By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Half a World Away
R.E.M. is well-known for doing charity work and supporting political causes, so it's not a surprise that vocalist Michael Stipe jumped in to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The 46-year-old covered "In the Sun" (a gentle song originally performed by moody folkie Joseph Arthur, an opener on R.E.M.'s 2004 U.S. tour) six different ways and released the EP via iTunes. (Versions include a solo rendition, a duet with Coldplay's Chris Martin, a collaboration with Arthur himself and even a remix by Justin Timberlake and Black Eyed Pea will.i.am.) On the eve of the release of the mini-album, B-Sides participated in a conference call with an obviously sobered Stipe, who had friends affected by the disaster and was haunted by what he saw when he visited the beloved city.
B-Sides: How do you see this devastation affecting the way you create music, film and art in the future?
Michael Stipe: I only have one song written since then, "I Have Seen Trouble," if that indicates [that] it might have had a profound effect on me as an artist and a songwriter. I read all the articles in all the newspapers. I was watching and listening and absorbing through the same media channels that everyone in this call was. Seeing it firsthand radically changes you, you really can't imagine how bad it is.
"Five months later, it's still a disaster. The scale of it is monumental. I thought I had answers and solutions. We all have moments of arrogance. Seeing it firsthand, I recognized that it's a much more complicated situation than I imagined. The thing I would like to stress is that there are people now five months after the disaster who are still profoundly in need. We don't need to forget that as Americans, this is our time, this is our story. And how we respond to this is something that will be with us for the rest of our lives.
"New Orleans, for me, is a place that's always had a mystery, a beauty to it that is unparalleled in this country and worldwide. My band, we've kind of moved from city to city record by record. We realized early on that working in the city can bring a certain flavor, a certain nuance [to recording]. New Orleans is one of the few places we've returned back to to record again."