holocaust and there were trials and things. And I felt devastated about that
as a young girl. And I got very interested in the Jewish--the Jewish faith,
but I never really--I think once I left my first organized religion, I found,
as I checked each one out, that really wasn't for me. Because I really don't
like the idea of exclusion, you know. I think all people, you know, you know,
return to God or whatever God is or the energy of God, and I think all manners
to get to him whether it's, you know, through Islam or whether one's a
Buddhist or Christian or a Catholic or I think--I think they're all beautiful,
you know, really.

GROSS: What's the nature of your faith now? Are you with any organized
religion?

Ms. SMITH: Oh, no. No. Not at all. I just say my prayers and continue my
studies, but I basically--for me, I don't really prescribe or need a religion.
I--what's important to me is my communication with what I perceive to be God.

GROSS: Now what a lot of people might find confusing or paradoxical is, on
the one hand, this kind of spiritual inclination you've had since childhood
and never stopped having, and at the same time, your art is the kind of art a
lot of people would describe as blasphemous.

Ms. SMITH: Well, I think blasphemy is just a form of exploring. You know,
it's just a, you know, youthful, exuberant manner of exploring the whole--the
whole concept. I think I've often found the people that are the most
blasphemous are often wind up to be the truest believers because they've taken
the time actually to question, pull things apart, be angry and then either
submit or, you know, find certain answers.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: People--a lot of people misconstrued, for instance, the statement
`Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine.'

GROSS: Right.

Ms. SMITH: People constantly came up to me and said, `You're an atheist.
You don't believe in Jesus.' And I said, `Obviously, I believe in him.' I've
stated--you know, I've made a statement, you know, which--you know, I'm saying
that, you know, the concept of Jesus I believe in. I just wanted the
freedom--I wanted to be free of him. I was 20 years old when I wrote that,
and I--it was sort of my youthful manifesto.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: In other words, I didn't want to--I guess I didn't want to be
good, you know, and I didn't want to--but I didn't want him to have to worry
about me or I didn't want him taking responsibility for my wrongdoings or my
youthful explorations. I wanted to be free. So it's really a statement about
freedom.

GROSS: That line comes up in a couple of places. It opens up your recording
of "Gloria."

Ms. SMITH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And it's also in a poem that you wrote in the early '70s called
"Oath"?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, well, that's where it came from.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. SMITH: I wrote it like in 1970 and used it...

GROSS: In "Gloria."

Ms. SMITH: And really, I just--it just evolved that way. A lot of the work
on "Horses" was not preconceived. It's just I started out as a performing
poet, and when Lenny and Richard Sohl were working with me, a lot of the
poetry began to evolve and merge with music, and so a lot of "Horses" has to
do with the chemistry between Lenny, Richard and I and how they helped me
further evolve my poetry.

GROSS: And when you were young, did you feel set apart from other kids your
age?

Ms. SMITH: Definitely.

GROSS: Definitely. By what?

Ms. SMITH: Everything. Well, I was just, physically I was kind of a--well,
I felt sort of like an ugly duckling. I was sort of like skinny and clumsy
and not very athletic. I had a lot of guts, though, and I was a fast runner,
but I was sick a lot. I had scarlet fever and measles and mumps and chick--I
always had something and a little frail, but I also was the oldest of three
children, so I had a lot of responsibility. I don't know, I just generally
felt estranged. But not only estranged from the other kids, I felt estranged
from the planet, and truthfully, I spent most of my childhood believing that I
was adopted by my parents and I was actually an alien.

GROSS: Like from another planet?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah. I know it sounds fu--but I perceived an alien--I used to
have this idea that I was sort of like part of--like this alien race that were
part Venus and part American Indian. Now this sounds kind of funny now, but I
was very serious about it as a child.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. SMITH: I had a whole cosmology and a whole universe formed around these
thoughts, but I definitely didn't feel at home on the planet. I felt much
more at home when I'd read books about the Aztecs or about--or if I'd read
stories about aliens on other planets or--I just didn't really feel like I
belonged.

GROSS: Now I know your parents didn't have a lot of money, but if you were,
say, middle class or like upper middle class...

