PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
The Hit-Makers of This Year's Grammys
Aired February 23, 2002 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: The hip, hot hit-makers of this year's Grammy Awards.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't wait to be on that stage.
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ANNOUNCER: Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado and India Arie: three new divas taking soulful songwriting to whole new levels.
Plus, he's the Irish rocker whose music is as powerful as his beliefs.
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BONO, U2: It's an unhappy juxtaposition, I think, hearing rock stars talking about people starving to death. But here I am.
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ANNOUNCER: From cocky teen, to rock star activist, to Grammy Award winner. The story of U2 and Bono.
Then, a reserved rocker opens up about music and his life.
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MICHAEL STIPE, REM: I've always been very frank about my sexuality. I identify myself as queer.
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ANNOUNCER: Or sit back for the story of Michael Stipe and REM.
A special look at this year's Grammy nominees now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi; welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.
What do you get when you mix a pinch of pop, a dash of rock, and a serving of soul? You get the Grammys. And we've got your guide to music's hottest night from resurgent rockers to solo sensations, including Alicia Keys, Nelly Furtado and India Arie.
This soulful and eclectic trio of platinum newcomers has 17 Grammy nominations between them, not to mention a mountain of debut record sales. They're also on our list of people to watch.
Here is CNN's Gail O'Neill.
GAIL O'NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you don't recognize these three faces, you will. Nelly Furtado, Alicia Keys and India Arie.
In what might be the fiercest battle of this year's Grammy Awards Best New Artist, the trio is going head to head to head.
But if you're looking for bad blood and backstabbing, there was none in evidence at this photo shoot for "Entertainment Weekly" magazine.
INDIA ARIE, SINGER: I know the idea of it -- I was like, you want me to do a photo shoot with other people? I was like, OK, you know. But then I got here and I just walked right in and it was like hey, hey.
O'NEILL: At the head of the pack: India Arie with seven nominations, including Album of the Year, Best R&B Album and Record of the Year for her debut "Acoustic Soul."
ARIE: I called it that because of where my music comes from as far as my soul and my heart and being very sincere about my writing and my singing. And "soul" because it's soul music. I grew up on Stevie and Donny and all that. And then "acoustic" because guitar opened up my heart to songwriting.
O'NEILL: Another example of her music from the heart: Song of the Year nominee, "Video."
ARIE: I grew up having a lot of the insecurities about my physical appearance. It was never for me like being fat or overweight or anything. For me it was always like having real African features and a deep voice and real, like, muscular arms.
And so that's what "Video" is about, is saying, I look different and I love the fact that I'm unique.
O'NEILL: Nowadays her sense of style comes down to one word -- not Versace, not Gucci, but Simpson, her mother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: India always expects some unique and not traditional. We go into the store and she'll say -- I say how about this -- this is off the rack.
ARIE: I don't say that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You say, there's too many of these on the rack. You are funny.
O'NEILL: The talented artist, who says she's been singing since the age of 0, is learning to deal with increasing demands on her time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to introduce India Arie.
O'NEILL: But she says that's OK because it's giving her what she really wants: listeners.
ARIE: There are so many songs that I want people to hear, the words and the messages. I love my songs like they're my children.
ALICIA KEYS, MUSICIAN: I love to start my show like that. It's a classical piece, but we completely distort it. And I love that. We throw guitars and electricity in there, and we have drums, and there are vocals, and it's just completely not what you would expect it to be.
O'NEILL: Classical piano training colliding was hip hop beats. Nothing about Alicia Keys is predictable. An album that debuted at No. 1, 4 million copies sold, six Grammy nominations -- it's all adding up to one incredible year for the 20 year old.
KEYS: Not quite did I expect it to be quite like this. So, it's been a pretty sweet surprise.
O'NEILL: Early on, the girl from the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City could not get backing for her contradiction of styles.
KEYS: "Falling" was a song that people said would never get on the radio. And here we he are.
