Interviews: R.E.M.’s New Adventures (Excerpt)

By Chris Heath


As I drive to the ‘E-Bow’ video shoot, Mike Mills cuts me off in his sleek new rented convertible: a BMW Z3. “The new roadster,” he will explain, “that James Bond drove in the last movie.” Mills used to be the member of R.E.M. who smiled meekly under his puddingbowl haircut and sensible glasses. In his face you could still see the geeky class nerd whom Bill Berry wouldn’t talk to in high school because Mills seemed so straight. But he’s changed.

“I began making a series of decisions about three or four years ago,” he says. “There’s a whole process of life called letting go. Clinging to things really makes it difficult to live, whether that’s a love interest or a hairstyle. My decisions to stop worrying about things manifested themselves in big and small ways, from growing a little chin beard to wearing an outrageous costume onstage to renting a place in Los Angeles. You can call it growing, you can call it maturing, you can call it what you want, really.”

One of the principal manifestations, ironically, was that after years of everything being blurry past the first two or three rows, last year — for the first time — he felt able to wear his glasses onstage. (He had rationalized that his failure to do so until then was less fear and self-consciousness than the bother of having your glasses slip down your nose during a particularly nifty bass line. The new Mike Mills, sensibly, had his glasses tightened.)

Then there are the ornate countryrock suits.

“Those suits are beautiful,” he insists, “and anyone that doesn’t like them can kiss my ass.”

And the golf.

“Michael’s probably not thrilled to death with the fact that I’m known for playing golf all the time,” Mike Mills smiles. “I do a lot of charity golf tournaments, and I’m sure that’s not the image Michael likes to send out.” His best Famous Golfer buddy is Davis Love II, but Mills knows quite a few. “I mean, they’re all Republican,” he says, “but I let them slide on that.”

Incidentally, Bill Berry, the band’s other golfer, isn’t playing much. He has hurt his rotator cuff. “A golf-related injury,” Berry says sardonically. He was stretching a bungee cord to set up a net for driving practice.

Originally published on 17 October 1996 by Rolling Stone

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