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David Bowie "Completely Ignored" John Lennon When They First Met—Here's Why

The two musicians were introduced by none other than Elizabeth Taylor.

Although David Bowie was pop star of legendary charisma who had already made his mark on glam rock, there was one person who could nearly paralyze him with anxiety in 1974. That was the year the 27-year-old Ziggy Stardust performer met John Lennon. While the two rock stars would soon go on to an iconic collaboration, their initial meeting went down as one of the most extraordinarily awkward in musical history thanks to the unusual way Bowie reacted to meeting the former Beatles frontman. Read on to learn more about that encounter and how their friendship moved forward.

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Elizabeth Taylor introduced them.

John Lennon and May Pang in 1974
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

May Pang, Lennon's girlfriend during this "lost weekend" period of creativity while he was separated from Yoko Ono in the mid-1970s, recounted the extraordinary night the two artists met in her 1983 memoir Loving John. While in Hollywood, she and Lennon, along with pal Elton John, were invited to a star-studded party for Dean Martin's son. Lennon "loved the old time Hollywood stars" and was dying to meet guest Elizabeth Taylor that night. His dreams came true when she entered the room 40 minutes into the party and struck up a conversation with the two musicians. When the young Bowie showed up a short time later, it was the Cleopatra star who pulled him into the orbit of his idol. "When David Bowie arrived, she seized his arm and said, 'David, do you know John?'" Pang wrote.

"'No, but I've always wanted to meet him.' Bowie flashed his bright smile at John," she continued in Loving John. "There was a look of genuine admiration in his eyes. John, who found Bowie's music fascinating, was very cordial. David had great charm and was also very funny The dialog began to flow very quickly."

When the group broke up a short time after, Bowie—who confessed in his 1999 Berklee College of Music commencement speech that he was preoccupied trying not to "look really stupid"—announced, "I've got to go. I've got to go."

"He was terrified of meeting John Lennon."

David Bowie performing in 1974
Steve Morley/Redferns

The initial meeting led to Lennon agreeing to step into Electric Lady Studios with Bowie that December to record guitar on a cover of "Across the Universe" for Bowie's forthcoming Young Americans album. Despite having broken the ice, Bowie was nervous, calling on his producer, Tony Visconti for "moral support," according to Richard White's book Come Together: Lennon and McCartney in the Seventies. (Visconti would later marry Pang and father two children with her as a result of this meeting.)

In 2021, Visconti described the meeting on BBC Radio 4's program Bowie: Dancing Out in Space. He shared that Bowie was so "terrified," he reacted like a child introduced to a new playmate.

"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 remembered. "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 a couple of hours, Lennon finally got Bowie to snap out of it by asking for some paper of his own, Visconti said. "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," the producer explained.

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It took Lennon time to understand the depth of Bowie's admiration.

John Lennon in 1974
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While in the studio, Lennon would also help Bowie write what would become his bestselling U.S. single at that point, "Fame." But Bowie would still hold Lennon in almost painfully high regard, according to Pang, who recounted another painful incident for the younger musician in Loving John.

One night, during Lennon's reconciliation with Paul McCartney, Bowie excitedly previewed an early pressing of Young Americans for the two ex-Beatles, discussing how he achieved the "plastic soul" sound over a second and then a third play. When McCartney asked him to put on a different record and then Lennon did the same, Bowie left the room upset, wrote Pang.

"They talked quietly for a while and when John got off the phone, he told me, 'David really did feel hurt when I asked him to change the record. He was very upset. I kept tellin' him I didn't mean it that way,'" she said in her book. "John was very distressed by David's reaction."

Pang went on, "'When David looks at you, his eyes are always filled with admiration,' I told him. 'You've got to be especially careful when you're around people like that, because every little word and gesture means something special to them. Whether you like it or not, you've just got to be a little more thoughtful.'"

They became friends, collaborators, and perhaps more.

David Bowie, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Roberta Flack at the 1975 Grammy Awards
Tim Boxer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In the years that followed, Bowie would visit Lennon when he was in New York, until the latter was shot and killed in 1980. Music writer Lesley-Ann Jones has even claimed Bowie once confessed the two had a fling (per the Daily Express). Whether or not that's true, the "Rebel Rebel" singer undeniably shared a closeness with both Lennon and his family that few others did. Following Bowie's passing in 2016, Ono shared on Facebook that he had stepped in as "a father figure" for Sean Lennon after John was murdered, taking him to museums and letting him hang out at his Geneva recording studio while the boy was at boarding school in Switzerland. "As John and I had very few friends we felt David was as close as family," Ono wrote.

Joel Cunningham
Joel Cunningham is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. Read more
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