Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Michael Stipe, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe’s always been the sort of thoughtful guy you’d imagine heading out to a tiny club in New York to support a friend coming back to live performing after a long time away. The soft-spoken Stipe might be less the sort of guy you imagine telling some rich, babbling asshole in attendance to shut his yapper, but, well, you just don’t talk over his hero and pal Patti Smith’s late-90s comeback benefit performance. Even if you’re a fame-grubbing business tycoon on the make who’s destined—because America is well and truly broken as a society—to be the president. That’s the tale Stipe told Stephen Colbert on Thursday’s Late Show of the night when, along with a friend at the acclaimed but tiny Joe’s Pub to hear Smith perform, they were seated in the VIP booth, alongside one Donald J. Trump, and the poor, unfortunate woman Trump was volubly attempting to chat up all through the beginning of Smith’s first song.

Nuh-uh, son, not on the now 60-year-old Michael Stipe’s watch, no matter how many fraudulent universities, mail-order steak businesses, or ill-managed casinos you’re in the process of running into the ground. Stipe told Colbert that, his Georgia gentility be damned, nobody was going to step on Patti’s big night, and that he finally wheeled on the preternaturally inconsiderate tycoon with an emphatic, “Excuse me, that’s my friend. What are you doing? [ . . .] Shut up.” According to Stipe, the anecdote, sure to be ungrammatically refuted in an ill-timed Twitter rant any second now by the most fragile ego in human history, ended with Trump wordlessly splitting the scene, which sounds about right—and which one can only pray allowed that woman to see just what a prick she was dealing with and to hail a taxi out of there.

As for the fact that Trump keeps using R.E.M. songs at his white supremacist pep rallies, Stipe said that he and his former bandmates have had to resort to merely requesting politely that he not do that any more, what with music licensing being what it is and all. (Reminded that his quote on the subject, “When they go low, we go high” came from former First Lady Michelle Obama, Stipe brightened, exclaiming, “She’s cool!”) Artistically, in addition to his photography book Our Interference Times, Stipe has just put out his first new singles in a decade, “Drive To The Ocean” and “Your Capricious Soul.” Inspired to record again by Greta Thunberg and the activist group Extinction Rebellion’s October event, Stipe was pressed by Colbert on which Radiohead song he’d cover (perhaps on a solo album?), since recent Late Show guest Thom York recently picked “So. Central Rain” as his ideal R.E.M. cover track. Thinking it over for a moment, Stipe came out enthusiastically with “Pyramid Song” which, yes, we’d like to hear, please.


Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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