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Niall Doherty

“I remember seeing my first rock legend snorting cocaine in the bathroom, like, ‘Oh, I’ve heard about this’”: Foo Fighters’ Nate Mendel on the night they played at David Bowie’s epic 50th birthday bash

Bowie's 50th birthday bash in 1997.

David Bowie put on a very special bash for his 50th birthday party in January, 1997. Nope, not for Bowie a trip to TGI Fridays or a disco in his local church hall or a reunion of his 11-a-side footy team (although he did all those things too, who knows?) - for his big 5-0, Bowie put on a huge celebratory show at iconic New York venue Madison Square Garden, playing through his classic hits with the help of some famous friends including Robert Smith, Frank Black, Billy Corgan, Kim Gordon and Lou Reed. Foo Fighters performed too, playing with Bowie on a sizzling version of his drum’n’bass-tinged track Hallo Spaceboy. Dave Grohl’s band were still a relatively new bunch at that point – their debut was released in 1995 – and a few years ago, bassist Nate Mendel told this writer how the star-studded bash was a bit of an eye-opener.

“It was kind of a milestone for us because it ended up being the last time our first drummer William Goldsmith played with the band,” Mendel said. “And it was our first time in Madison Square Garden, first time we met Bowie and first time that we probably played a stage anywhere near that big. It was just right on the heels of us having recorded The Colour And The Shape, this came up somewhere in there recording that record. It was pulling us out of the studio, going to New York, meeting a legend and just having all these firsts. It was pretty monumental from my perspective, it was impactful.”

Thinking back to the night of the show, Mendel remembered feeling intimidated backstage in the presence of numerous legeneds. “Everybody was very supportive,” he said, “so we were quickly able able to get over those nerves of being asked to do this monumental thing. Bowie was so gracious and approachable. I remember it being good vibes. And seeing my first rock legend snorting cocaine in the bathroom too. It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve heard about this, I’ve read about this in books and there you are doing it’.”

Whilst Mendel wouldn’t divulge who it was getting stuck into the Columbian marching powder, he did say that he cringes every time he sees the famous photo of Bowie and all his guests – the picture at the top of this page. “Every once in a while, my wife will pull up the photo and have a good laugh,” he said. “Everyone is in black and looking like they’re in a rock band, and I get seated directly behind Bowie for the photo, which is unfortunate because I’m in a white button-up short sleeve shirt that’s about 10 times too big for me. It’s a bad look and it’s very prominent due to the scope of the sizing and the colour.”

Mendel has better memories of the actual performance, though. “I remember it going well, actually being fun in the moment. It worked and I was able to focus on the fact that ‘Oh, I’m 20 feet away from Bowie and we’re playing a song together’.” Watch footage from the performance below:

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