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When R.E.M. first met David Bowie

David Bowie’s legacy is so huge that he influenced practically every alternative artist in one way or another. One tremendous band that Bowie counts among his disciples is R.E.M. Luckily for the Georgia-born band, they got to meet their idol, and according to frontman Michael Stipe, Bowie was “everything you’d expect times ten”.

Although the indie legends split up in 2011, this didn’t stop them from discussing life in the band during a 2017 interview with BBC 6 on The First Time. Looking back on their long career with the band, they remembered Bowie with great fondness. “We met David Bowie for the first time in Switzerland in 1995 when Bill Berry had an aneurysm on stage,” Michael Stipe recalled.

“Claude Nobs was the man who started Montreux Jazz Festival, and he invited us to dinner,” he added. “We came to dinner at his house and he had flown in a band to perform from somewhere, and a chef from somewhere else to cook. Upon arriving at his beautiful home, he said ‘a few people are going to be joining us tonight, including David Bowie.'”

Casting his mind back, Stipe remembered: “I said ‘I need to take a nap’, so I went upstairs. We were on tour, and our adrenaline was through the roof from performing. Suddenly we had this cold-stop because of Bill. We’re stuck in this place in Switzerland, waiting for him to live or do. He lived and everything’s great, but it was a really tense moment.”

Stipe remembered being woken from his nap to someone saying: “Mr Bowie has arrived and dinner is served”. So weary, it took the frontman three espressos to even be able to walk downstairs. When he did make it, he looked Bowie in the eye and said, “How do you do? It’s nice to meet you finally.”

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The pair hit it off immediately, and Stipe remembered ‘The Starman’ in the best way possible: “He did not stop talking for three hours. It was unbelievable – he was so engaging, so funny, and so smart.”

Bassist Mike Mills also gave his two cents, explaining that Bowie was talking about the new millennium and the reasons behind the younger generation’s craze of body modification. Bowie felt that they were “suffering millennial angst”, although they weren’t aware of it. He was convinced that the fashion choices of tattoos and piercings were actually driven by the dawn of the new century. Bowie believed that it was “having some kind of psychological effect on them”.

One of the most multi-faceted musicians to have graced the earth, the pair also discussed how Bowie also had a book of his original artwork with him. It contained a miniature version of sculptures he was working on, and a photograph of a teenage James Dean naked in a tree. A captivating first audience with Bowie, Stipe called him “fascinating”.

It’s through stories such as this where Bowie lives on. An interesting and dense individual, it seems as if on everyone he met, he left an indelible impression.

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