Before Michael Stipe was the frontman for REM, one of the biggest bands of all time, before “alternative” was a description for music or a lifestyle, he was a gender-bending teenager that looked and felt out of place in his hometown of Collinsville, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis. Stipe was a regular at the weekly midnight showings of the legendary Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In a news report from the late '70s — Gossip Cop’s best guess is that it’s from 1978 — Stipe appears in a crowd being interviewed about a new phenomenon that was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This was two years before would help found REM with Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Bill Berry in 1980. It was before he’d even moved to Athens, Georgia, to attend the University of Georgia, where he would meet his future bandmates. Stipe, dressed as the iconic Tim Curry’s career-making role Dr. Frank-N-Furter, explains what he thinks about the movie and how a group of misfits that don’t fit in with the usual crowd in the Midwest city found each other.
“This is an excellent movie,” Stipe, wearing heavy makeup and a leather jacket tells the reporter, “it really is and we’re all quite normal.” Remember, this is the late '70s, so it was probably all a little shocking and confusing for the reporter. They then asks Stipe how he could “prove” he was normal. Stipe answers, “Show up tomorrow afternoon dressed in our little KSHE pig shirts and our blue jeans.” KSHE was, and still is, a hard rock radio station in St. Louis. It’s reputation in St. Louis was one of conformity at the time.
The reporter asks, “That would be normal?” to which Stipe responds, “I guess for the normal St. Louis KSHE fan, yes it would.” What Stipe was though, is anything but normal for the 1970s. Sure, little about the video is shocking today, which is a good thing, but at the time, it was way outside of the mainstream. After his interview, he appears again as the credits roll.
Michael Stipe would go on to make a career out of being outside the mainstream, before redefining what the mainstream was with hit after hit with REM through the '80s and '90s. The band may have called it quits almost a decade ago, but their legacy is cemented as one of the most influential bands of all time, inspiring the likes of Radiohead, Nirvana, and many, many others. As the video shows, Stipe has never been afraid to break new ground.