O'NEILL: Things turned around when she signed with legendary music exec Clive Davis. He gave her a shot to flex her muscles, producing and writing her own lyrics.
KEYS: The production and writing side of things is something that not only am I extremely interested in but that, you know, I have to do. It's like something that I have to do. It comes naturally.
O'NEILL: Alicia Keys also expresses herself through her fashion. Her collection of hats and head scarfs and her trademark braids are drawing attention to more than just the sultry singer's music.
KEYS: There's nothing wrong with showing you belly button. But I definitely am very conscious of -- you know, there is (sic) many ways to be sexy and attractive and beautiful. And it has nothing to do with your physical self. I think it's an internal thing. It comes from within. And I do want to represent that.
O'NEILL: Nelly Furtado's high-energy songs and her higher-energy wardrobe are winning raves. Three million copies of her album have flown off the shelves worldwide, making her one of the hottest Canadian exports since hockey.
And now she could be winning Grammy Awards too -- four, to be exact.
Her very first release, "I'm Like a Bird," is up for Song of the Year.
NELLY FURTADO, SINGER: It's liking being nominated by your peers. It's such an honor; it feels really good. It makes you feel like your work has paid off.
O'NEILL: The 23-year-old rocker doesn't necessarily see herself as a newcomer because she's been performing for almost two decades.
FURTADO: And I knew right away that I loved connecting with people on a stage and that one day I'd be singing for thousands of people. I knew when I was 4 years old.
O'NEILL: A child of immigrant parents, she says she found comfort in music.
FURTADO: There weren't any other Portuguese kids in my elementary school. So, for one, I did grow up kind of feeling a bit different and alienated. And music is what kind of, I guess, separated me from the pack and made me feel special.
O'NEILL: But Nelly Furtado's sound isn't just based in her Portuguese roots.
FURTADO: My first infatuation was urban hip hop on music. I loved it. I had my walls with my room plastered with the posters of Boyz II Men and Salt-N-Pepa and Kriss Kross.. Very into the urban culture. And I started writing rhymes, writing songs.
O'NEILL: It's hard to pinpoint her sound, but that's what Nelly wants. Her album is filled with echoes of South American, India and Asia, and anywhere in between.
FURTADO: It's a pop record, but it's a world record in a way. So it's almost like it's the beat of the world.
O'NEILL: All three women say they were blown away by the career- boosting Grammy nods.
KEYS: I heard via message from Clive Davis himself, who called me and said, Would you believe we got six nominations? And I talked to the phone as if he was on phone, and said get out of here.
ARIE: I don't know if it will ever sink in. This is a surprise -- like, a genuine surprise.
FURTADO: There's (sic) over 30 musicians on my album, so we'll hope at least all of those guys will vote for me.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: Coming up: The Grammy's golden boy. U2 tops this year's nominations, but don't look for Bono to get stuck in the moment.
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BONO: In order to be able to perform the way I perform, I have to kind of step inside the songs.
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ANNOUNCER: Get inside the world of U2 with Bono, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.
And later, from hopeful to has been: the curse of the Grammys. Ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Paula Zahn.
ZAHN: You would think that Grammy voters would have had their fill of U2. After all, the Irish supergroup went three-for-three at last year's ceremony.
But Grammys just couldn't leave U2 behind. The band is now up for eight nominations, including Album of the Year for "All That You Can't Leave Behind." The record is a return to pop simplicity for a group that delights in reinventing itself. A trait due, in large part, to the one who fronts U2; the one known simply as Bono.
Here's CNN's Daryn Kagan.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not what you would generally see from most 41-year-old men. But then Bono has never been what you might call an ordinary kind of guy. He's the charismatic and often controversial lead singer of U2. In whatever he does, Bono demands your attention. He certainly demands it at his concerts, and his fans seem happy to comply.
U2's current North American tour of 32 cities is a sellout. Career record sales have topped 75 million. And world leaders listen, too. They give him VIP access to voice his message, reducing the debt of third world countries.
