John Michael Stipe (born January 4, 1960) is an American singer and the lead vocalist for the alternative rock band R.E.M. Stipe has become well-known (and occasionally parodied) for the "mumbling" style of his early career and for his complex, surreal lyrics, as well as his social and political activism. Stipe is in charge of the band's visual image, often selecting album artwork and directing many of the band's music videos. Stipe's work extends outside of the music industry: he runs his own film production companies, C-00 and Single Cell Pictures.
Stipe was born in Decatur, Georgia on January 4, 1960. Stipe was a military brat; his father was a serviceman in the United States Army whose career resulted in frequent relocations for his family. Stipe and his family moved to various locales during his childhood, including Germany, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Georgia. Stipe graduated from high school in Collinsville, Illinois in 1978. His senior photo is pictured in the album art work of Eponymous. Stipe also worked at the local Waffle House. Stipe later enrolled at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, as an art major, studying photography and painting.
While attending college in Athens, Stipe frequented the Wuxtry record shop where he met store clerk Peter Buck in 1980. "He was a striking-looking guy and he also bought weird records, which not everyone in the store did", Buck recalled. The two became friends and eventually decided to form a band. Buck and Stipe started writing music together; at the time Stipe also spent time in a local group named Gangster. The pair were soon joined by Bill Berry and Mike Mills and named themselves R.E.M., a name Stipe selected at random from a dictionary.