Michael Stipe releases second solo single 'Drive to the Ocean'
(Credit: Michael Stipe)

From Patti Smith to Kurt Vonnegut: Michael Stipe’s 10 favourite books of all time

At a time when the world is in a troubled place, as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe, the arts and culture sphere is being hit as hard as most out there. With film production delayed, music album releases put on ice, tours cancelled and venues closed, fans have more time on their hands during the period of flux. To keep the creativity flowing, we’re dipping back into the archives to find an alternative source of entertainment. Here, we’re using Michael Stipe’s literary suggestions to fill the time.

Stipe, more commonly recognised as the singing and songwriting lead singer the rock band R.E.M, has managed to use his creativity to transcend music, film, art and, more recently, to relay his message through numerous different political activist measures. Never one to slow down, Stipe uses the world of the arts to push through his own creative vision with prolific effect.

Absorbing inspiration from numerous different sources, it should come as little surprise that a number of iconic literary figures have helped Stipe evolve his understanding and imagination of language. With both his band and through solo material, Stipe has been brave and pioneering in his lyricism, taking on traditionally typical themes and presenting them in a unique manner. Having influenced a number of music’s most recognisable names, even Thom Yorke has heavily praised Stipe’s impact. “I loved the way he would take an emotion and then take a step back from it and in doing so make it so much more powerful,” the Radiohead frontman said previously.

With that in mind, we’re looking back at a selection of 10 books that have helped Stipe further develop his lyricism. “Because of Patti Smith I read Rimbaud’s entire works at the age of 16,” Stipe said about his inclusion of Rimbaud’s Complete Works. “The whole time I was thinking his name was pronounced Rim-bawd. I actually can’t say at the time that I understood much of the finer points, but it was a wild read,” he added.

Speaking about Jack Kerouac’s now-iconic film On The Road, Stipe added: “This book became my band’s template. To explore the country and do it all — having a great big time — on our terms, and no one else’s. Hooray! Followed by “The First Third” by Neal Cassady. The muse speaks, writes, smokes, drinks, seduces.”

With the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Patti Smith and more, see the full list below.

Michael Stipe’s 10 favourite books:

  • Complete Works by Arthur Rimbaud.
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
  • All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 
  • Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
  • Four Plays by Aristophanes translated by William Arrowsmith
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith 

Speaking about Samuel R. Delaney book Dhalgren, Stiped added: “Where I learned in eighth grade, I think, that in the future you could have unbridled sci-fi sex with every man and woman within reach, without guilt, fear or weirdness, and have great end-of-times adventures. Just like my dreams! Fantastically futuristic!”

For more information, Stipe also offered his views on Joan Didion work Play It As It Lays: “Which weirdly, through a Jack Pierson photograph and a gift from Douglas Coupland, became maybe the genesis of, and one of the three horns of my ongoing obsession with sculptural replicas and obsolete forms.”

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