(CNN) – American teenager Brad Milley explored Europe by rail in the summer of 1984 with his Sony Walkman in his ears.
Days spent wandering through Paris record stores and evenings sampling Berlin nightlife were soundtracked by Miley’s favorite albums.
Miley’s mother also traveled to Europe that summer, but when she opted to visit five-star hotels and famous city landmarks, Miley and her brothers stayed in hostels and spent their days roaming the streets, looking for places to visit. Where his favorite artists laid the tracks.
For Miley, who grew up in New Jersey, the pinnacle of music was David Bowie, the cult British singer. They had posters of Bowie on their walls. He took style cues from the man known as Ziggy Stardust. Bowie was Mille’s hero – and being in Europe made Bowie’s music even more resonant.
One evening, while in the UK, Miley and his brother visited their mother for dinner. She was staying at the Strand’s luxurious Savoy Hotel, a bustling London street with a theater and bar.
Miley was in peak Bowie mode that night: a gray wide-brimmed hat with a double-breasted blazer, baggy pants, braces, and a bow tie. On her feet, she wore a flashy pair of red oxfords in honor of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” lyrics: “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.”
“I definitely wanted that David Bowie, London vibe,” Milley says.
After dinner, Miley went into the night alone. His attention was immediately drawn to a street near Savoy, where a group of people had gathered.
Mille says it’s bizarre for him to remember now, but he remembers thinking: “It’s clearly David Bowie.”
He walked down the street, towards the Victorian Savoy Theatre.
“It was almost revealing itself to me as it was happening,” Miley says now. “It couldn’t be any more. And then all of a sudden, I saw David Bowie running up a drainpipe, over a crowd of people.”
It was as if Miley had wandered the length and breadth of Europe with Bowie’s melodies in his ears. Now, the man behind the music was only a few yards in front of him.
step into the frame
Bowie was in the middle of filming a music video for “Jazzin’ Blue Jean”, a 21-minute extended film featuring the soon-to-be single “Blue Jean”. It stars Bowie as two characters: gawky Vic, who is trying to impress a girl, and Screaming Lord Byron, a Bowie-esque rock star.
Milley recalls that some barricades were erected to prevent passers-by from getting into the shot, but the dozen or so people watching the filming were allowed to do so as long as they didn’t create an obstruction.
In “Jazzin'” for Blue Jean, there is a moment when Bowie, as Vic, clogs up a drainpipe, tries to break into a nightclub.
“I came on the shoot for that particular scene which they did over and over [Bowie’s] Double,” says Miley.
Every so often the director would swap in the real Bowie. Miele looked on in disbelief.
Things got even more real when one of the crew approached Miley and asked if he wanted to be an extra for the rest of the shoot.
“I almost died,” wrote Miley, a teenager, in his diary the next day.
“I think I was the only one in the crowd that they grabbed and dragged and kicked out,” Milley tells TODAY.
He put it into his clothing, suggesting that his Bowie-esque style was a perfect fit for the film’s aesthetic.
Mille was there for the next several hours, filming, observing and stealing eyes from his musical idol.
meet a hero
At the end of “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean”, the fourth wall is broken. Viewers can see the film’s crew, and Bowie questioning the end of the film as he breaks into character.
Miley doesn’t remember seeing that discussion play out, so he wonders if he was on the final night of filming instead of the last day. The last scenes he saw took place inside the Savoy Theatre, which stood for the fictional Bosphorus room, where Bowie’s Screaming Lord Byron character performs in the video.
When filming ended that evening, the cast and crew sipped beers and chatted. That’s when Miley mustered up the courage to talk to Bowie.
“I probably could have done it quicker, but obviously I was in shock,” he says now. “I think I probably said 20 words to him.”
Mille believes some of those words may be about Bowie’s 1977 album “Lo,” which was one of Mille’s favorites, but the moment is a bit hazy.
Mille also remembers getting Bowie’s autograph, but has lost it in nearly four decades.
Miley came back to his hostel at 6:30, later that day, blindly, he wrote in his diary about meeting his idol.
“He’s like a normal guy,” Milley wrote.
“He was a kind person in the conversations I had seen of him,” Milley tells TODAY. “And he was kind to me, and I think it was great.”
“I think it definitely showed me a side that you just don’t see in musicians, right? Just watching someone interact with the world over the course of six or seven hours. It’s an interesting perspective.”
Later that year, the video “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean” premiered on MTV. Miley’s European adventures ended long ago, and he saw the film for the first time at his best friend’s house in New Jersey. Later, he bought the video on Betamax, a type of early video format, so that he could watch it whenever he wanted.
In 1985, “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean” won a Grammy for Best Music Video.
step into the unknown
Today, Miley remains a Bowie fan, even though she may have stopped dressing like him a few decades ago.
When Bowie passed away in 2016, Miley surprised himself by how emotional he had become upon hearing the news.
“I really felt it,” he says.
Soon after Bowie’s death, and in the years that followed, Mille found himself reflecting on his European adventure, meeting his idol and everything that happened in his life.
For Miley, the story symbolizes the importance of stepping into the sometimes unknown in your journey and everyday life, because you never know what awaits you.
“Many people don’t do that, and keep their head straight, look ahead, or whatever,” he says. “But if you don’t step into space, you’ll never have stuff like that.”