Remembering R.E.M. and Thom Yorke’s live duet of ‘E-Bow the Letter’
We’re dipping back into the Far Out Magazine ‘From The Vault’ section to revisit a magnificent version of R.E.M. song ‘E-Bow The Letter’ featuring Thom Yorke. The original version features Patti Smith so it’s an almost impossible task to replicate her greatness but if anyone can… then it’s Mr. Yorke.
The live show in which the two acts combine, saw over 120,000 people flock to the RFK Stadium to spread the message of the province breaking away from China’s restraints. The incredible line-up, which took place over two nights, saw performances from the likes of Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Sean Lennon, A Tribe Called Quest, Dave Matthews Band, Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Pulp, as well as John Frusciante, making his first major appearance with Red Hot Chilli Peppers for the first time since he left some years before.
The 1998 event was packed full of joyous surprises, none better than the love-in between R.E.M. and Radiohead with Michael Stipe joining the Oxfordshire rockers for a rendition of ‘Lucky’ which was a beautiful moment and later on we would see Yorke pay back the favour as he linked up with R.E.M. for a rendition of ‘E-Bow the Letter’.
Patti Smith was originally due to duet with R.E.M. on the number but, unfortunately, she wasn’t able to make schedules work which led to the Radiohead frontman stepping up and delivering an iconic performance that was the highlight of the two-day event.
Yorke would appear with the group once more in 2004 to perform the same song when R.E.M. played a very special intimate show at London’s St. James’ Church. Later, the audio was released for in 2018 and it remains a wonderful take on the original with Yorke putting his own unique spin on Smith’s section of the song rather than try to mimic her stylistically.
There is vast respect between the two artists and Yorke even revealed last year to VinylWriters that R.E.M.’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi was his favourite record of all time. The Radiohead man described Michael Stipe as being a “genius” and that “his lyrics are like a car ride along a street full of traffic signs and billboards. A neon-coloured trip, total cinema in your head, and endlessly inspiring”.
Yorke also noted how the band changed his life in the best possible way and made him accept it’s okay to be different, stating: “Before I discovered R.E.M. in the mid-eighties, I was listening to bands like Japan. Music to kill time with. Then I discovered R.E.M. and it turned my life upside down. Michael Stipe was singing about his flaws and weaknesses, and that it is okay to be weird. I was weird. And through his songs Stipe spoke to me, ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.’ Shortly after that, I signed up for art school and started to take making music seriously.”
Watch these two great forces of music combine on a glorious rendition of ‘E-Bow The Letter’, below.