Read an extract

David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones

 


David Bowie: A Life
 is the definitive biography told through over 180 interviews. In this interview, Bowie shares how John Lennon helped "define" him as a musician and their varying meet-ups

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 humour. 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 LA, 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.’

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.

'...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.

Bob Harris: I interviewed John Lennon in 1975 and he went into great details about the recording process of ‘Fame’. He said that it developed from a simple riff, layering up and up in the studio, really building up from nothing. He said that as he was always in New York, and rarely left it, when the British guys came into town, they called him up and asked him to show them around. I remember John saying, ‘They don’t need me, but it’s nice to hang out.’ David had done the same thing, coercing Lennon into the studio to try and work on some tracks. ‘We were in the studio, and this riff started coming out, and we worked on it for three or four hours until the song was written.’ And it sounds like that, as it has that lovely loose spontaneity to it. And that was what John said: ‘It just sparked.’

More about the book

David Bowie

Dylan Jones

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'The definitive book on Bowie' The Times

Dylan Jones’s engrossing, magisterial biography of David Bowie is unlike any Bowie story ever written. Drawn from over 180 interviews with friends, rivals, lovers, and collaborators, some of whom have never before spoken about their relationship with Bowie, this oral history weaves a hypnotic spell as it unfolds a remarkable rise to stardom and an unparalleled artistic path. Tracing Bowie’s life from the English suburbs to London to New York to Los Angeles, Berlin, and beyond, its collective voices describe a man profoundly shaped by his relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry; an intuitive artist who could absorb influences through intense relationships and yet drop people cold when they were no longer of use; and a social creature equally comfortable partying with John Lennon and dining with Frank Sinatra. By turns insightful and deliciously gossipy, DAVID BOWIE is as intimate a portrait as may ever be drawn. It sparks with admiration and grievances, lust and envy, as the speakers bring you into studios and bedrooms they shared with Bowie, and onto stages and film sets, opening corners of his mind and experience that transform our understanding of both artist and art. Including illuminating, never-before-seen material from Bowie himself, drawn from a series of Jones’s interviews with him across two decades, DAVID BOWIE is an epic, unforgettable cocktail-party conversation about a man whose enigmatic shapeshifting and irrepressible creativity produced one of the most sprawling, fascinating lives of our time.

You might like