Erstwhile R.E.M. frontman and prodigious beard grower Michael Stipe hasn’t been making much music lately, but he’s debuting his first solo composition at Moogfest in Durham, North Carolina this weekend. Stipe is openly queer and very progressive, and around this time last year, artists like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Cyndi Lauper decided to cancel North Carolina shows to protest the state’s discriminatory “bathroom bill,” which prohibits transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates. But in a new interview with The Atlantic, Stipe explains why he’s not boycotting North Carolina, drawing on conversations with a friend who grew up in Apartheid-era South Africa.
“No one would come and play South Africa because of apartheid,” Stipe says. “What they were left with were these really cheesy, shitty — it was really bad bands, only bad acts. As a teenager and someone who also shares my political views and attitude, it was really unfair to her and to her friends that they were not able to experience these — the whole punk rock movement was something that they experienced pre-internet, just as almost cargo cult … You can’t boycott an entire state full of people because some of its leaders have absurd policies or ideas of what should or should not be.”
“Jeremy Dance,” the work Stipe is premiering at Moogfest, is an audio-visual art installation that pays tribute to his friend Jeremy Athens, the late Athens artist and one-time associate of Andy Warhol’s Factory. For the project, Stipe filmed Ayers and three other friends dancing in an empty studio, then went back and composed new music to match their performances. “There were some awkward camera moves, there are moments where he kind of falls off the screen, there are moments where he comes back in, he doesn’t quite know what to do,” Stipe says. “He’s kind of laughing at me, or with me. He’s a little bored at one point. He catches his breath at one point. There are all these very human moments in there.”
In another interview with Noisey, also discussing “Jeremy Dance,” Stipe offers his thoughts on social media:
I’ve avoided Facebook since the beginning. I find myself increasingly in a world where people are roiled up or excited or angry and upset about something and I have no idea what it is—so now I say, “That’s a Facebook thing.” I’m able to place it in that category. Statistically, I think 1 in 3 people are communicating with each other via Facebook. I find that to be quite dilettantish. I don’t think that’s a very good thing. It seems like a rather shallow echo chamber. With that as an example, my interest in Twitter is about null, and my interest in Facebook is also null. Instagram is more visual, and I’m more of a visual learner. I like to look at pictures. Within that spectrum, I think it is probably the most direct and interesting [social media platform]—but the second you say that, something else comes along and takes over.
Stipe also has some more good quotes in a new interview with The Durham Herald-Sun, in which he recalls Andy Warhol trying to pick him up in New York. “I gave him my phone number; he was very charismatic,” Stipe says. Warhol asked Stipe what he did, and Stipe told him, “I’m a singer in a band. Warhol said, ‘You’re a pop star.’ I said, ‘No, I’m a singer in a band.’ Turns out he was right.”