On Michael Stipe, Obama and Paris - John Norris Checks In

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I just got back from Paris Tuesday night, and didn't find out 'til yesterday how breathlessly some press outlets in this country (both of the old and new school variety) were jumping on the recent “revelation” in Spin magazine that REM's Michael Stipe is in fact, gay. Never mind that he said as much seven years ago to Time, made the cut for Out magazine’s "Out 100" in the mid-'90s and referred to himself publicly as a “queer artist” – this was CONFIRMATION, dammit – and I suppose it makes for as good a headline as whether Britney’s cameo on "How I Met Your Mother" amounts to a comeback. I love the video rejoinder that Stipe sent to People.com too – the faux-serious “statement” about his band-mates finally being brave enough to admit their heterosexuality. I understand Michael shot that in Paris – wish I’d have known we were both there – we coulda shared a café.

What passes for news these days, after the jump.

Not surprisingly this big gay ‘news’ didn’t really register on the French radar. They have been too wrapped up in the story of how the new first lady of France, ex-supermodel Carla Bruni, announced that her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, was dropping a lawsuit against a French magazine’s online operation over the mag’s claim that Sarkozy had sent a text message to his ex-wife Cecilia asking her to come back to him – only days before marrying Bruni. Oh la la. C’est la vie. Think about that for a minute. Our equivalent would be Bush asking Laura to come back to him right before tying the knot with, say, Stephanie Seymour. France is also a country where one of the leading newspapers, Liberation, just yesterday had none other than Stipe’s pal Patti Smith, serve as its guest editor. Very cool. Patti also told Liberation that she is supporting – shocker – Obama for president.

As are all three members of R.E.M. See! I brought it back to them! And you thought I had hopelessly digressed to Paris and Patti. I last saw Michael, Mike and Peter two weeks ago, in Austin, for South By Southwest, where the newly Accelerate-d band unveiled the new gear they have shifted into with a festival-opening performance at Stubb’s. A day earlier we sat down in a conference room at Austin’s Omni hotel, and after much talk of music, the conversation inevitably shifted to politics. So accustomed am I to musicians marching in the Barack army this year that I didn’t even bother to ask who R.E.M. were supporting and simply launched into why the senator from Illinois was their candidate of choice. Their reasons were varied, including the need for a fresh break with the past, and Hillary’s "3AM phone call" campaign ad that Stipe condemned for its "fear mongering." Michael also said he liked the idea of "voting for someone younger than me" (he has a couple of years on Obama).

On a stroll down to Sixth Street, Michael told me that even though the band had never before played SXSW, that he liked visiting Austin – and one reason was a certain high end grocery store chain that has become almost as beloved an Austin cultural contribution as the music festival itself. Check it out.

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