THE R.E.M. FRONTMAN HAS TRAVELED THE WORLD OVER BUT SAYS HE'S MOST IN TUNE WITH THE ENCHANTING FRENCH CAPITAL.In 1983, a little-known rock band from Athens, Georgia, was rolling through Europe to promote its debut full-length album. What the quartet didn't know at the time was the influence the trip would have on the band and the effect a certain city would have on its lead singer. That city was Paris, the band was R.E.M., and the lead singer was Michael Stipe. A curly-haired youth of 23 at the time, Stipe remembers the City of Light as being one of the most amazing places he'd ever seen. Photographic proof of that moment in time is forever saved on the back cover of the band's second record, Reckoning.
The group has come a long way since those days, being one of the founding bands of what was then a genre called "college radio" that would go on to become alternative music. With the soulful baritone voice and lyrics of Stipe as the driving force behind classics like "Losing My Religion" and "Everybody Hurts," the group has taken its place as a combo that continues to produce quality material after more than 20 years together. Having released its 13th album, Around the Sun, R.E.M. remains one of music's most influential bands and is again out doing what it does best - playing live shows.
Between gigs, we sat down with Stipe at the bar at the Peninsula hotel in Chicago, where, armed with a laptop full of notes he'd jotted down about Paris for the interview, he proceeded to take us through the city that left such a vivid impression on him some two decades ago.
I have to put in a word for Charles de Gaulle. I think it's the most architecturally spectacular airport I've ever been in. The experience of moving through it is like when I was a kid, reading comic books. Charles de Gaulle looks and feels like my idea of the future when I was young. It's a really fun, beautiful airport.
I DON'T SLEEP, I DREAM
Hôtel Costes is this strange, really unique hotel. I'll go there, check in, pull down my e-mail, and if I have time, sit for an hour and people-watch, because you'll always see someone you recognize from television or a magazine or the stage there. The staff is incredibly friendly. They serve food late, too, and have the best sole I've ever had. And they have an awesome bar with great music. In fact, you can buy their CDs there. Hôtel Costes was one of the first hotels to have a deejay [Stephane Pompougnac] who created a soundtrack specific to the hotel. It kicked off this worldwide trend of places putting out CD compilations of music that they enjoy. You can buy Stephane Pompougnac's first LP [at the hotel]. He's a deejay, but he's also a songwriter, and I'm on it. I sing a song called "Clumsy."
The Montalembert is another really awesome hotel. It looks like an old building, and the ceilings are slanted and the windows open out onto Paris. I'd recommend the rooms on the top floor. One of the extraordinary things about Paris is finding yourself at the top of a building and looking across at the landscape of the roofs of the city. It's so spectacular, unlike any other city I've been in. By comparison, I'm thinking of Marrakesh and New York. You're looking out and admiring the way the old buildings are integrated into newer buildings. Adapt and reuse is a huge thing in Paris. If a building exists, rather than tear it down, they'd sooner fix it up and accommodate it for the 21st century. So what you get are these really ancient buildings that are almost like LEGOs, put together in this really crazy fashion, and you look out across the roofs and it's this beautiful forest of television wires and water towers.