Ms. SMITH: Lower middle class.

GROSS: Right, if you were like upper middle class, you probably would've been
sent to a psychiatrist for help.

Ms. SMITH: Well, not by my parents, I don't think so. No, I wasn't a child
in pain or anything. I was actually proud of my secret--of my secret...

GROSS: Heritage.

Ms. SMITH: ...heritage. No, I wasn't like that. I wasn't a disturbed
child.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: I was actually--I had a happy childhood. I loved my brother and
sister. We were inseparable. They--they thought the world of me, and you
know, in fact, I found something my brother wrote after he passed away about
our childhood, and he talks about how I was like King Arthur and they were the
knights in my court, and--I mean, they always believed in me and I invented
endless games and stories and plays for us to be involved in, and my parents
were--my mother was--they were both hard-working, but my mother was always
loving and creative, and she just had a lot of magic. I mean, if we--if my
dad was on strike and we had no food or very little food, you know, she'd like
make us like--like Wonder Bread with butter and sugar, and she'd like tell a
story and this would become a great delicacy. We'd pretend we were all hiding
out, you know, like hiding out from like the Nazis or something and we hadn't
eaten in three days and this was our food, and we were--it was like it was so
wonderful. She made everything into a game, and, you know, I had a great--I
mean, those private thoughts I had were part of my creative energy or the
complexity of my mind.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: But I wasn't a disturbed child. I was just a little offbeat, I
guess.

BIANCULLI: Patti Smith speaking with Terry Gross in 1996. We'll continue
Terry's conversation with Patti Smith in the second half of the show. And
we'll also hear from Michael Stipe whose group R.E.M. will be joining Patti
Smith in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's something from Patti's new CD
of covers, which will be released next month.

I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite from Patti Smith's song)

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) "We were talking about the space between the ball and
the people who hide themselves behind the wall of illusion never loose the
truth, then it's far too late when they pass away. We were talking about the
lovely...(unintelligible)...when we find it to try our best to hold it there.
With our love, with our love we could save the world..."

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

Let's return to Terry's 1996 conversation with Patti Smith, whom The New York
Times once called the "godmother of punk." She's one of this year's inductees
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

GROSS: Now you wrote for several years before actually performing in a rock
and roll kind of setting and performing with music. When you started putting
the two together, did you have any idea that you could sing? Had you used
your voice that way before?

Ms. SMITH: No, not really. I mean, I used to daydream when I was a kid
about being an opera singer. I loved Maria Callas, and my mother's a really
nice singer, and she--you know, she had sort of like a '30s style jazz voice.
She--and my father had a nice voice. But I never thought about singing. I
think I sang in the school choir or something, but I didn't really excel or
have any real gift. But what I did have, I think, always was a--I've always
for some reason been comfortable talking in front of people or performing in
front of people, and I guess I got a lot of guts, but I never really had that
great a voice. I think it's basically guts.

GROSS: Well, speaking of guts, when you first started reading, you've said
that you were reading, you know, early on, often in bars that weren't places
you'd be likely to hear a poet.

Ms. SMITH: No, they weren't.

GROSS: What kind of places did you read in before you started...

Ms. SMITH: Wherever I...

GROSS: ...in music?

Ms. SMITH: ...wherever I could--you know, I wasn't really accepted in the
poet clique. I didn't have a lot of respect for poets, and I thought most of
the poets, you know, in--you know, the more academic way of breaking into the
poetry circle wasn't interesting to me. I didn't really relate to them, and I
thought most of the poetry readings I went to were boring, and it just wasn't
my scene. So I started pursuing different venues to perform my poetry. And I
just read anywhere that anybody would take me, usually for free, just to get
the experience or for $5 or $10. And sometimes I'd be the opening act's
opening act. And so I'd play, like, in a bar that had, like, a little rock
band and some little blues band, and I'd go on before the blues band and, you
know, nobody was interested in what I had to say. You know, they weren't
interested in hearing poetry or--you know, they wanted to hear music, and they
were half-drunk or whatever. But I just--I figured if I had--they told me I
had 15 minutes or 20 minutes on that little stage, that was my stage and I was
going to fight for it. So I usually spent, if I had 20 minutes, 14 minutes
arguing that I had the right to be there.

