Bowie/John Lennon, from Dylan Jones’s “David Bowie: A Life”

From the very recently published “David Bowie: A Life” by Dylan Jones:

AVA CHERRY: I was there the day David brought John Lennon into the studio. He actually wrote a diary entry that day where he says, “January 30th, introduced Ava to a Beatle.” We were going in that day to record “Fame,” and before the session David was freaking out because he was so nervous. He really admired John Lennon, and that day David was like a little kid. And then John comes in the door and John had those granny glasses on, right? And David looks and me and says, “He really does wear those granny glasses!” He really liked the fact that Lennon had the whole Lennon look. What you imagine John to be is exactly how he was: charming, funny, and they both hit it off immediately. They became really, really good friends. It was only me, Carlos, John, and David in the studio—and I think Geoffrey [MacCormack] might have been there. Yoko came and brought us some sushi and then she left. She was very sweet. I liked her. She was not how I imagined her and how the Beatles said she was. John was sitting there at one point with his twelve-string getting ready to play “Across the Universe,” and he looks up and says, “Are we having a good time?” We were all so happy that John Lennon was so relaxed. David was just over the moon. He drew David a caricature of himself. And David put it in this solid gold frame. He really loved it. I didn’t think “Fame” would turn out the way it did. I thought because John Lennon was on it that he was going to get lots of critical acclaim, but it was just a James Brown groove at one point.

DAVID BOWIE: I spent quite a lot of time getting to know Lennon, and I do remember we went to a lot of bars together. We spent hours and hours discussing fame, and what you had to do to get it, to get there. If I’m honest it was his fame we were discussing, because he was so much more famous than anyone who had been before. I remember that Carlos and I were working on this riff, and I remember than it was John who started riffing on “Fame,” screaming at the top of his voice in the studio. He was screaming, I was writing the lyrics, and Carlos was crashing through the riff. It all came together so quickly and so brilliantly. It was an incredibly intoxicating time and I can’t quite believe that we didn’t try and write more things together, because just being around him was breathtaking. He had all this energy, which I suppose I didn’t expect when I first met him.

JOHN LENNON (BEATLE): [Rolling Stone said I was “playing second fiddle…” but] that’s garbage. What second fiddle? I’m not playing second fiddle to Ringo when I play rhythm guitar. It’s all right for me to play rhythm guitar in back of Ringo’s record, but if I play rhythm guitar in back of Elton’s record, or in back of David Bowie’s somehow I’m lowering myself….I think they are good artists. And they are friends of mine, and they asked me to go and play. It’s like in the old days. Like Brian Jones is on a track of the Beatles years ago. And he played saxophone. In those days you weren’t allowed to say, the record companies wouldn’t allow it. So it was never mentioned. Everybody used to play on each other’s sessions, but nobody ever said anything. Nowadays it’s always said. And Elton asked me to play on “Lucy.” He said, “I’m gonna do this song. I’d love it if you came and played.” He was too shy to ask me. He got a friend that we both have to ask me…and I said, “Sure I’ll come.” So I went to play and sang chorus or some garbage. Why is it not belittling for Mick Jagger to sing in back of Carly Simon? Why am I some kind of god that isn’t allowed to do anything?? It’s bullshit.

DAVID BOWIE: I guess he [John Lennon] defined for me, at any rate, how one could twist and turn the fabric of pop and imbue it with elements from other art forms, often producing something extremely beautiful, very powerful, and imbued with strangeness. Also, uninvited, John would wax on endlessly about any topic under the sun and was over-endowed with opinions. I immediately felt empathy with that. The seductive thing about John was his sense of humor. Surrealistically enough, we were first introduced in about 1974 by Elizabeth Taylor. Miss Taylor had been trying to get me to make a movie with her. It involved going to Russia and wearing something red, gold, and diaphanous. Not terribly encouraging, really. I can’t remember what it was called—it wasn’t On the Waterfront anyway, I know that. We were in L.A., and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited. I think we were polite with each other, in that kind of older-younger way. Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.

