One of the most well-known songs written for River, E-Bow the Letter is said to be based on a letter Michael Stipe started writing before River’s death and finished writing after. I’ll get straight to the point here. If River’s death was the result of premeditated murder by a very powerful group, wouldn’t they have the authority to alter the official autopsy report?

Captain Ray Ribar (a paramedic on the scene) stated in a well-circulated interview that River suffered the classic cocaine overreaction… Really? Suffering grand mal seizures for nearly ten minutes is standard? I’ll say this much, I’ve been a part of the drug culture, I’ve had friends and family who have struggled with cocaine addiction for many years and I’ve never heard of anyone suffering convulsions for that long. But hey, it’s Hollywood right? Here’s the thing, if River’s death was a planned poisoning I suspect they would use something a little easier to hide in his drink.

Below is a most peculiar segment from R.E.M.’s E-bow the Letter:

I can’t look it in the eye, seconal, Spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene, cherry-flavored neck and collar, I can smell the sorrow on your breath, the sweat, the victory and sorrow, the smell of fear, I got it
Is Stipe actually telling us what killed River? Let’s take a look:

Seconal: A barbiturate that possesses anaesthetic, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, sedative, and hypnotic properties. It’s one of the most common drugs prescribed under physician assisted dying laws. It’s also a component in the veterinary drug Somulose, used for euthanasia of horses and cattle.

Spanish Fly: An aphrodisiac derived from an emerald-green blister beetle. Cantharidin is the powerful blister-inducing substance produced by the beetle and is known to be as toxic and as poisonous as strychnine. Because of the ease of toxic overdose, Spanish fly has been banned in most countries.

Absinthe: A highly alcoholic licorice-flavored spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of the wormwood plant. The French word absinthe can refer either to the alcoholic beverage or, less commonly, to the actual wormwood plant. Thujone is a naturally occurring chemical derived from wormwood which causes convulsive seizures in high doses.

Kerosene: A combustible hydrocarbon liquid widely used to power jet engines and also used in households for cooking and lighting. Kerosene poisoning causes breathing difficulty, throat swelling, vomiting, collapse, convulsions and death.

(Note: Samantha Mathis reportedly told William Richert that River’s neck swelled after he drank from the cup given to him by John Frusciante. While I don’t believe Frusciante is the guilty party, her description is worth noting.) 


P is a band NOT a liquid or a fruit.
Blossom castle scents has her guest.

The first line is found on the inside spread of P’s album. The second line is from River’s song Soul Removal.

 Cherry-flavored neck and collar…

Cherry Blossoms = Blossom castle scents = Fruit

In Japan, cherry blossoms embody the concept of Mono no aware which literally “the pathos of things”, and also translates as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”. It’s a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality, for this reason, cherry blossoms are richly symbolic. (Wikipedia)

I couldn’t taste it… 

While cherry blossom trees do not produce fruit, the symbolism is quite fitting. If River was given a drink spiked with the above contents, the added flavoring of cherry might mask the taste of the most deadly ingredient, kerosene. A small dose of the liquid combined with everything else listed above would surely do the trick. It’s a disturbing concept to consider but certainly makes more sense than cooking up 8x’s the lethal amount of cocaine and 4x’s the lethal amount of heroin to slip in his drink.

We saw what could be cherry blossoms in the Bittersweet Me video pictured behind Heart’s character and the kingship.

Also worth mentioning, one of the most popular stories told about Michael Stipe is the time he was fifteen-years-old and made himself sick eating a bowl of cherries while listening to Patti Smith. Coincidentally, Patti Smith appears in the video for E-bow the Letter

Cherry-flavored neck and collar could be a description of River falling ill and vomiting at the table as every eyewitness account has him doing. Michael Stipe can’t look it in the eye–who could? He can smell the sorrow and fear on River’s breath, got it, he knows what actually happened.

…cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
dreaming of Maria Callas
whoever she is

In this verse we have another reference to cherries. Cherry Mash is a classic chocolate candy with a cherry-flavored center. It’s also an alcoholic drink. Tinfoil tiaras is an interesting line. While some think it’s a reference to smoking heroin (the song does mention fields of poppies) it could also be referring to River’s beliefs. As we’ve seen in previous posts, he often talked about a New World Order, the World Bank, and a tri-lateral multinational corporate link up. Conspiracy theorists wear tinfoil hats but River was a star (with unsurpassable beauty in my opinion) so he wore a tiara.

whoever she is…

Maria Callas was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Forced into the entertainment industry, she harbored a deep resentment for her parents, particularly her mother:

“I’ll never forgive her for taking my childhood away. During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money. Everything I did for them was mostly good and everything they did to me was mostly bad.” (Wikipedia)

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion Michael Stipe knows exactly who Maria Callas is.


Heavy Metal

Stipe also makes reference to various metals (Uranium, zinc, brass and aluminum) in many of his song lyrics. I’m currently toying with the idea that it has something to do with that “water” River refused to drink. These corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet, is a key line. The water heals trauma, the cuts and dents that come to light, the suppressed memories that surface. The water, aluminum, is the weakest link because River refused to partake.

smoke it, drink
here comes the flood
anything to thin the blood
these corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
phone, eat it, drink
just another chink
cuts and dents, they catch the light
aluminum, the weakest link

The obvious drug references–alcohol, marijuana (or heroin) and pill popping–are not to be overlooked but I do think there’s a deeper meaning. It’s almost as if Stipe is telling River, “smoke your stuff, pop your pills (eat it), drink your alcohol and call me late like you always do, but the flood is coming. Drink the water. It’s just another bump in the road.”

Aluminum, tastes like fear, adrenaline, it pulls us near.

Fear is known to produce large amounts of adrenaline.

I’ll take you over there.

This line could be in reference to the kingship, Heart, or both, pushing River into a Handler relationship with Michael Stipe. I’ll take you over in the afterlife. Check out this link for Muse’s video “The Handler” for an idea of what that entails.

E-Bow the Letter Lyrics


E-bow is a battery-powered electronic device used for playing the guitar.

Send the letter through music, which is exactly what we have here.

(Video analysis up next)

Watch for Stipe to display the water symbol in the video below. Live performance from 1998 with Patti Smith:

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One thought on “E-bow the Letter

  1. The following is taken from the Jimmy Reardon Facebook page: “The point is that if the drugs that killed River Phoenix were not got into him arriving through the nose, and were not found in the stomach – is it possible that the drugs that killed River were the ones in the cup, not just those old standbys coke and heroin, but a mixture of something the coroner did not test for? Or is it possible that the coke and heroin were expedited and lethally enhanced by the addition of the substance in the cup?”

    I think William Richert will probably agree with you on this one. I don’t think the autopsy report was completely altered, as it indicates that the cocktail wasn’t snorted or injected which doesn’t gel with the official explanation, and Arlyn wanted to call off the autopsy by having River’s body before it was conducted. Perhaps she wouldn’t have liked the results? The toxicological analyses were carried by six different toxicologists, like ten days after the incident took place. Perhaps they were bribed?

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