GROSS: Arguing with the audience?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, and then finishing with "Piss Factory," and which usually I
did such a strong reading of it that it would take them off-guard and they'd
kind of like it, and then I was gone. But...

GROSS: What was the arguing with them like?

Ms. SMITH: Like sparring, you know, like, they--I can't--you know, like,
`Get a job. Go in the kitchen where you belong.' And, you know, I'd--I
always--I was really good at sparring. I really loved Johnny Carson, and I
really studied his whole monologue thing and the way Johnny Carson would go
back and forth with the audience, and that was actually more in my mind of
what I wanted to do, sort of be like Johnny Carson.

GROSS: What was it like for you to create yourself on stage, to find out who
you were on stage?

Ms. SMITH: Well, I never really felt like I created myself because I'm the
kind of performer that, you know, I roll out of bed. Whatever I put on, you
know, I roam the streets for a few hours until it's time for the job, and I go
to the job. I don't like doing any special type of thing, you know. I might
meditate with my band for a few minutes before we go on, but my--my--my task
as a performer was the opposite. I always have worked to strip away the idea
of a stage persona.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: You know, I mean, what happens when I'm on stage is a lot of the
different things within me, of course, because it's such a high intensity
situation, are somewhat magnified. You know, so if one has some rage within
them, that rage is magnified, but it's the same as if one has benevolence or
silliness. You know, so like a night--one of our concerts from the very
beginning in '74 till even now is just, you know, an evening of, you know,
myself and the people. And I always think it's all of our responsibilities to
find out, you know, what the night's going to be made of. I'm not really
interested in finding, like, out about who I am. I'm more interested in
finding how we can best serve the night together.

GROSS: When you looked at other people in rock men and women, was there
anybody who you particularly felt a kinship to in terms of what they were like
on stage and the kind of energy they gave off?

Ms. SMITH: Well, when I was younger, I mean, in the--I never thought that
I'd ever be involved in--be a performer in the arena of rock and roll. I
mean, I was--you know, when I was raised, you know, when you saw females in
the music business, they were all either like a lot of square white girls, you
know, who were good singers and stuff, but like Leslie Gore or Sandra Dee and
people like that. Or you saw really great singers like Darlene Love and
people like that. But they were singers, and performance-wise, somebody like
Tina Turner, but I couldn't possibly compare myself to someone of her
magnitude. I pretty much just liked--you know, I looked at rock performers,
really, as a masculine. You know, I was raised as--you know, all the great
rock performers were guys. You know, you know, from--I mean, I love, you
know, Jimi Hendrix and I like the Rolling Stones and Jim Morrison and Bob
Dylan and people like that. I mean, even somebody like Elvis Presley. I
mean, I just like a committed performer.

GROSS: Let me play the first track of your first LP, and this is "Gloria."
What made you decide to rework this song?

Ms. SMITH: Well, truthfully, it was--in the beginning, it was just Lenny and
I, and then we brought in a piano player, who was Richard Sohl. He was quite
young, quite gifted. He was actually a classical piano player, but he had a
great sense of rhythm. So it was just the three of us, a guitar, piano and I,
and we did very simple songs because the configuration was so simple. And we
just chose songs that were basically three chords, so I could improvise over
them, because I didn't want to just, like, do songs.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. SMITH: You know, like, I didn't want to do, like, lame approximations of
songs. So what I--what we did is...

GROSS: Patti Smith covers the hits.

Ms. SMITH: We did--we did what we called field work.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. SMITH: You know, so we'd pick songs that had basically three chords that
I could, like--and just sort of use them as a springboard. I didn't really
have any interest in covering "Gloria," but it had three chords, and I liked
the rhythm and we just sort of used it for our own design, the same as "Land
of a Thousand Dances." "Land of a Thousand Dances" became really like a
battleground for all kinds of adolescent excursions, and so that's why we
picked songs like that. Our--I remember I had to write--I wrote the ad copy
for our first album, and the ad copy I wrote for "Horses" was three chords
merged with the power of the word.

