R.E.M. is an alternative rock music band and a member of Vote for Change, a coalition of musicians that scheduled October 2004 concerts in election “battleground” states to raise money for America Coming Together (ACT), with the aim of helping to defeat President George W. Bush in the November election. At that time, R.E.M. invited Noam Chomsky, a linguistics scholar from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to tour with the band and open its concerts with a political speech; Chomsky declined.
The R.E.M. band members launched their musical careers at an April 19, 1980 concert in Athens, Georgia under the name Twisted Kites. By that summer, the quartet had selected the new name R.E.M. The band consisted of four University of Georgia students: lead singer and chief lyricist Michael Stipe; lead guitarist and co-songwriter Peter Buck; bass guitar player Mike Mills; and drummer Bill Berry.
R.E.M. quickly became popular with the fraternities at the University of Georgia, then began touring other campuses, and eventually all four members dropped out of school to pursue their musical careers. R.E.M.’s debut single, “Radio Free Europe,” was released by the tiny independent Hibtone Records label. The band moved to a larger small independent, I.R.S. Records, which released R.E.M.’s mini-album Chronic Town in 1982 and full album Murmur (named Album of the Year by Rolling Stone Magazine) in 1983.
In 1988 Warner Brothers Records signed the band to a five-album, $10 million deal. The first of these albums, Green, produced the hit “Stand.” For the next two years R.E.M. collaborated with Warren Zevon under the fake band name Hindu Love Gods.
R.E.M.’s second Warner album Out of Time in 1991 included the hits “Shiny Happy People” and the song that has endeared them more than any other to the leftist elites of Hollywood and Manhattan, “Losing My Religion.”
Lead singer and chief lyricist Michael Stipe became a booster for the radical environmentalist organization Greenpeace, animal rights, and the homeless. Stipe has also done small parts as an actor in a few movies; e.g., 1999’s American Psycho. In 1993 he founded his own film company Single Cell Productions, which has made such films as Being John Malkovich.
Stipe was one of the judges of a contest (sponsored by the MoveOn.org Voter Fund) — along with Democratic political consultant James Carville, Al Franken, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation Magazine, Michael Moore, singer Eddie Vedder of R.E.M.’s Vote for Change partner band Pearl Jam, and other political leftists — to select the best anti-President Bush videos submitted by the public. Stipe sits on the advisory board of the youth-oriented voter-registration drive called Rock the Vote, and he has been a signer of political ads in the New York Times expressing support for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal.
Lead guitarist and co-songwriter Peter Buck in 1999 traveled to Havana, Cuba to play at the Karl Marx Theatre along with a few other American musicians, among them Bonnie Raitt, another Vote for Change artist. In Havana, Buck had a friendly meeting with Communist dictator Fidel Castro.