BONO: We want the rich countries to drop the debts that they're owed to them by the poorest countries.
KAGAN (on camera): This is not the kind of issue that most rock stars are drawn to.
KAGAN: Why are you drawn to it?
BONO: The relationship between the so-called first and third world is just so screwed up. We give the tiniest percentage of our GDP every year toward the problem. I mean, it's a shocking statistic when you tell Americans or Europeans that the richer they get, the less they give.
KAGAN (voice-over): For Bono, his life's work is all about the possibility, a theme that can be heard in the songs he sings.
BONO: Music is more about soul and spirit than it is about, you know, anything concrete like politics. In order to be able to perform the way I perform, I have to kind of step inside the songs, you know.
KAGAN: Yet to truly step into Bono's world, you have to know where and how it began, in the Irish neighborhood of Ballymun, wedged between countryside and city.
BOB GELDOF, MUSICIAN: He was brought up in an area of Dublin that's a fairly normal area. It's beside a pretty crap area, but Dublin's quite like that.
KAGAN: Number 10 Cedarwood Road. As a child, he wasn't Bono but Paul David Hewson, the youngest of two boys. His father was a postal worker delivering the daily mail, while his mother took care of the home.
From very early on, the youngest Hewson was a dreamer, emulating his distant heroes -- King, Dylan, and Ali, cultural icons who fought for social change.
BONO: And, you know, when I was younger, used to kind of throw rocks and stones at, you know, the bad guys, as I saw them, you know, in the political establishment, the people who were -- you know, they were -- you know, they were, it turns out, quite easy targets.
KAGAN: But that all changed in 1972, when Paul Hewson entered the very progressive Mount Temple High School, a place where your religion, the color of your skin, and what your father did for a living had no consequence.
COLIN MACKENZIE, FORMER HIGH SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER: I think only in a school like Mount Temple could they -- these four fellows have met, because they were from four totally different backgrounds. And I feel only here they would have jelled, they would have met. They couldn't have met in -- probably in any other school. KAGAN: Yet Paul's happy teen years would be tempered by tragedy. On September 10, 1974, Paul's mother died. He adored her, and according to a friend, Bob Geldof, his mother's death tore Paul apart.
GELDOF: His mum died, I think, when he was 13 or 14, and I think that had a very profound effect on him, as it does on us all.
KAGAN: His senior year was pivotal. He fell in love with a girl, Allison Stewart, and he signed up for an audition to join a rock band.
BARRY DEVLIN, FRIEND: You know the story of how they started. Larry Mullen put a notice up on the notice board in their school, and they were all school mates. So Bono always refers to Larry as the man who gave us all a job.
BONO: Yes, Larry started it all, you know, and he hasn't really let us forget it.
ANTHONY DECURTIS, AUTHOR, "ROCKING MY LIFE AWAY": The idea of being in a band was a bigger thing than whether or not you could play your guitar or you could sing or you would -- had any reason to think you could be in a band. Just the very idea of creating music was something that gripped people.
KAGAN: And that's all these four Irish boys had, the idea of creating music. Paul couldn't sing or play the guitar, but he was given a stage name, Bono, likened after this Dublin hearing-aid store.
Early names for the band included The Hype and Feedback, for their distinctive sound of music.
(on camera): If you go back to the early days of the group, even before you were U2, names like Feedback...
BONO: Ooh. I hate when people do those searches. Yes, I would disappoint you. Kids, really, you know, at school, I mean, Larry was 14, Edge was 15, Adam was 16. I was 16, just kind of hanging around with each other. We formed a band before we could play our instruments. It was really like a street gang, you know, people who are joined by the sense of humor and their sense of, you know, what they're against more than what they're for.
And, yes, we were a pretty crap wedding band, actually.
KAGAN: When the story of Bono continues, the band dreams of getting discovered.
PAUL MCGUINNESS, MANAGER, U2: It was very hard to get a record deal, because, quite honestly, there wasn't -- it wasn't like everyone wanted to have them. No one did.
ZAHN: A Cold War controversy leads Bono and the boys to a new name when we return.
But first, here this week's "Passages."
ANNOUNCER (voice-over): The man who was biting the heads off creatures before "Fear Factor" made it cool is getting his own reality show. Heavy metal iron man Ozzy Ozbourne is about to debut his own "Real World" on MTV.
OZZY OZBOURNE, MUSICIAN: Rock 'n' roll!
ANNOUNCER: "The Ozbournes" will feature the day-to-day happenings inside Ozzy's household. Seems "The Diary of a Madman" title was already taken.
A member of 'NSync soon may be in space. Teen heartthrob Lance Bass is in negotiations to fly to the International Space Station in November of this year. At 23, Bass would be the youngest person, the third not-astronaut and, according to girls around the world, the cutest person ever to go into space.
PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Daryn Kagan.
KAGAN (voice-over): By 1978, the band had a new name, U2, recalling an American spy plane shot down over Soviet air space during the cold war.
Dublin band manager Paul McGuinness went to review the newly named band. What he heard was a blend of spiritual rock and a call for political healing.
McGuinness understood stage performance and talent, and he saw great potential in its lead singer, Bono.
MCGUINNESS: It's the primary colors of rock and roll, guitar and bass and drums and vocal. And four guys on a stage making an enormous noise and producing something very exciting.
KAGAN (on camera): Just found a little photo album for you. Take us through these, OK? Who's that?
BONO: Nothing's changed, really. Wow. That's a photograph taken just before we caught the ferry to go to the U.K., coming out of Dublin. We're all kind of 16, 17. We're going off to try and get a record deal.
KAGAN: Could those kids have any idea what was in store for them?
BONO: Oh, yes. No, megalomania did start at a very early age with us. You know, it's -- your head is filled with songs and dreams and big ideas. And you're young enough and wet behind the ears enough to believe that everything's possible. (MUSIC)
KAGAN (voice-over): Two years later, in 1980, U2's dream had come true. After much practice and polish, the band had a record deal.
KURT LODER, HOST, MTV: I think it's his voice which is just this soaring instrument, and the band really has a lot of punch and wallop to it, and it was just their punk background. And The Edge's guitar playing is very full, and it doesn't sound like anything else, and it's just -- it's rousing, you know, it's inspiring to hear it. It's a great sound.
PAUL SHAFFER, ENTERTAINER: Bono is like a motivational speaker of rock and roll, isn't he?
KAGAN: But by 1982, the dynamic of the band was changing. There was dissension over U2's direction. Bass player Adam Clayton threatened to leave the group, indicating the band's religious overtones as the reason.
THE EDGE, GUITARIST, U2: I think we value what we have pretty highly, and we realize how fragile it is, you know, a band is a very difficult thing to keep going. And when you're in a good one, you try and kind of make it work whatever way you can.
KAGAN: But the band's strong commitment to one another turned out to be greater than their spiritual divide. U2 remained intact.
THE EDGE: You know, I don't think any of us would have imagined we'd still be together after so many years when we first put the band together. But it's great that we are.
BONO: You're going to make me cry.
KAGAN: Meanwhile, on a personal note, Bono settled down with his long-time love, Allison Stewart.
DEVLIN: I just remember that the wedding was tremendous fun. There was a lot of dancing, there was a lot of people bumping into each other. There was a lot of high spirits. And it was a kid's wedding, you know. But it was a great day.
KAGAN (on camera): You're married to your high school sweetheart.
BONO: That's true, that's true. I'm lucky. I have an extraordinary friend that I've been married to for a long time, seems like since we were kids.
KAGAN (voice-over): Back on the road, back in the studio. By 1985, U2 had released three more albums, but failed to increase its following.
DECURTIS: The group had become kind of frozen in some way. You know, after the first three records. Particularly after "War," I think, you know, the group felt that they had become just this big guitar band.
KAGAN: Later that year, an event at Wembley Arena in London took U2 to another level.
