However, when David Bowie met John Lennon for the first time, their friendship got off to a slow start – as Bowie was reportedly starstruck and couldn’t speak for about two hours!
The meeting took place in 1975, when Bowie, 28, was already a megastar. His single, Space Oddity, had peaked at number five in the UK singles chart in 1969. He had established himself as a major force on the live circuit, with his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, exploding on tour in 1972 and ’73.
However, it appeared Bowie was rendered speechless when he met Lennon, 35, in a New York Hotel room. Lennon had been a member of arguably the world’s biggest band, the Beatles, for almost ten years, until they split up in 1970. Bowie had always loved the Beatles and was a fan before he became famous himself.
Lennon and Bowie had arranged to meet with a view to collaborating on some musical tracks. However, according to Bowie’s long-time friend, musical collaborator and record producer Tony Visconti, the Starman singer appeared “terrified” of the former Beatle. In a meeting later described as an “awkward children’s playdate”, Bowie got out his sketch pad and started doing charcoal drawings while the pair sat in silence.
Bowie was known to be a great art lover, having attended art school before embarking on his singing career. He had helped run an art book publishing company and in 1998 exhibited his own work. Collecting art for years, he had a treasured Rubens’ painting and said art was the only thing he had ever wanted to own.
Although Visconti never expanded on Bowie’s attack of nerves, he had accompanied the star to the meeting to help break the ice. However, both Bowie and Lennon had been sitting in awkward silence for most of the meeting, until Lennon used his companion’s love of art to start up a conversation. He finally asked Bowie for a few sheets of his sketch pad, explaining, “I want to draw you.” Bowie replied, “That’s a good idea,” so the silence was finally broken when the duo began drawing caricatures of each other.
Visconti said this rather surreal moment finally got the two stars chatting and laughing, forming the basis of a “great friendship” that lasted until Lennon’s untimely death in 1980.
The two extremely talented songwriters collaborated musically when Bowie recorded a cover version of the Beatles’ song, Across the Universe, which was written by Lennon. He called Lennon and invited him to play on the cover version.
After completing the recording, they started to jam, along with guitarist and composer Carlos Alomar. This impromptu session resulted in Bowie’s iconic 1975 single, Fame, which topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and achieved gold certification, selling one million copies in America. Both songs appeared on Young Americans, Bowie’s hit album. Fame was his first number one in the US, with Lennon singing backing vocals on the recording.
Aged 69, David Bowie died from cancer on 10th January 2016, after a career spanning more than 50 years.
Both Lennon and Bowie live on through the legacy of their wonderful music and song-writing and continue to inspire generations of young musicians and singers. Even though their first meeting didn’t get off to a great start, it resulted in one of the most awesome musical collaborations of the 20th century.
Bowie’s cover version of Lennon’s song, Mother, was released posthumously on 8th January 2021 to mark what would have been Bowie’s 74th birthday. The limited-edition seven-inch single was recorded between 1997 and 1998 but had never been released before.
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