The defunct indie veterans were being interviewed by BBC 6 Music’s Matt Everitt for ‘The First Time’, looking back on their career and inspirations. During their chat, the conversation turned to their time with The Thin White Duke – after frontman Michael Stipe paid tribute to Bowie with a rare solo TV performance last year.
“We met David Bowie for the first time in Switzerland in 1995 when Bill Berry had an aneurysm on stage,” said Stipe. “Claude Nobs was the man who started Montreux Jazz Festival, and he invited us to dinner. 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.
“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 continued: “I went upstairs and took a nap, and at whatever point someone came in and woke me up and said ‘Mr Bowie has arrived and dinner is served’. I said ‘I need three espressos please’. It took me three espressos to walk down the stairs, look David Bowie in the eye and say ‘how do you do? It’s nice to meet you finally.”
“He did not stop talking for three hours. It was unbelievable – he was so engaging, so funny, and so smart.”
Revealing the subject of the conversation, bassist Mike Mills said: “He was talking about the upcoming millennium, and he had opinions on why there was so much body modification going on among young people. He felt that they were suffering millennial angst even though they weren’t aware of it. He was really convinced that people were getting all the tattoos and the piercings because of the upcoming century change. It was having some kind of psychological effect on them.”
Stipe added: “He had a book of his own original artwork with him, he had miniatures of sculptures that he had been working on, he had a photo of James Dean as a teenager – naked in a tree. He was just fascinating. Everything that you would expect from David Bowie, times ten. That was the first time we met him.”
Matt Everitt’s The First Time with REM airs on BBC 6 Music this Sunday at 1pm.