David Bowie was awestruck by John Lennon and couldn’t help but feel terrified of the former Beatle when they first met. One of their first meetings was characterized by two hours of silence on Bowie’s part of him. After a moment at the Grammy Awards when Bowie felt slighted by Aretha Franklin, though, Lennon stepped in to comfort him. Bowie said that this is what helped solidify their friendship.
Elizabeth Taylor introduces David Bowie and John Lennon
Bowie and Lennon met at a party in 1974 when actor Elizabeth Taylor introduced them.
“We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited,” Bowie said in his commencement speech for Berklee College of Music. “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.”
Bowie said that he immediately referenced The Beatles, which he hadn’t wanted to do.
“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.’”
They became friends after a moment at the Grammys
Several days later, Lennon and Bowie were both at the Grammys. Backstage, Bowie discussed his frustration with him that Americans did not seem to understand him.
“A couple of nights later we found ourselves backstage at the Grammys where I had to present ‘the thing’ to Aretha Franklin,” Bowie explained. “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 20s and out of my head.”
Bowie said that he felt Franklin’s reaction to him was a perfect example of his concerns about the United States.
“So the big moment came and I ripped open the envelope and announced, ‘The winner is Aretha Franklin,’” he explained. “Aretha steps forward, and with not so much as a glance in my direction, she 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 swanned off stage right. So I slunk off stage left.”
Lennon’s reaction to Bowie when he got backstage was what helped solidify their friendship.
“And John bounds over and gives me a theatrical kiss and a hug and says ‘See, Dave. America loves ya,’” Bowie recalled. “We pretty much got on like a house on fire after that.”
David Bowie said John Lennon was his greatest mentor
Over the years, Lennon and Bowie became good friends. Bowie said that he considered Lennon an important mentor.
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“It’s impossible for me to talk about popular music without mentioning probably my greatest mentor, John Lennon,” he said. “I guess he defined for me, at any rate, how one could twist and turn the fabric of pop and imbue it with elements from other artforms, 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. Whenever the two of us got together it started to resemble Beavis and Butthead on crossfire.”