GROSS: That's great, yeah.

Ms. SMITH: That was our philosophy.

BIANCULLI: Patti Smith talking to Terry Gross in 1996. She's being inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday.

(Soundbite from "Gloria")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) "Oh, she looks so fine. And I got this crazy feeling
and then I'm going to uh-uh make her mine. Whoa! Put myself on her. Here
she comes walking down the street. Here she comes going through my door.
Here she comes, she's almost there. Here she comes, walking through the hall.
They say, oh, she looks so fine. Oh, she looks so fine. I've got this crazy
feeling that I'm going to uh-uh make her mine. And then I hear this knocking
on my door. Hear this knocking on my door. And I look up into the big tower
clock. Oh, my God! Hear's midnight, and my baby's walking through the door,
leaning on my couch, she whispers to me, and I take the big plunge. And, oh,
she was so good, and, oh, she was so fine. And I'm gonna tell the world that
I just uh-uh made her mine. And I said, darling, tell me your mine. She told
me she's mine. She whispered to me, she told me she's mine. And the
nightmares. And the nightmares. And the nightmares. And the nightmares.
G-L-O-R-I-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi. G-L-O-R-I-A."

Backup Singers: (Singing) "Gloria."

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) "G-L-O-R-I-A."

Singers: (Singing) "Gloria."

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) "G-L-O-R-I-A."

Singers: (Singing) "Gloria."

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) "G-L-O-R-I-A."

Singers: (Singing) "Gloria."

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: That's from Patti Smith's 1975 album "Horses."

Coming up, another Hall of Fame honoree, Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Michael Stipe talks about his life, music and band
R.E.M.
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Now as promised, let's hear more from Michael Stipe, whose group R.E.M. is
another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree this year. R.E.M. was formed in
1980. For years, the group was categorized as alternative rock and popular
mostly on college radio. Then the group hit the mainstream, big time, with
such hits as "Losing My Religion," "Everybody Hurts" and "Stand." Terry spoke
with Michael Stipe in 1998.

(Soundbite from "Radio Free Europe")

TERRY GROSS, host:

In some of the R.E.M. recordings over your years--over the years, your voice
is mixed kind of deep into the music.

Mr. MICHAEL STIPE: Yeah.

GROSS: As opposed to being up-front and in front of the music.

Mr. STIPE: Yeah.

GROSS: And I, you know, me personally...

Mr. STIPE: That's my insecurity coming out again.

GROSS: Is it?

Mr. STIPE: Well, yeah, we didn't--I--at the time in the early '80s, everyone
was mixing the drums louder than the vocal, and I just thought that was really
embarrassing. We didn't want to be a disco band, and I was somewhat reacting
to the music of the day, but I was also just kind of embarrassed because I'd
never really--you know, the thought process of being a singer, being in a
band, putting out a record, and then it's like, `Oh, whoops,' well, `I've got
to write words because people expect words,' and then the words should make
sense. I mean, if you listen to our records, the first really three or four
records including "Chronic Town," your basically watching four guys learn how
to write songs. And you're watching me learn how to write a lyric. And I
find that kind of fascinating. I mean, these records mean a whole lot to a
lot of people. Sometimes they're a little hard for me to listen to, but I do
appreciate them for what they are.

GROSS: Right. I'm wondering if you were influenced by any soul singers, too.

Mr. STIPE: I think I must've been, but I can't think of anybody right on.
My--you know, growing up as a child, my parents were not huge music fans. It
was like a lot of Gershwin and Mancini and the "1812 Overture" with real
cannons and what else.

GROSS: Your father was in the military, I remember that.

Mr. STIPE: "The Sound of Music." Yeah.

GROSS: Oh, oh.

