As the frontman for R.E.M., arguably the most important and influential American rock band of the post-punk era, Michael Stipe transformed himself from enigmatic cult hero into mainstream icon. Famed for his confoundingly opaque lyrics and notoriously mumbled delivery, the once-introverted Stipe translated his growing fame into an outlet to champion his social and political concerns, emerging as one of popular music's most respected figures, as well as the acknowledged forefather of the alternative rock movement. Born John Michael Stipe in Decatur, GA, on January 4, 1960, he was a military brat whose life was forever changed by Patti Smith's Horses album; Television's Marquee Moon and Wire's Pink Flag were also massive influences on his musical sensibility, and during high school he joined a punk cover band. While studying painting and photography at the University of Georgia, Stipe befriended aspiring guitarist Peter Buck, and with bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, they formed R.E.M. in 1980. Honing an atmospheric, jangly pop sound often reminiscent of the Byrds, R.E.M. toured relentlessly prior to issuing their debut single, "Radio Free Europe," on the tiny Hib-Tone label in mid-1981; the record's success on college radio attracted the attention of IRS Records, which released the band's Chronic Town EP a year later.