R.E.M.: Discoverer

Michael Stipe and His Sister Lynda On Their Cinematic Collaboration For Collapse Into Now

Directed by Michael Stipe and his sister Lynda, today's premiere of the music video for R.E.M.’s "Discoverer" accompanies the first track off the group's 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now. Alongside the record, which has been hailed as their best in a decade, the band’s cerebral frontman commissioned a film for each of the 12 tracks from the likes of James Franco, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sophie Calle, and Albert Maysles. Stipe opted to direct "Discoverer" himself, citing a personal attachment to the tune, which posits New York as his muse. "It's autobiographic," he says. "I rarely insert myself this directly into a song." Lynda's inventive use of the computer program AutoCAD (a tool for architectural layouts) for projections during live performances with her experimental band, Flash to Bang Time, served as a jumping off point. "It's like the Velvet Underground circa 1969, with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, when they were working alongside Andy Warhol in the Factory,” Stipe says of the color-drenched effect. NOWNESS asked the siblings to elaborate.

Michael: AutoCAD is an incredibly dry application used by architects to explain their ideas. We completely bastardized the program and its actual use. The rawness of the piece comes across because we're not polishing or sanding the edges of it. It's kind of unformed on the screen. Right, Lynda? 

Lynda: Exactly. People usually don't play with it. You'd given me a little bit of direction on what the song was about. I built a miniature Houston Street, adding in various architectural elements that stand for New York, and added some lyrics and stuff. 

Michael: It's a little bit like if you're standing on a beautiful day, looking at the sky, with a meteorologist, they'll say, “That's a nebulous cumulus and it means that it's going to rain.” And you look at it and you say, "Oh I saw a snail riding a bicycle." We're very aware as brother and sister, and as artists, of each other's aesthetic. And yet, our aesthetics are very different. I wanted Lynda to interpret what I was reaching for, and throw it back at me, so it was like this game of badminton, and what we wound up with was this distillation of our two aesthetics. 

Lynda: It definitely puts across that “heart palpitating, too much caffeine,” kind of exciting discovery feeling, which was a real surprise to me, and I loved it. 

Michael: The song is exploring this epiphanal moment of discovery, in the early 80s when I realized that New York had something to offer me that was so powerful and so profound that I could not turn my back on it. That it was going to be a part of me forever—my second home. It's my Valentine to New York from almost 30 years ago. Athens, Georgia [where Lynda is based], is my other home. The two balance me quite well. By the way, how's Bug [Lynda's dog, who recently had surgery]? 

Lynda: He's healing. He's really docile... We call him a Buddhist pitbull.  

Michael: I would go so far as to say he's Daoist. So, you recreated Houston Street with exactly the freneticism I imagined for the piece, and that sense of smallness that you get in the city. But also that surging triumphant feeling of, "This city is here to support and help me become whatever I want to become." It's like being in your early 20s. You were in New York in the early 80s with your band and I was here with my band. The first time I ever went to CBGB was to see you perform. The period of time that we're talking about in the song is somewhere in the early 80s––sometime between '81 and '85, I'm guessing.  

Lynda: It brings up all kinds of memories for me. I remember a $2.50 a day per diem in New York, when I still smoked. 

Michael: Yeah! 

Lynda: And it was like, okay: pizza or cigarettes? 

Michael: I remember when we lived in Times Square, just going and buying the biggest, cheapest knish that I could and that was my meal for the day. Everything else was basically depending on the kindness of strangers. And hoping someone would buy me a beer if I went to a bar. 

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Conversations (3)

  • Luke Crumb
    AutoCAD? bastardize!!! yeah, yeah, yeah... always one step beyond the obvious. Great album once again
    • Posted By Luke Crumb
    • May 03, 2011 at 9:36PM
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  • helen.remfan
    Someone obvioulsy didn't read the interview! Colours used and the arrows = Accelerate? Wonderful album from an amazing band.
    • Posted By helen.remfan
    • May 03, 2011 at 2:06PM
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  • kalfish
    I'm sorry I cannot understand it's meaning, nor the connection to the lyrics. The whole thing is like watching shapes in the wm player. I love the song, though.
    • Posted By kalfish
    • May 02, 2011 at 4:17PM
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