Mr. STIPE: But we lived in Texas for a stint...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STIPE: ...and there was country radio and there was bubble-gum when
bubble-gum pop radio was really big, and so that was certainly an influence.
I wasn't--I didn't really have an older brother or sister that turned me on to
The Beatles, that turned me on to The Who and turned me on to all the music of
the '60s. And so, you know, I kind of discovered stuff via radio as a child
and then, really, up until--up until I found that magazine article and heard
"Horses," I was just kind of coasting along. I think before that, the only
one musical artist that I thought was really interesting was Elton John when
"Benny and the Jets" came out. I thought that was one of the most
amazing--and I still do. For me, "Benny and the Jets" and "Rock On" by David
Essex are two of the most amazing--they'd be in my top 10 of best pop songs
ever.

GROSS: Now I know because your father was in the military you moved around a
lot as a kid...

Mr. STIPE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...as he got transferred to different military bases. What impact did
it have on you to always be the new kid in the neighborhood?

Mr. STIPE: Well, the positive aspects are that my family and I are very
close, and when you're forced to make new friends fairly regularly, it kind of
brings you together as a unit. I hate that word. Anyway, we were a great
loving family and very close and we still are, and that's--that's about the
greatest gift that can ever be given to me.

GROSS: Let me play another R.E.M. track, and I think I'll choose one of your
most famous recordings, your big hit, "Losing My Religion." Is there a story
behind this song?

Mr. STIPE: Yeah. I had--I was embarrassed about it at the time, but I
finally fessed up to being a huge fan of the song "Every Breath You Take" by
The Police, and I thought that that song was like really kind of an
intense--it was a beautiful pop song and it was very lovely, but you could
take it more than one way. It seemed very kind of creepy and obsessive on one
hand and very kind of like, like intense and loving on the other hand, and I
wanted to write a song that was like that. So I wrote "Losing My Religion."

GROSS: OK, well, this is it.

(Soundbite from "Losing My Religion")

Mr. STIPE: (Singing) "Oh, life is bigger, it's bigger than me and you are
not me, and the lengths that I will go to. The distance in your eyes. Oh,
no, I've said too much. I set it up. That's me in the corner. That's me in
the spotlight, losing my religion. Trying to keep out of you, and I don't
know if I can do it. Oh, no, I've said too much. I haven't said enough. I
thought that I heard you laughing. I thought that I heard you sing. I think
I thought I saw you try. Every whisper..."

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's R.E.M. My guest is singer and songwriter Michael Stipe.

You know, I think a lot of people have a personal story to tell about that
song, particularly about the lines, `Oh, no, I've said too much. I haven't
said enough.' I think a lot of people have stories about times when they
really weren't sure about whether they'd said too much or said enough. Do you
have a story that matches with those lines?

Mr. STIPE: Well, no, I didn't really--I didn't really take it from any real
life situation. I just think it was more about fear of rejection, you know,
and when you're like really crazy about somebody and you want to tell them,
but you're trying to give them hints and then they're maybe not getting it or
they're saying something back to you and you're taking it the wrong way, and
that's really--it's that kind of weird uneasy area is what that song kind of
covers.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STIPE: I think it's very successful. I really like that song a lot.

GROSS: Oh, me, too. I'm glad you still like it. A lot of people get tired
of their own hits, and then they get angry with you if you play them.

Mr. STIPE: Yeah. I know. It's a good song.

GROSS: And you still play it in performances?

Mr. STIPE: We try to. Yeah, we do.

(Soundbite from "Losing My Religion")

Mr. STIPE: (Singing) "That was just a dream. Cry, cry, why, try. That was
just a dream, just a dream, just a dream. Dream."

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: That's "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. and Michael Stipe speaking
with Terry Gross in 1998. His group, R.E.M., and Patti Smith are some of the
inductees at this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Coming up, David Edelstein on the movie "300."

