It was amid New York’s decadent decline towards a delipidated dystopia in 1974 when David Bowie had absconded himself to a Pierre Hotel room, escaping the exorcised devil in his swimming pool over in Los Angeles. He spent most of his evenings shovelling enough cocaine up his nose to cause a Wall Street crash and render him the complexion of an Alaskan Vampire. One night, as he busied himself with some obscure personal art project, there was a knock on his door. For anyone else anywhere in the world, that could only mean that reception or security had come calling, but for an artistic bohemian holed up in Manhattan, there’s a chance it could be your boyhood hero.
Bowie once said of John Lennon: “He was one of the major influences on my music life. I just thought he was the very best of what could be done with rock ‘n’ roll, and also ideas. I felt such akin to him in that he would rifle the avant-garde and look for ideas that were so on the outside of, on the periphery of what was the mainstream and then apply them in a functional manner to something that was considered popularist and make it work. He would make it work for the masses and I thought that was so admirable. That was making artwork for the people and not making it elitist.” Essentially Bowie’s appraisal of Lennon is exactly how many would describe the Starman himself, but aside from that, the other element that shines through is a pure admiration that he holds.
Thus, surely even for Bowie himself, it served a hefty mind-wallop to open the door and see him standing there. As Bowie explained in an interview on BBC 6 Music with Marc Riley: “It was New York, around 1974, and I think it was around the first time they had gotten back together again. And I got a knock at the door at the Pierre Hotel where I had taken over a suite for months and months. It was about three in the morning and John was there and he had Paul with him!” Bowie recalled with astonishment.
Adding: “The two of them had been out on the town for the evening. And John says, ‘you won’t believe who I’ve got here’ and I said, ‘wow I thought you two had…’ and he said, ‘oh no, all that’s going to change’. It was great! We just spent the evening talking. That must’ve been the first evening they were back together since the big bust-ups. They actually asked me if I’d join the two of them and become a trio with them, and we’d change the name to something like David Bowie and The Beatles because they liked the idea of it being DBB.”
Sadly, however, the dawn brought about the same old problem that H.G. Wells wrote about in his Time Machine back in 1895, proving that the death of drunk patter in the morning sun is eternal – “It sounds plausible enough tonight but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.” As Bowie wearily concludes: “But, you know, the next morning it just never came to anything.”
While that may have been the end of a supergroup beyond comprehension, a similar incident would occur a year later in 1975 after the Grammy Awards and Art Garfunkel was present for plenty of talk about getting back with songwriters called Paul. The story goes that John had been on stage alongside Simon & Garfunkel at the awards ceremony. Afterwards, John invited Arty and David Bowie back to his Dakota Building apartment in what surely represents one of the kookiest smorgasbords of counterculture talent ever assembled in a single abode.
In an interview for the Beatles Stories documentary, Art Garfunkel regaled another tale of an after-party for the ages and one of music’s great what-if’s. “I have my great memory of John Lennon when I met him that one night with Yoko Ono and David Bowie,” Art explains, “It was the mid-70s, and we were coming back from some show we mutually did. So, we go back to the Dakota [John’s apartment], Bowie was with us. And John pulls me to the bedroom.”
Presumably, this call for privacy between the two former Paul co-opters left a coked-up Thin White Duke in the living room fervently discussing fascism with a spun-out Yoko gazing at the stars. All whilst the straight-laced Arty was mind-numbingly confounded by wonderment at finding himself coaxed into the intimate setting of his hero’s boudoir.
Art continues with his tale revealing a rather more tender and personable side to John than we are used to hearing about during this period, as he adds, “Incredibly disarmingly he said to me ‘Arty you worked with your Paul recently, I’m getting calls from New Orleans [which was where Paul McCartney recorded part of his Venus And Mars record at Sea-Saint studios] that my Paul wants to work with me and I’m thinking about it and I don’t know. How did it go when you worked with Paul [Simon]?’”
As if Art Garfunkel wasn’t flummoxed enough, he now had to contend with advising upon what would have been the biggest reunion in history since the continental plate of India collided with Asia and spawned the Himalayas. “He [was] measuring his situation, the great John Lennon with Paul McCartney!” Garfunkel modestly jokes, “With Paul and Arty, as if to make sure that my ego is fully established as a colleague of his!”
Under the burgeoning pressure of the situation, no doubt feeling the weight of a large nation’s worth of Beatles fans bearing down on his subconscious, Arty had to advise astutely. He wisely told him, “Remember that there was a music blend that was a great kick if you can return to the fun of that sound and the musical happenings with your old buddy and ignore the strands of the complications and history. What I found with my Paul was the harmony and the sounds happening on a full agenda, they’ll keep you busy, and you’ll have fun.”
So, what of the great what-if moments that remain. Was it just some dreamy fantasy for the world to enjoy in a post-party haze only to be forgotten the morning after? When asked about whether he thought Lennon was seriously considering it, Garfunkel replied, “I thought he [wanted to get back] the subject seemed very straightforward and uncomplicated. It really was a musical question and not a heavy personal question.”
So there we have it, reunion was certainly in the air, but sadly we’ll never know what a seventies Beatles would’ve sounded like, and it’s beyond even the greatest minds in human history to imagine throwing the otherworldly brilliance of Bowie in the kaleidoscopic mix!