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Music

Why was David Bowie "terrified" of meeting John Lennon?

@SamWKemp

It’s hard to imagine artists as mind-bogglingly famous as John Lennon and David Bowie being shy people, but there you have it. Despite taking enormous risks in his creative life and winning over the public with his theatrical charm, Lennon was frequently described as being a shy, earnest, and private man. It may come as something of a surprise, but Bowie was also painfully shy; using his various stage personas as a way to become somebody else for a short time. It’s no wonder, then, that Tony Visconti described Lennon and Bowie’s first meeting as being incredibly awkward. Indeed, Bowie was apparently so “terrified” to meet the Beatles star that he asked Visconti to tag along.

As Visconti recounted in Bowie: Dancing Out in Space, Bowie and Lennon’s first meeting saw them sit in complete silence, unsure of how to move the conversation forward. “About one in the morning I knocked on the door and for about the next two hours, John Lennon and David weren’t speaking to each other,” Visconti recalled. “Instead, David was sitting on the floor with an art pad and a charcoal and he was sketching things and he was completely ignoring Lennon”.

After two painful hours of crushing silence, Lennon eventually piped up: “He finally said to David, ‘Rip that pad in half and give me a few sheets. I want to draw you.’ So David said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea’, and he finally opened up,” he added. “So John started making caricatures of David, and David started doing the same of John and they kept swapping them and then they started laughing and that broke the ice”.

It’s no wonder Bowie was nervous. Lennon had served as a role model for the young musician when he was first working out what kind of artist he wanted to be. Of course, by the time Bowie actually made his name in the 1970s, it wasn’t particularly fashionable to like The Beatles. It wasn’t until much later, in a 1995 MTV interview, that Bowie revealed how important they’d been: “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.”

If Bowie had just been honest and told Lennon that he admired his work, the conversation would have probably been a great deal less awkward. Lennon, after all, had been equally terrified when he met his own hero, Elvis Presley. “It’s an interesting story,” he once said of his meeting with The King. “We were terrified. He is our idol. We went to meet him, all the gang this day. He had this TV, I remember; he had an amplifier and a bass plugged into it. And watching with no sound on the TV. And playing bass and singing, and we were sort of singing along. But we were really just watching him.”

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