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews new movie "300"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The comic book writer and artist Frank Miller became widely influential in the
1980s after two series, "Daredevil" and the dark and scary "Batman Returns."
In 2005, Robert Rodriguez's film of Miller's "Sin City" used the artist's
comic panels as story boards. Now comes "300," another extremely faithful
Miller adaptation, which is being released as a film and a PlayStation game.
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: The computer-generated beefcake extravaganza of "300"
is about as bad as anything I've ever seen, but it's worth talking about
because it's the future. A movie with a digitized cast of hundreds of
thousands that could've been shot in a walk-in closet in Burbank. A movie
that looks as synthetic as a video game, except you don't get to have your own
joystick. A movie that as drama takes us back to the silent era in all the
wrong ways. It's another telling of the story of the battle in 480 BC in
which 300 Spartans held off a million-man Persian army led by the blood drunk
God-king Xerxes at a pass they called the Hot Gates. The publicity bills this
as, quote, "A line in the sand for democracy," although these Spartan
Democrats are shown chucking babies that are less than perfect physical
specimens into a pit. The movie would have us understand that this is the
kind of cruel sacrifice a warrior nation must make to preserve its liberty.
It's no wonder the adjective spartan has come to mean not just warlike but
stripped down, austere. In some ways though, "300" is the least spartan movie
I've ever seen. Its vistas and effects are all computer-generated, its
costumes color-coordinated and its rippling male physiques more or less
interchangeable. The purple prose visuals do make some aesthetic sense. The
director and writer, Zach Snyder, is attempting to capture the frames of Frank
Miller's 1999 graphic novel the way Robert Rodriquez did with Miller's "Sin
City." I was a fan of "Sin City." I loved its pulpy paperback compositions and
its over-the-top splatter and the fact that it didn't pretend to be anything
but a sleezy gut-bucket-revenge fantasy.

"300" though is meant to ennoble and inspire and to infuse its couch potato
audience with a lust for Persian blood. Here's the great Leonidas, the
military king of the city state played by Gerard Butler shouting down an
appeaser who thinks that insurmountable odds are not a good enough reason to
leave the field.

(Soundbite from "300")

Mr. GERARD BUTLER: (As Leonidas) Spartans! Prepare for glory!

Unidentified Man: Glory? Have you gone mad? There is no glory to be had
now. Only retreat or surrender or death.

Mr. BUTLER: (As Leonidas) Well, that's an easy choice for us, Arcadian.
Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender.

Man: Go spread the word. Let every Greek assembled know the truth of this.

Mr. BUTLER: (As Leonidas) And let each among them search his own soul.

Man: And while you're at it, search your own.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: OK. It's probably not fair to represent "300" with dialogue
alone. You have to envision it with men so overmuscled they can barely walk,
striking poses that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger snicker. And since they
all appear to have worked out on the same equipment, it's hard to tell one set
of swollen pecs from the next. Even weirder, though, is the action. It's
fluid, but in that artificial video game way in which gravity is just a
suggestion. First the action goes in very, very fast motion as the hero and a
Persian whack away at each other. Then as the hero's sword makes contact, the
image freezes. Then you get a lyrical slow motion shower of bejeweled blood,
and the slow motion fall into the camera of the now beheaded enemy. Then it's
fast motion again as the hero engages the next overmatched Persian. And all
this with a throbbing video game rock backbeat and a lot of frat house
bellowing.

"300" will have its fans. I know several people who say in slightly defensive
tones, `I liked it. I didn't expect to.' And I'm not just being patronizing
when I say that I envy them their innocence. It would be fun to give oneself
up to this synthetic lunkhead universe, even to enjoy the movie as camp. I
did relish the plush Lena Headey as Leonidas' wife. No tolerant Penelope, but
a fire brand capable of plunging a dagger into a political foe and of
directing her husband in the bedroom with lines like, `Your lips can finish
what your fingers have started.' But I'm frankly not in the mood these days
for overly engorged celebrations of the pictorial beauty of blood letting.
"300" is for armchair warriors who want to leave the theater even less
connected to the real world than they were when they went in.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

Podcasts of FRESH AIR are now available at freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Did COVID-19 Leak From A Lab? A Reporter Investigates — And Finds Roadblocks

President Biden has asked the intelligence community to investigate whether or not the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China. Vanity Fair reporter Katherine Eban shares her findings.

41:50

'Forget The Alamo' Author Says We Have The Texas Origin Story All Wrong

In their new book, Forget the Alamo, Bryan Burrough and co-writers Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford challenge common misconceptions surrounding the conflict — including the notion that Davy Crockett was a martyr who fought to the death rather than surrender.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue