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Michael Stipe Reflects on AIDS Witch Hunt

Michael Stipe Reflects on AIDS Witch Hunt


Michael Stipe recalls being frightened by AIDS as a young man and compares the early days of testing to a witch hunt, according to an article in Interview magazine.

Asked what he's afraid of, the R.E.M. vocalist replies, "I'm afraid of everything. I'm not a naturally courageous person, but AIDS really brought it home. I mean, it was right when I was 21 years old and came to New York and saw the first billboard about AIDS. It was like, 'Holy shit. This is for real.' It was scary. It was right at the time when I was in a band. Suddenly there were all these people who were available to me -- men and women -- and I was really having fun. But then there came responsibility and feeling afraid and being afraid to get tested, because you couldn't get tested anonymously. It was so fucked up."

The interviewer says it was a witch hunt, to which Stipe adds, "It was. And I think people have forgotten that. Angels in America [Tony Kushner's 1993 play] is the only thing that I've seen in the creative arts that really addressed that feeling. There's a voice from that era that I believe still needs to be heard. I don't think it's my voice, but I did live through it. For example, by the time your generation was coming of age sexually, there was already this idea of safe sex. But that didn't exist for me. I came out of the free-swinging '60s and '70s. It was free love, baby. That was it. We had very liberal sex-ed classes in 1973, a yearlong environmental science class, and then Women's Lib and Gay Liberation. So it's insane to go from that to Reagan and AIDS. It was like, 'What happened? Where's my future?' Our generation was supposed to be about trying to deal with nuclear concerns and environmental disasters. Suddenly, Reagan is in office, I'm 21 years old, and you can die from fucking. It was like, 'I just started. I'm just hitting my stride. Are you kidding me? I don't want to die.'"

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