E-Bow the Letter

Album: New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
Charted: 4 49


  • This was the lead single from R.E.M.'s tenth studio album.
  • Patti Smith sang backing vocals on this song, a life-changing experience for Peter Buck. He explained in the liner notes for the hits compilation In Time:

    "I first saw Patti Smith perform in 1976, and I remember thinking that I would gladly give 10 years off my life to be the bass player for her group. I know Michael was equally as inspired by Patti, and when he came up with a Ronettes-style vocal chorus, it was obvious who we had to call. It was such an incredible experience watching Patti sing this song - a song we wrote! I had all the cliche reactions; chills ran up and down my spine, the hair stood up on the back on my neck, etc. My life did not flash before my eyes, but it was a close thing."
  • Jem Cohen filmed R.E.M. in Los Angeles for the music video, while guest Patti Smith was filmed on location in Prague. The clip has the guys performing in a room romantically lit with strings upon strings of white lights.
  • Michael Stipe sings, "Dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is." Callas was a renowned Greek soprano and one of the most noted opera singers of the 20th century.
  • An "E-Bow" is an electronic device used to play the electric guitar, using an electromagnetic field to manipulate the strings instead of fingers or a pick.
  • This was allegedly inspired by a letter Stipe wrote, but never sent, to his troubled friend River Phoenix. The actor died of drug-induced heart failure in 1993, at age 23.
  • R.E.M released an alternative version of the song on their 2018 BBC box set. The live performance features Radiohead's Thom Yorke replacing Patti Smith's vocal contribution. The track was recorded at a 2004 invitation-only concert at London's St. James Church on that was broadcast on BBC Radio 2.

    Thom Yorke had previously performed the song with R.E.M. at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, DC.


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