Where were you the first time you heard Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)”?
The artist sent that question into the world on Wednesday, the 29th anniversary of the song, which was chosen for the star-studded soundtrack of the movie Reality Bites and became a huge hit. Surprisingly, she was still unsigned at the time, and the track gave her the distinction of being the first independent artist to land at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
One of the many responses she received was from none other than Ben Stiller, who played the yuppy executive at an MTV-ish channel who turned the footage that Lelaina (Winona Ryder) had captured of her friends’s lives into an artificial joke.
“I think in my Jeep Cherokee somewhere in the Valley listening on the demo cassette Ethan gave me…,” Stiller wrote.
Ethan, of course, is Ethan Hawke, who stars in the movie as disaffected twentysomething Troy, who is both loved and loathed by Lelaina, one of his roommates navigating the “real world” post-college. Hawke happened to be Loeb’s friend and neighbor in New York City back then, and he’s the one who passed her song along for consideration to Stiller, the director of what’s become a cult classic.
The video for Loeb’s song — which famously features only her, outfitted in a Betsey Johnson dress and cat-eye glasses, along with her cat — has become a classic, too. Remember, Loeb was still an unsigned artist, so she had to license the song to RCA and convince them to make it. She had a persuasive argument.
“I think the record company let us make a video because Ethan Hawke was directing it, because he was a movie star,” Loeb told Yahoo Entertainment in February 2020. “But really, the great part about the video was that he decided to shoot it all in one take.”
“We shot it a million times,” she added. “There’s so many outtakes.”
The singer explained that she initially wanted her band, Nine Stories, to be alongside her. It was Hawke who wanted her solo.
“I was like, ‘People need to see that I really play guitar! This is really important to me, my guitar playing!’ I studied it for years, and I’m super into it,” she said. “They needed to see my band, because I’m not a girl, I’m a person with a band.”
While Hawke did film a few takes of Loeb with her band, even she later agreed that just her and her guitar, in a vacant apartment with only Hawke’s cat as a co-star, “told the story so much better.”
Audiences loved it, too, and, just like the song, the video was in demand. Loeb and her glasses became a look that others wanted to imitate.
“At the beginning, when I was starting to get played on the radio and all that stuff and commercial success was happening, I didn’t want to talk about my glasses. I wanted to talk about my music and my guitar playing and all this other stuff, which I thought was more musician-y,” Loeb said. But “people stopped me all the time after a while and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel comfortable wearing my glasses, because you wear yours.’ That still happens today. People stop me at airports and grocery stores and they say, ‘My little girl will wear her glasses, because you wear glasses.'”
Here’s the full video of the song that started it all: