What do you do for a second act in life after being in a rock band loved from generation to generation? In the 10 years since REM’s breakup, Michael Stipe has focused on photography and other visual arts, with a new book of his work this month. As befits a founding member of one of America’s most influential bands of decades – and someone who, from the people he photographed, seems to know literally everyone – Stipe has a lot to say and a host of topics to discuss.
Miranda Sawyer interviewed Stipe for The Guardian, and – suitably for someone with a wide range of interests – the conversation centered on a number of topics. Among them? The difference between his musical work and his visual art. Regarding the music, Stipe made an interesting point. “It’s creativity that you can’t touch,” he says. “And so doing things that you can touch: a vase that you can hold, a book that you can put on the shelf, say… to me, it’s fascinating.
More oddly, Stipe also spoke about social media, toxic behavior and, more specifically, Donald Trump’s ban on Twitter, which Stipe says came much later than it should have. “This platform gave Trump a voice that put the wind under his sails, and allowed the kind of disgusting behavior that marks these years, and allowed a pandemic to ravage our country and the whole world,” he said. Stipe said. “This is an embarrassing and horrible chapter in our history. This stupid masculine idea of power is so stupid.
For Stipe, reflecting on the work of artists and activists during the pandemic offers the possibility of personal improvement. “We need all of these spirits, which makes us a better version of ourselves,” he told Sawyer. As the pandemic era plans advance, this is an admirable project.
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