• Image about Michael Stipe
Photograph by Evan Kafka

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL LIFE, YOUR LIFE »
It was cold out, and Stipe was layered. He had on a down jacket, a knitted hat, a wool scarf that obscured his chin, and he was bearded with thick gray whiskers. In a city like New York, and in that part of town, Stipe could have passed for one of the artists who have their studio in the Industrial Building. Or he just as easily could have been a delivery boy.

Riding in the elevator to the studio were Stipe, his publicist and I. Moments later, a nondescript lady, heavily layered because of the weather and peeking out from between a knitted hat and a scarf, got in the elevator on the second floor and faced forward. She never looked at any of our faces. Stipe, his publicist and I spoke softly among ourselves, and when Stipe spoke, that trademark delicate murmur of his instantly made me reminisce. That’s the voice I’d heard in so many interviews over so many years. That’s the voice that we teens of the ’80s and ’90s were raised on. I smiled, but the lady didn’t see it.

  • Image about Michael Stipe
Photograph by Evan Kafka
The elevator stopped on floor 14 for the woman. She stepped out and paused for a moment as if to contemplate which hallway to take. Then she turned around, locked eyes with the man with the voice behind her and allowed a faint sentence. “I love you,” was all she said. Stipe responded with a sincere “thank you,” but the lady likely didn’t hear it. She was gone.

The rock star lowered his head in the elevator, looked at the floor for a moment and blushed through his gray and blond beard. That’s when I made my first personality assessment about my childhood hero — the man that I’d seen command stadiums full of fans with the wave of his hand and who is a publicly outspoken advocate for a host of philanthropic causes. And my assessment is this: Michael Stipe is humble, yes, but deeper still, Michael Stipe is shy.