So John was sort of [in Liverpool accent], “Oh, here comes another new one.” And I was sort of, “It’s John Lennon! I don’t know what to say. Don’t mention the Beatles, you’ll look really stupid.” And he said, “Hello, Dave.” And I said, “I’ve got everything you’ve made—except the Beatles.” A couple of nights later we found ourselves backstage at the Grammys where I had to present “the thing” to Aretha Franklin. Before the show I’d been telling John that I didn’t think America really got what I did, that I was misunderstood. Remember that I was in my twenties and out of my head. So the big moment came and I ripped open the envelope and announced, “The winner is Aretha Franklin.” Aretha steps forward, and with not so much as a glance in my direction, snatches the trophy out of my hands and says, “Thank you everybody. I’m so happy I could even kiss David Bowie.” Which she didn’t! And she promptly spun around and swanned off, stage right. So I slunk off, stage left. And John bounds over and gives me a theatrical kiss and a hug and says, “See, Dave. America loves ya.” We pretty much got on like a house on fire after that.

He once famously described glam rock as just rock and roll with lipstick on. He was wrong of course, but it was very funny. Towards the end of the ’70s, a group of us went off to Hong Kong on a holiday and John was in, sort of, house-husband mode and wanted to show Sean the world. And during one of our expeditions on the back streets a kid comes running up to him and says, “Are you John Lennon?” And he said, “No, but I wish I had his money.” Which I promptly stole for myself. It’s brilliant. It was such a wonderful thing to say. The kid said, “Oh, sorry. Of course you aren’t,” and ran off. I thought, “This is the most effective device I’ve heard.” I was back in New York a couple of months later in Soho, downtown, and a voice pipes up in my ear, “Are you David Bowie?” And I said, “No, but I wish I had his money.” “You lying bastard. You wish you had my money.” It was John Lennon.

JOHN LENNON: [How do I feel about people like Elton and Bowie doing covers of all those old Beatles songs?] I love it. I was thrilled he [Elton] was doing it. People are afraid of Beatle music. They are still afraid of my songs. Because they got that big image thing: You can’t do a Beatle number….You can’t touch a Lennon song; only Lennon can do it….It’s garbage! Anybody can do anything.

DAVID BOWIE: I was in Hong Kong on holiday with John Lennon in the late ’70s. We’d been drinking and we were trying to find a place to eat monkeys’ brains. We actually found a place, but fortunately it was closed. However, we saw the tables with the holes in them—they put the monkey through the hole, whip its skull off, and eat it like an egg. But we both lingered and a couple of guys recognized Lennon. They took him in a back room, and he came out and said, “God, I’m high as a kite.” They’d made him drink the blood of a snake. I guess it was a Triad thing, but it made him very stoned. Anyway, he went off and then came rushing down the road a few minutes later saying, “Open your mouth!” And he shoved this thing in my mouth—it was ghastly. I asked him what it was and he said, “Swallow it.” So I did. And he said, “That’s a thousand-day-old egg cooked in horse piss.” I said, “You bastard!” They cook it in horse urine, then cover it in layers of different kinds of manures, and bury it in the ground. I think they probably bury it only for a few days, but they call it a thousand-day-old egg. They dig it up again and then you eat it. It was horrible.

Most people think that Lennon was trapped in America during that time, but it’s not true. He used to carry a briefcase with just his wallet and a T-shirt in it, and he used to travel like that all the time. When he got to a new place and his T-shirt needed washing, he’d give it to the waiter or the bellboy. He’d sign it for them and then buy another one on the street. He’d get everything else from the hotel—a razor or whatever he needed. He would say, “That’s how you travel.” I suppose the period when he was going abroad a bit was when he had that strange thing going, when he wasn’t really with Yoko. But his son Sean was with him. He took a nanny with him as well, but John was with Sean an awful lot in Hong Kong—except we used to go out at night and get raving drunk. One time we ended up at a strip club where beers were served at a round table, with a naked girl sitting in the middle of it and spinning around slowly. John was getting quite verbose because he had really put away quite a few, and the owner of the club asked us to leave. So we were thrown out by these, presumably, lesser Triad members.

We’re on the sidewalk, and John is frothing at the mouth and shouting, “Let us back in! We’ve paid our money, we want to come in and finish our drinks!” And they said, “No, you fuck off.” And he said, “Do you know who I am? I’m a fucking Beatle!” I said, “I don’t believe that. Say it again.” He said, “I’m a fucking Beatle. I’m a fucking Beatle!” and we started laughing. We were just on the floor, it was so funny. And then we went to a street market and they were selling Beatle jackets, and I got him to put one on. I took a little Polaroid. It’s so lovely. Just John and his Beatle jacket. “I’m a fucking Beatle!”

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