Encore: Ask Michael Stipe!

September 11, 2008

Okay, everybody. I went through all the songs and I said my goodbyes, but it’s not time to turn on the house lights just yet. Oh yes, it’s time for an encore!

This is sort of mind-blowing for me, but Michael Stipe has volunteered to spend some time answering questions from me — and from you — about the songs and his lyrics. Here are some guidelines, in his own words:

Remember that I’m not the best at recalling studio memories, etcetera, and so the more interesting questions for me will be about intention and exact lyrics or my interpretation of what I meant, what I think I meant, whatever.  Remember also that some songs have no real lyrics [chorus of orange crush comes to mind] and so I cannot answer those.

We hope to have Michael answering questions, maybe a few a day for a couple weeks, starting sometime next week. All you have to do is email your questions to me, and I will have them sent along.  To keep things fair and to make this easier on Michael, let’s stick to a maximum of two questions per reader. Michael is going to be selecting the questions that he answers, and this will be within the limits of his available time, so there is no guarantee that every question will be used. If you are a regular commenter here, please include your handle in the email.

Please send your questions to: popsongs08 @ gmail.com

I hope you’re as excited as I am about this!

43 Responses to “Encore: Ask Michael Stipe!”

  1. David Says:

    First off, thanks to Michael, Peter, Mike and Bill, as well as to the extended R.E.M. family. And to Matthew, of course, for what is a fantastic testament to the band’s wonderful body of work.

    Secondly, Michael, do you have your own favorite Peter, Mike and Bill songwriting moments? Instances where one of the guys may have come up with a particularly inspired arrangement or a lyric that made you (a) wish you’d thought of it first, and (b) thankful that they were “your” bandmates as opposed to someone else’s?

    Still buzzing from talking with Mike about Three Walls Down in the Virginia Highlands as the Olympic torch came through town,


  2. David, just be sure to email your question to the address in the post.

  3. Wezzo Says:

    Fantastic news! What a coup for you – and the site – Matthew.

  4. Dark Bob Says:

    This is mind blowing!! How friggin cool. Icing on the cake, for sure.

  5. Dark Bob Says:

    Matthew, will Michael’s responses be posted on this blog or will they be sent to our e-mail addresses?

  6. Michael will pick whatever questions he wants to answer, and those will posted on this site. There’s no guarantee Michael will answer all the questions — I anticipate there being quite a few, especially as word gets around the internet.

  7. Dan Says:

    Wow wow wow!

    I have no questions. Just excited to see what people come up with.

  8. Figgy Says:

    I’ve already sent you my first question, Matthew.

    I share the excitement of everyone so far. Most of all I’m delighted the blog has got recognition from none other than Michael Stipe. High praise indeed. Another reason to feel proud, Matthew. Well done again!

  9. Paul Alferink Says:


    I want to marry you and bear your children.

  10. milesy Says:

    This is an accolade, Matthew! I guess you didn’t realise this would happen when you committed to saying something about every song back at the beginning; which makes it all the more well-deserved.

    Are you sure it was Michael, and not just Kirsten going to any lengths to keep you posting here;-)

  11. milesy Says:

    One of the great things about REM, as often recognised both in your posts and in the comments, is the relation between music and lyrics/vocals in creating the whole. So, maybe you could see about getting Peter or Mike to take some questions too!
    OK, I’m getting carried away now…

  12. Martin Says:

    Matthew, thanks for proving that passion and dedication bring unexpected rewards. I’m very very very happy for you!

  13. Melonie Says:

    Ok, I need to stop reading this while I’m at work, because shouting, “Oh. My. *ing. God” is probably not terribly professional…

  14. Mr Cup Says:

    I would give anything to see the expression on Kirsten’s face.

  15. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Stupified. Unable to transmit question.

  16. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Me , that is , not her. Well, her too.

  17. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Wow , there’s an actual Ask Michael Stipe category. I’m realizing now the implications of this, this monster has only just begun to throb.

  18. Flor Says:

    Incredibly cool and exciting news. Now, to select two questions from the vast array I have in store :p

  19. Bryan Says:

    This is the weirdest timing ever for an April Fool’s joke.

    (That is to say, Congratulations Matthew! I had no idea this site was so huge! And I’m glad it’s not going to fade away so soon.)

  20. Kirsten Says:

    I think I just had a heart attack.

  21. lenny Says:

    I was waiting for Kirsten’s comment before posting mine; and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

    This is truly remarkable, Matthew, so congratulations. If each of us is allowed to ask 2 questions, then how many do you get to ask? I may not be the one asking this question, but I bet a lot of people are wondering if he can answer the “girl of the hour…water tower” mystery…

    (just throwing some ideas out for people)

  22. Kirsten Says:

    Ok, now I’ve stopped crying I’ve managed to come back down to Earth with the realisation that I have nothing intelligent to ask (presuming “will you marry me” isn’t). The Left Of Reckoning scandal isn’t really a lyrics questions (though I’d still like to know why it disappeared from the album) and I don’t like to ask about the watertower incident. The amazing fact is that every ligitimate question I’ve had about lyrics has been answered either by Matthew or one of the commenters. Which is great ’cause it’s probably part of what Matthew intended to achieve. Maybe I’ll just ask him to type my name and post that – that’d thrill me for months to come…..

  23. Kirsten Says:

    After reading Lenny’s response, I realised that your email is going to get very crowded Matthew. If it would make things easier (’cause I’m only thinking of you and your best interests) you could send me Michael’s personal email and I’ll just talk to him direct…. 😉

  24. Terry Knouff Says:

    I feel such a fool, having just “discovered” your beautiful, thoughtful, and refreshingly studied blog, now here at the end. Thanks to Ethan Kaplan for mentioning it on his site this evening ! It’s late, but from what I’ve read so far, I feel like staying up for whatever it takes to read all the “songs”,but I’ll gladly savour them later. A sincere thanks from one of the “old geezers” (50) that got hooked on “the Beatles of the Backwoods” (sorry, RollingStone said it a long time ago, just can’t ever get that out of my mind) when we were (little boys?) young. Like everyone here, very much looking forward to Michael’s comments. I am curious where you’ll go from there, of course any new r.e.m. material, but the “old” stuff has such a compelling “refractive” nature, always seems there’s still more to say(or see). Thanks again Matthew, take care.

  25. milesy Says:

    Ah, the watertower question: I told you we need Mike on board too…

  26. Ben Says:

    I only discovered this (incredible, amazing, enlightening) blog a few months ago, and now it’s all over. Since I’ve been reading, there are more than a few songs I’ve found new appreciation for and others that I’ve always loved that I now have new reasons for loving. Truly excellent work Matthew, you’ve created quite a resource for obsessive REM fans. I only hope the site stays archived so I can still refer back to it in the future.

    By the by, I sent a question about “Low Desert”. That song doesn’t get nearly enough love.

  27. Nika Says:

    i sent my questions but they are more generically about his song writing process itself and they are not about a certain song…

    is that still cool Matthew?

    Also, when i copy paste the email addy it put breaks between the parts of words in it..there are none i assume?it must have been just my PC acting up.

    Cheers again Matthew for this!

  28. Rob Says:

    This is fantastic…

  29. Matheus Says:

    Congrats Matthew! This is an amazing reward not only for you but also for all the users here who have posted such incredible comments throughout all the posts!

    Now I need to think of a nice question to ask. =)

    Pop Songs 07-08 is fortunately still alive thanks to Mr. Stipe.

  30. TEC Says:

    Thank you, Matthew. Your determination and hard work has given us an added bonus. You should be proud of your work and this validates the time spent in undertaking this huge project.

    I have been along for the ride since the beginning and never entered a comment since you and everyone else said what I wanted to say. The comments were informative and funny and I religiously checked in to see another post. This is this most civil and intelligent blog on the net. The REM-PopSongs community should be proud. I am so glad it is going to continue.

    Wow, I am drawing a blank on which two questions to ask. Oh well, I will leave it to Matthew and the wonderful REM fans to delve into the artistic mind of Michael Stipe.

  31. ScottMalobisky Says:

    …does have a bit of a weird dynamic to it though–certain things they come with the territory, leave it to me to overanalyze it–the fact that only the questions Michael chooses to answer will actually be posted, almost has a strange competitive element to it..Kinda like if he chooses your question, you are validated or something……uh, I’m so sorry…. Wild though , you know, we could be sitting here a year from now with 500 questions and answers in the Ask MIchael category, like MP was the opening act and now the real show has begun.

  32. dumbek Says:

    Wow – Nice score. Congrats to you. hmmm….what to ask….

  33. helogale Says:

    Congratulations! This has been a wonderful blog to read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and I hope all your hard work is preserved so that R.E.M. fans past, present and future can enjoy it.

  34. Emily Says:

    You did a fantastic job at this blog. Thank you for doing this, and I’m sure this will be loved for R.E.M. fans for years. I just sent my questions in. 🙂

  35. electroglodyte Says:

    Hello to one and all,

    I’ve been lurking here for a while now. R.E.M. has been my main inspiration, through the good times and the bad, ever since I first heard of them more than half my life ago (in a college newspaper in 1985, which specifically recommended the song Pilgrimage, and listening to it on headphones), after which I promptly gobbled up Murmur and then everything else that was available (including whatever bootlegs I could get my hands on). I’ve admired every member of the band tremendously ever since and always feel inspired by them.

    I also have to congratulate Matt on his tremendous blog, on which he has analysed R.E.M. songs to such a perceptive level of detail that I am constantly inspired to revisit the albums over and over again. Not that that always needed much prodding…

    I just thought I’d throw these question into the mix:

    1. Regarding the collaborative and integrated nature of the band’s songwriting process, I wonder about interesting incidents/examples in which the usual lyrics/music divide was thrown for a loop. From what I gather, and this is admittedly speaking very broadly given the extent of the band’s work to date, Michael wrote all the lyrics while, up to Bill’s departure, Mike, Peter and Bill did the music, and since Bill’s departure that is handled similarly, and as far as I know the divide is still similar: the musicians come up with a certain musical idea, and Michael tries to fit lyrical and melodic ideas around that, and they then find a way to make that work as a whole. Somebody please yell at me if I’m completely off on this.

    Apart from examples like Bill objecting to the line “hang your freedom fighters”, which was then changed to “hang your freedom higher”, are there any other interesting examples in which discussion among the band led to disagreements and subsequent changes in lyrics?

    2. And closely related to that, to what extent do or did the other members suggest topics for songs to Michael? Regarding “Rockville”, did Michael have any input into the lyrics? (Not that I mean for this to take over the question, as I’d still be interested in any other “blowback”, if you could apply that term in a creative environment like this.)

    R.E.M. will always remain my number one inspiration, and regardless of whether these questions will find their way to Michael’s attention, I am eternally grateful for the band’s creativity and insight. I don’t know how to begin to thank you.

    – electroglodyte

  36. maclure Says:

    What!? I foolishly haven’t been paying attention to popsongs under the premise it’s “over”. Ahhh, this is a great pre-encore. Having had Peter Buck answer one my questions on a webchat thing in 2001 I feel the time has come to put some posers to Mr.Stipe…
    Good on you, Matthew! (and Michael)!
    Does this mean REM have been reading this all along? Scott Malobisky, are you Michael Stipe?

  37. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Yeah , except that I don’t have the charisma, talent, ambition, or altruism..or general sincere down to earth likability, or the blue eyes…Funny thing though; I was born June 29th, 1960 , just short of 6 months after him…I guess I almost was him in the grand scheme of things.

  38. […] (and I Feel Fine.”  Just as his readers started to ponder life without his periodic posts, Matthew announced that Michael Stipe would be answering reader submitted questions about lyrics and … on the Pop Songs blog!  Before I could come back to Earth long enough to think of a question […]

  39. Kirsten Says:

    I couldn’t think of a question, so I just sent him my phone number…..

  40. gluefoot Says:

    michael’s answers have been so honest and insightful.. enthralling reading..

  41. Liz Cullen Says:

    I’m so sad. I’ve been internet free since 2002 and have only, in Nov 08, found this site through a facebook link. Its all happened, is all over. At least I’ll have the pleasure of spending many happy hours devouring it all.

  42. Signe Says:

    Thank you, Michael and Matthew. Michael, R.E.M.’s music really moves me and to me it is brilliant – nothing less. Although I have been an eager listener of R.E.M. for about 14-15 years now, which is actually about half of my life, your music still makes me dizzy with excitement. I really appreciate how you mix serious issues with humour, cartoon-like crazy stuff, beautiful metaphors and imagery. I also love how there seems to be a R.E.M song for every mood and feeling and yet I need more – so please keep up your brilliant work and come to Denmark soon 🙂

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