David Bowie and John Lennon first met in scenes that are more reminiscent of an awkward children’s playdate than the summit of two of rock’s biggest stars, according to a new interview with music producer Tony Visconti.
Speaking on the Bowie: Dancing Out in Space program, which will air on BBC Radio 4 and 6Music on January 10 to mark five years since Bowie’s death, Visconti, who produced 11 of Bowie’s studio albums, tells the story. of how the couple met in a hotel room in York, prior to their collaborations on Bowie’s 1975 song, Fame, and their version of the Lennon-written Beatles song Across the Universe.
“I was terrified to meet John Lennon,” says Visconti, whom Bowie asked to come along and “cushion the situation.” Added:
At about one in the morning I knocked on the door and for the next two hours, John Lennon and David did not speak. Instead, David was sitting on the floor with an art book and charcoal and was drawing things and completely ignoring Lennon. So after about two hours of that, [John] finally he said to David: ‘Tear that pad in half and give me some sheets. I want to draw you. ‘ So David said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea,’ and it finally opened up. So John started doing caricatures of David, and David started doing the same to John and they kept swapping them and then they started laughing and that broke the ice.
Visconti says the couple’s “great friendship” was resolved thereafter. A week later, Bowie called Lennon to invite him to play on the cover of Across the Universe; After the recording, a jam they worked on together became Fame, co-written with guitarist Carlos Alomar.
Both songs ended up on the 1975 album Young Americans, whose title track features another Beatles reference, the line, “Heard the news today, oh boy.” Fame, in which Lennon also sang backing vocals in falsetto, reached number 1 to become Bowie’s first American hit.
Visconti, 76, also refers to the encounter in his 2007 autobiography Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy. He met his future wife May Pang, who was dating Lennon while he was separated from Yoko Ono, for the first time that night, and offended her with an inaccurate comment on kung fu. “Over time, everyone in the room began to engage in a sadly dark conversation about ‘What does this all mean?’, ‘That’ is life, which left us all staring downcast; the waning effects of cognac and coca did not help us, ”he wrote.
He added that he left around 10 a.m. that morning, came back at 4 p.m. and found Bowie awake in exactly the same place where he had left him, and announced that he was finally going to bed.
A previously unreleased version of Bowie’s song Mother by Lennon, which was addressed to his absent parents, was released on January 8 to commemorate what would have been Bowie’s 74th birthday.
Visconti says in the BBC interview that Bowie’s mother, Margaret, “was a very withdrawn and very sad person. She probably suffered from chronic depression… She was in poor health and although they didn’t get along very well, he returned to London to see her. So, he loved her anyway … [the cover of] Mother was probably a reaction to that, maybe a way of expressing that. “
Visconti, whose career with Bowie dates back to Bowie’s second self-titled album in 1969, also talked about his latest album Blackstar, released in 2016 on his 69th birthday two days before he died of liver cancer at his home in New York. Informed by jazz, electronica, and Kendrick Lamar, it is now regarded as one of Bowie’s best releases.
“His enthusiasm was incredible,” says Visconti. “It was important to him. I knew what his health problems were. Finishing this album was important to him. But we never talked about it, apart from a private conversation I had with him before the album, his health was never mentioned. Honestly, he didn’t even look sick or didn’t act sick, he was in great shape. In that song you could hear that her voice was probably the strongest of her life. “
Visconti also said that Bowie will be “remembered as Beethoven… in a hundred years… He is more than an Elvis, because Elvis never wrote a single song in his life.
“If I created a formula, I certainly wouldn’t use it a second time. Bowie wasn’t just a songwriter, he was an innovator on every level. He was a great dancer, he was an actor. More than a rock star. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism