For R.E.M., I had an idea. Then [Warner Bros.] asked me if I’d be writing it down and sending it. I said that was why I hadn’t done any videos since [“Tired of Sleeping”]. They said that [R.E.M.] live in Athens and I could go visit. I called my sister because I hadn’t been to Europe for so long and I was so excited I was going to see my family; then, of course, the day before, I find out it’s Athens, Georgia. But I said, “No problem,” because I’m in college and I’m getting paid to go somewhere.
I went and saw Stipe and the guys for probably a day and a half. All I wanted to see was where he stays, where he lives and what he does. Something was missing from the idea, one little piece. I spent a day with him, in the evening we went clubbing. I saw him dance and I thought, “That’s the missing element!”
He thought that I was procrastinating and not pitching the idea. When I was leaving the next day, he said, “When are you going to…?” I said, “I’m not supposed to tell anybody the idea, but if you want, I’ll try to explain it to you.” I told him there’s a story by Gabriel García Márquez called “A Very Old Man With Wings” in which this freak angel arrives and nobody knows quite what to do with it. So it’s that story, told abstractly through the style of these guys called Pierre et Gilles, who are these iconic gay photographers that take how Indians do their gods and goddesses, then they do that to the Western gods. I said that it would be interesting to have an Indian copying two French guys copying Indian work. That’s the style of one piece [in the video], that’s the heavenly abode. And the place where the angel lands, it would look like Caravaggio, whose lighting I really like. Then there’d be propaganda posters, which is a third group of people who might see this event, but might misinterpret it or come up with a different solution altogether. I said [to Stipe], “I didn’t know how the three will be cut with each other, except I saw you dance, and I think that can be interesting.” And that was my pitch. I’m sure it made no sense.
One of the things that happened at that particular time was that [R.E.M.] were in a bit of a tough situation. They were the darlings of everybody cool. Matt Mahurin had done a couple of videos with them that I adored. The problem was that Stipe had gone around saying that he would never lip sync. The thing that changed him was he saw the Sinead O’Connor video [for “Nothing Compares 2 U”]. It doesn’t have anything to do with what the song is about, you’re looking at a person’s face.
You have to understand my mentality was of an absolute student. You have no money, no nothing. My brother was working as a janitor, my girlfriend at the time was bussing tables. You’re literally doing that and somebody comes along and says, “Here’s 100 grand.” You’re like, “Fucking hell. We are going to change the world!”