Birth 4 Jan 1960
The Mountain Goat is the zodiac’s toughest creature. Intent on reaching the peak of the mountain, it climbs in steady, sure-footed fashion until it has reached its goal. And once a Capricorn has become king of the mountain, it usually sticks around. Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Rod Stewart, all of whom re-invented themselves drastically when their celebrity threatened to slip, are typically tough Goats.
Bowie even lives on a mountain!
Capricorn is an earth sign and ruled by Saturn, the planet of achievement and control, making it the sign of the materialist and calculating social climber. In Michael Stipe’s words, the sign is ‘The CPA of the zodiac’, a reference to the managerial tool of ‘Comprehensive Performance Assessment’. (When it was put to him that he was, in fact, something of a control freak, Stipe replied ‘My God, have you met Madonna?’)
In the same interview (with Esquire magazine in 2001) Stipe made it clear that his knowledge of astrology extends to an understanding of his birth chart, which he correctly described as being a mixture of Capricorn toughness and the creativity that flows from his Moon in Pisces and his Ascending sign, Libra.
He may well have added that with four planets and three asteroids in Sagittarius, the sign of the Centaur is also strong in his make-up. It’s no surprise, then, to find that the fellow members of R.E.M. also have Sagittarius strong in their horoscopes. Peter Buck (b. 6/12/56) and Mike Mills (b.17/12/58) each have their Sun and two other planets in Sag, while Mills shares exactly the same Moon position as Stipe. Bill Berry (b 31/7/58) also has planets in Sagittarius while his Sun is in another fire sign, Leo.
Put all four charts together and what emerges is a band with an abundance of the creative, yearning spirit associated with the element of fire. With so many of their individual planets overlapping, this also looks like a band whose members feel almost married to each other. *1
R.E.M.’s success, however, has always rested on the brilliance of their frontman and lyric writer. With his Sun next to Saturn in Capricorn, one suspects Stipe has also been the main influence on the band’s financial and business affairs; no-one with these planets is going to get ripped off. Turning to his other passion, film, Stipe has been shrewd in backing to films that have succeeded both artistically and financially (Being John Malkovich, Velvet Goldmine), a role that looks set to expand in future years. No other rock star has played the role of producer so successfully, though Mick Jagger is trying.
Capricorn is the sign of maturity, and many of its subjects grow up as ‘old heads on young shoulders’. Typically, their childhoods are not ones they look back on with affection – Stipe grew up an army brat, always on the move, his main friendships provided by his two sisters – but things get easier for them as they grow older.
Like many people, famous or not, Stipe’s career can be measured against the 29 year cycle of Saturn – indeed, like Gwen Stefani and Goldie, he has written a song about his ‘Saturn Return’ at the age of 29. Though Stipe’s ‘Saturn Return’ didn’t appear until fairly recently – on 2001’s Reveal album – one suspects it may have been written far earlier.
At Saturn’s halfway mark – at age 14 – Stipe nearly lost his life when he got lost on a mountain and caught hypothermia. At Saturn’s three-quarter mark, at age 21, the first R.E.M. single (‘Radio Free Europe’) appeared, establishing them on the college radio/underground scene. *2 By the time Saturn has returned to its starting point in Stipe’s horoscope, in early 1989, R.E.M. had released a string of hit albums, been acclaimed by Rolling Stone as ‘America’s best rock band’, and had signed to Warners for a seven figure sum.
During 1986-89, the years when Saturn and the revolutionary planet Uranus passed through the sign of Sagittarius, the three other members of REM experienced their own ‘Saturn Return’ By the time that Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were all present in Capricorn in 1990 – for the first time since 1821 – Stipe was ready to move up a gear. Although REM’s first Warners album, Green, had been a success, it was the songs that Stipe wrote in 1990 that established the group as superstars, notably Shiny Happy People and Losing My Religion, the latter being a perfect fit for Stipe’s planets at the time *3. Saturn is above all the planet of realism, and it was at this point that Stipe made his cryptic lyrics clearer, so becoming accessible to a wider public.
The challenges facing REM changed dramatically in 1996, thanks to the arrival of Pluto the slow-moving planet of transformation, in Sagittarius (it’s there until 2010). Almost immediately two things happened; the group signed a Warners deal that won them an unprecedented 80m*4 and drummer Bill Berry left the band. Pluto’s energies can be dark and difficult, but so far the band have escaped intact, and the crusading, morally courageous side of Sagittarius has remained in evidence, not least at the last US election when they campaigned against George Bush.
The future for Michael Stipe looks as remarkable as his past. He is unlikely to be content to cruise on his reputation. If anything, he will become more daring. In the year beginning December 2006 REM will again prove themselves world-beaters, with a career-defining new album and a mega-tour.*5 2008 elevates Stipe’s role as movie producer – and perhaps movie director. At this point his stardom takes on a different character, perhaps as an icon of a new, post-Bush USA, an embodiment of the true American spirit, a role that will be magnified shortly after Michael’s 50th birthday.*6
1. The overlaps between REM’s Sagittarius planets are remarkable. Buck, Mills and Berry all have Saturn in Sag. Buck, Mills and Stipe all have Mercury in Sag – they think alike! The group’s common planets also means they ‘stay in step’. Stipe, with his Jupiter in its own sign of Sag makes him almost as much a Sagittarian as a Capricorn.
2. REM’s initial breakthrough coincided with Jupiter’s second return in Sagittarius in Stipe’s chart.
3. Neptune, planet of charisma, spirituality and illusion, hovered over Stipe’s Sun throughout the year, dissolving his old certainties.
4 The money planet Jupiter was conjunct Stipe’s Saturn on the day he signed the deal.
5 Jupiter in Sagittarius, making its fifth return in Stipe’s chart.
6. Transit Pluto conjunct natal Saturn, January 2013.