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Music

When John Lennon told David Bowie what he thought about glam rock

John Lennon is perhaps the most famous songwriter of all time and is undoubtedly one of the most influential. Be it his work in The Beatles or as a solo artist, Lennon created countless iconic moments over his career, and without his work, popular culture today would look very different. The Beatles created modern pop music as we know it, and this was, in part, down to Lennon’s knack for penning classic after classic. 

Another icon that Lennon and The Beatles paved the way for was David Bowie. The Brixton native also significantly impacted the development of popular music and culture, helping to pull us from the rigid shackles of the past into a more fluid future. 

Bowie defied norms and via his various chameleonic guises, subverted the establishment. When he truly broke through with 1972’s Ziggy Stardust, nobody, not even The Velvet Underground, had ever done what he was doing. He blended the androgyny and sexual themes that The Velvet Underground explored with science-fiction, a genius means of critiquing modern society. 

Duly, in 1975, the world wasn’t ready when two of the biggest iconoclasts of all time converged for Bowie’s single ‘Fame’. Written by Bowie and Lennon in tandem with Carlos Alomar, it’s a funk-rock classic that conveys Bowie’s satisfaction with the trappings of fame at the time.

In a 1995 interview with MTV, Bowie recalled his first meeting with Lennon, and unsurprisingly, it was marked by Lennon’s iconic wit. Bowie was taken aback by Lennon’s honesty about his prior work and his part in the glam rock scene. 

Bowie said: “It’s really hard to remember when I actually met John, it must have been sort somewhere in middle 1974, my guess… when I asked him what he thought (about) what I was doing, ‘glam rock’, he said, ‘Yes, great sir. But it’s just rock and roll with lipstick on’.”

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Glam rock was indeed rock and roll with lipstick on, but that was the point. I’m sure that Lennon was understanding of the genre’s subversive value, but was just making a joke for the sake of breaking the ice. Otherwise, this is just another addition to the list of faux pas’ the former Beatles man delivered over his carer. 

Regardless, Bowie continued: “And I was impressed as I was with virtually everything he said. He was probably one of the brightest, quickest, witted, earnestly socialist men I’ve ever met in my life. Socialist in true definition, not in a fabricated political sense. But a real humanist with a really spiteful sense of humour, which of course, being English, I adored. I just thought we’d be buddies forever and get on better and better and all that. So I know the Beatle that I always liked (laughs). Everybody had their favourite Beatle.”

This collaboration with Lennon had such an impact on David Bowie, that it even resulted in him dismissing an opinion that had been long-held by his glam rock generation. 

He explained: “I never really realised that, well I always knew that, but I wouldn’t have declared it in the early ’70s because that would have been the most uncool to actually say that you actually like The Beatles in any way, shape or form. But they’ve made such a great impact. They gave the British the illusion that they meant something again. We love hearing that, oh boy.”

Although it’s a shame that Lennon and Bowie only collaborated once, we can’t be ungrateful. One of the best collaborations in music history, it’s just one track of many that both icons continue to live on through. 

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