GELDOF: Every band could do what they liked, but I basically said, Look, lads, it's the global jukebox. You do your hits.
KAGAN: The band, and especially Bono, gave an electrifying performance at Live Aid. The humanitarian concert played to audiences around the world.
GELDOF: Then I remember them going into the audience and start hugging the girl. And of course it was a great theatrical thing. And so what everyone was feeling on that day, he articulated visibly by going and just taking one person out of this sea and just cuddling her.
BONO: It's hard to describe for me what U2 is all about, and when it becomes U2. But I think it is probably when the band is playing "Liar." I think we've always -- that's the moment when they discover what it is that makes us special.
UNIDENTIFIED PHOTOGRAPHER: And can you move just out a little there?
KAGAN: A fortune teller reportedly once told Bono's mother that she would have a famous son. In 1987, U2 released its seventh album, "The Joshua Tree." The record went platinum in just two days. As foretold years before, Bono had arrived.
DEVLIN: People have asked me, When you met them, you know, what was it like? Did you -- you know, they were kittens. How can you say that you could see something there? I didn't know how big they would be, but I could see that they had this sense, a belief in themselves and a belief in what music could be that was different from anyone I'd met.
KAGAN: When we return, fatherhood ignites Bono's political pursuits in a big way.
BONO: It's made me more militant. You think about the world that your children are about to inherit, and you want it to be different from them. So it's made me more angry.
ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
Success can be a double-edged sword, especially in the world of rock. Pop history is littered with those who couldn't handle fame and fortune. So many that their stories have become cliches.
As U2 entered the '90s, superstardom and all of its trappings beckoned.
Here again is CNN's Daryn Kagan.
KAGAN (voice-over): In the 1990s, the idea was, bigger is better. Concert tours like Zoo TV took U2 to stratospheric heights. Gross revenues topped $1.5 billion.
Still, Bono fought to stay grounded, always mindful of his beginnings and of the musical influences along the way. The 2001 Elevation world tour would be different and far more intimate, so close you could reach out and touch them: 113 shows in 64 cities, playing to more than two million fans, a personal triumph.
BONO: This has been the best year of our musical life and maybe my personal life actually with it.
KAGAN (on camera): A new baby.
BONO: And a new baby.
KAGAN (voice-over): But in the midst of that, person tragedy for Bono.
BONO: I lost my father also. But, you know, he had a good life. And we gave him quite a send-off. And I still think about him every day.
KAGAN: When Bono isn't on tour or in the studio, you can find the three-time Grammy Award winner spending time with his four children at their Dublin home.
DEVLIN: He's a good dad. You might come into the house and discover him wearing a conductor's uniform, bus conductor's uniform, and giving out tickets for outside. He's a mad dad. They get in cars and go strange places, and -- but he just loves to spend time with his family.
KAGAN: But, on September 11, Bono wasn't at home and not on tour.
(on camera): Where were you on that day?
BONO: I was on vacation with my little boy, Elijah. He is 2 1/2. I was in Venice. My other kids couldn't got out because of school. But I was there with him. And I had gotten lost walking through the streets of Venice. And I came upon a hotel called the American Hotel. And I thought, well, they'll probably speak English and tell me how I can find my way home. And I walked in and they had CNN on in the lobby, actually, because it was literary after the first tower hit. And I think -- I was there when the second one hit.
And so, yes, the world was completely, utterly changed that moment.
KAGAN (voice-over): Bono has used his musical muscle to raise money for the victims' families of September 11. In November, he gathered some of the industry's top artists to record an old Marvin Gaye favorite for charity.
BONO: Music fills in for words a lot of time when people don't have anything to say. And I think music can be more eloquent than words alone. And I hope our music was a help there.
KAGAN: And he continues to be on the front lines to drop the debt of Third World countries, even if that means a little friction among friends.
KAGAN (on camera): Because there are members of U2 that would just as soon say, "Can we just play the music?"
BONO: Yes, there is a bit of that. They fully support what I'm doing. They just wish it wasn't so unhip. And they just wish that some of the people I'm hanging around with weren't so uncool.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll never be an outsider here. You will always be a friend here.
BONO: Thank you.
KAGAN: But you just can't let it go?
BONO: It's worth our time and effort. And it's an everyday holocaust. We must always remind ourselves of the situation in Africa, because I think history, and indeed God, will judge us very harshly if we continue to ignore it.
KAGAN (voice-over): With much lobbying, Bono recently convinced Washington officials to write a check for $435 million. That went into a trust found operated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, moneys which, in one act, canceled out a third of the debt.
(on camera): For those like the treasury secretary of the U.S., who says debt relief is not economic reform, it's not economic development, these countries need more...
BONO: He is right. He is absolutely right. The treasury secretary here in the United States is very interesting, because he has had experience in Africa, Paul O'Neill. And we are going to Africa together in the spring. And his feeling on it is to, if you can show progress from debt cancellation, he is prepared to go further. So I am going to show him Uganda, where, since debt relief kicked in, twice as many children have enrolled in schools.
KAGAN (voice-over): U2's tour ended in the some city where it began: Miami, Florida. Bono says the tour changed after 9/11, as did the meaning of their music.
BONO: If September the 11th has taught us anything -- and it has taught us a lot about a lot of things -- it's certainly that the world has never been so interdependent. And it is impossible now to be an island of prosperity in a sea of despair.
And these songs that we wrote about mortality and fate vs. fear and all of the various themes on "All That You Can't Leave Behind" have suddenly come into focus after September the 11th for people. Even for us playing them, we are holding on to the songs a lot tighter now ourselves.
ANNOUNCER: PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will return in a moment.
ZAHN: It has been called the kiss of death, and rightly so. The Grammy for Best New Artist has a nasty habit of turning up-and-comers into one hit wonders, leaving many to ask: "Where are They Now?"
ANNOUNCER (voice-over): In 1989, pretty boy pop sensation Milli Vanilli was voted Best New Artist, but the dreadlock duo of Rob and Fab had to return the statue when it turned out they didn't sing a single note on the award-winning album. So where is Milli Vanilli now?
The duo found some humor in the situation, lip-syncing in a commercial that mocked the scandal. In 1993, Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan tried to show the world they really could sing with the release of the soon-to-be-forgotten album entitled "Rob and Fab."
Morvan is now taking a shot at a solo career. However, Rob Pilatus have been in and out of drug rehab after the Vanilli debacle, died of drug and alcohol overdose in 1998. He was 33.
No one personified '80s and progeny quite like Boy George and Culture Club. They scored with hits like "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" which scored them the 1983 Best New Artist Grammy.
So where is Culture Club now? While group members have since gone their separate ways, they still are heavily involved in music, running studios and composing movie scores.
Boy George has been keeping busy, spinning at dance clubs across the world as a DJ. He has recently written and starred in a play, his character well, Boy George, of course.
Look up one-hit-wonder in the dictionary and you may find 1976 Best New Artist winner, Starland Vocal Band. "Afternoon Delight" was #1 on the Billboard charts for two weeks. So where is the Starland Vocal Band now?
Members of the band are still active on the D.C. folk music scene. They recently reunited on a tribute show to the late John Denver. Denver had released "Afternoon Delight" on his Windsong record label.
You recognize him from his dull titled television shows, but in 1960 Bob Newhart became the first and only non-musician, other than Milli Vanilli to be named Best New Artist. His comedy album, "Button Down Mind" also took home Album of the Year honors, beating out the likes of Sinatra, Bellafonte, and Nat King Cole.
So where is Bob Newhart today? After his last television show "George and Leo" was canceled, the comedian says he is in no rush to return to the tube. The happy grandfather still tours the country performing about 20 sold-out stand up shows a year.
Coming up: A Grammy nominee gets personal.
STIPE: I am painfully shy. I always have been, but you find ways around it.
