Atlanta writer Tom Junod has no apologies for making up much of a profile on R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe for Esquire magazine, saying he wanted people to question celebrity journalism.
In the profile for the June issue, Junod describes the 41-year-old Stipe eating all the sugar in a dispenser at a Los Angeles restaurant, then licking the top. He also writes about a five-hour limo trip to the Hoover Dam and recounts how Stipe sucks on two pennies and then sticks them on his eyelids.
None of these things happened, Junod said.
Esquire offers clues that the story is partly fictional, saying in a subheadline that to make the Athens, Ga.-based singer “a great mythic rock’n’roller, it’s almost as if you have to make half the story up. So that is what we did. But only half.”
A tagline at the end directs readers to a Web site for an annotated version that separates fact from fiction.
“I think it was pretty clear what I’d done, and I did it to create precisely this type of reaction,” Junod told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for Friday’s editions. “I want people to question the enterprise of celebrity journalism, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Junod, a National Magazine Award-winning reporter, said there’s a long tradition of rock stars “putting on” journalists, and that he turned the tables.
“The story as it is written in the magazine is what I thought about him distilled into fiction,” he said. “I think Michael Stipe comes alive in the fictional section.”
Esquire editor in chief David Granger said the article “intrigued me on a level of basic curiosity about what is true and what’s not.”
“In the first place, one of our duties is to amuse and entertain our audience,” Granger said. “We took great pains to keep from deceiving people.”