Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Michael Stipe & Mario Batali: BFFs

"His image is uniquely his.  He doesn't look like anyone else, he doesn't behave like anyone else, he doesn't dance like anyone else, he doesn't sing like anyone else. ...His incredible softness as a real person is something that is a constant source of joy for me."
 -Mario Batali on Michael Stipe

"The thing about Mario is that he has such enthusiasm for everything, & I'm really a very, very happy person, & I'm always the glass half-full guy.  I'm like a 6 year old, & Mario is like a 6 year old.  And so that enthusiasm for life & that ability to see beyond the things that are really bad or wrong, & find something good, is really what draws me to him as a friend...as a very dear friend."
-Michael Stipe on Mario Batali

I don't know why this friendship seems so unlikely - maybe their starkly opposite appearances, maybe the different paths in life both have taken - but it makes me smile.  I learned about this friendship in a very round-about way.

You can get there from here.

I've written of my love for R.E.M. before, specifically my reaction to their breakup.  I recently devoured this fantastic R.E.M. magazine by the makers of Uncut, a publication from the UK.  My husband gave it to me on my birthday, & I looked forward to reading a retrospective of R.E.M.  Having read countless R.E.M. books & interviews, I certainly didn't expect to learn anything new from it, but there are a lot of new (to me) tidbits here.  For instance, I did not know that the "yeah"s in "Man on the Moon" were a cheeky attempt to surpass the number of "yeah"s in Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", did you?  This 148 page magazine delivers an incredibly in-depth look at the 30 year career of one of my favourite bands, with essays on every album, rare photos, & UK interviews I have never seen before.

It's hard to remember pop culture media before the internet was in every home.  No Google search for instant gratification; I had to buy Rolling Stone & SPIN to read interviews.  No YouTube to find Much Music or MTV appearances; I recorded them on VHS tapes & watched them back with fuzzy audio & blurry lines.  That's if I happened to catch it when it was on TV, with no tweets to announce upcoming appearances, tour dates or magazine covers.  I had to physically check the stores, looking for Stipe on the covers.  Hard times, indeed.  I still have a binder full of these well-read articles, complete with reinforcements for the punched holes.  The only UK magazine I had access to was a Q magazine with a cover proclaiming R.E.M. the "best act in the world today", & I only have that because I bought it in London.

I took a souvenir.

One of the interviews in the Uncut R.E.M. magazine is from a 1993 issue of Melody Maker.  Mat Smith's article begins backstage at the MTV Awards where R.E.M. is about to play for the first time in 9 months.  Here is an excerpt from the article, as R.E.M. takes the stage with "Everybody Hurts":

"[Stipe] emphasises the 'Oh, hang on' as if it means so much to him, a cry for a lover not to slip away, a suicide to think again.  A plea for contact when only loneliness and death stare back, haunted and inevitable.  I've never felt such a sense of love and sheer, focused care coming from a rock singer.

As the song builds, within it, a latent, controlled turmoil threatens to bubble over.  All of a sudden, Stipe signals a halt with one hand.  The stiff upper lip is resumed, the song fades, the click track halts, but the sentiments stirred survive in all those present.  Then, a movement to the right, a garbled jangle of electric chaos and we're into some kind of pile-driving, sure-footed funk that James Brown would shoot his wife for.  Then the realisation dawns, this is the funk version of "Drive" that Buck was talking about earlier.

Stipe is suddenly enlivened, exhumed, like a mania has descended on him.  He can't keep still, arms aloft like some cheap '70s go-go dancer.  The transition is absolute.  From sheer desperation to sheer control. ...If you could bottle the grin Peter sneaked [Stipe] at one point, you'd be a millionaire overnight.  All of them are beaming.  My heart is about to burst."

I don't know about you, but as soon as I read that, I had to watch that performance again.  I know I have it taped on a VHS labelled Videos #3 or something, but I don't have to live like a heathen in the early 90s anymore.  The transition to "Drive" begins around the 5:17 mark, & it is seamless.

I'm sure you know what happened next; I became sucked into hours of R.E.M. YouTube videos.  Eventually, I happened upon a documentary on Michael Stipe that I didn't even know existed.  Filmed in 2005, Stipe is featured alongside chef Mario Batali for The Sundance Channel's Iconoclast series.  It is well worth a watch - Michael Stipe eating dinner is more captivating than most things on YouTube.  And that's ignoring the fact that Stipe will always be my #1 celebrity crush (as if you could ever ignore his perfect combo of sweet + sexy, calm + passion, intellect + dry humour, but I digress).  When asked what viewers would find fascinating about him, Stipe says "Maybe that I'm pretty normal" & he is absolutely correct.  Stipe eating dinner, going to the market on a moped, preparing a meal, shopping for gifts, going to a concert as a fan...it's like seeing your 3rd grade teacher at the mall for the first time. 

The documentary also reveals that blue is totally Michael's colour.  Enjoy.

"The friendship that Mario & I have is pretty particular & pretty great, & the thing that nobody's really figured out is that it's really because he loves music so much, & I love food so much, & it's just as simple as that."
-Michael Stipe

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