ANNOUNCER: REM's Michael Stipe in his own words, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Paula Zahn.
ZAHN: U2 isn't the only resurgent band from the '90s scoring Grammy nods this year. REM is also nominated in two categories for its latest effort "Reveal" and the single "Imitation of Life."
Michael Stipe is REM's notoriously shy lead singer, but he sat down with us for a very candid interview.
STIPE: The thought in 1981 that we would ever have a Top 10 hit single was outrageous. We were never a band that had like fast thoughts and dance moves and any particular look. It was more about the music.
When people come from Georgia, pretty much, I think certainly at the beginning REM very much represented to a lot of people this idea of the new South, a side of the South that they had never seen before.
Patti Smith released her first record "Horses," and I bought it the day that it came out at the age of 15. I heard it and I said, "this is what I'm going to do with my life."
I was looking for someone to start a band with, and Peter was the only person in Athens that would talk to me. I mean, I was very, very shy. He worked in a record store. He sat there all day with this kind of sneer on his face, kind of strumming on a guitar, and we struck up a conversation, and at one point talked about starting a band. I called him Richard for the first three months that we knew each other, and he never once corrected me. He never said "my name is not Richard," it's Peter.
You know, for the first album that we made, I didn't know the difference between the bass guitar and the electric guitar. I didn't -- I mean I was so ignorant of music. I didn't sing words for the first two albums. I just sang and stuff came out about furniture and about bugs and about -- it was nonsense, you know, but it was beautiful nonsense.
I found out at one point that my voice -- I could sing the yellow pages and make people cry. But after two albums, of kind of basically nonsense about bugs and furniture, it was time for me to kind of trust something different, and I started trying to write in a more narrative style, creating characters and writing about a situation, about an experience of theirs.
There was no specific turning point, in terms of us becoming the mainstream, and in fact we didn't. The mainstream came to us. The tide had shifted to the point where college media was such a force in the early '80s, very supportive of bands like ourselves. It couldn't be ignored by the industry.
So what happened was, radio started picking up, you know, sniffing around the fringe and found all this stuff, and it was very exciting and very different from what people had been listening to, and it started changing what was the mainstream.
Have I have seen an evolution in our music over time? I certainly hope so. I mean the one thing that I'm very afraid of, and not just in music, is stasis. I don't ever want to just stand still. I don't ever want to repeat myself.
I am painfully shy. I always have been, but you find ways around that, you know, and if you're someone who is -- if you're a public figure, you have to get around that. I'm approached daily, constantly by people on the street, and I had to learn how to kind of say "thank you" when someone complimented our music or something that I had done.
I've always been very frank about my sexuality, certainly with the people in my life, and then later with the public. I knew what I was when I was, I figured it out by 19. I identified myself as queer.
To me that's a term that is not specifically gay or homosexual. It's certainly not bisexual. It's just more accepting and more tolerant and more open to the idea that desire and sexuality are a very fluid thing.
I think the biggest misperception about me probably is that I'm really serious. That -- I know exactly where that comes from. I'm not -- I didn't -- I don't have a college degree. I have phenomenal insecurities about not being smart, and I try really hard to articulate myself when I talk.
I have enough insecurity about what I do, and I feel like my particular talents are limited enough that it challenges me every time I do something. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning. I think some people, you know, it takes a degree of ego to do this and you have to be OK. You have to be, I think, somewhat grounded in order for that not to just become all about you.
I don't wake up in the morning and look like a giant celebrity rock star or pop star or film producer. I wake up in the morning and I have to -- I have scum on my teeth and I have to prove like everyone else, and that keeps you in your place I think. We're all just lonely people walking the earth.
ZAHN: You can catch REM, U2, and the rest of the nominees this Wednesday at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards. Coming up next week on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, the country girl whose become a crossover hit, Reba McIntyre from songs to sitcoms.
I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. We also hope you tune in to AMERICAN MORNING, Monday at 7:00 a.m.
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