I know there’s a separate Bowie thread, but I wanted to have something here to specifically discuss the links he had with John Lennon . The obvious ones are to do with Young Americans from 1975, which Lennon appeared on, but there are other connections. Here’s a brief, non-comprehensive, run-down in no particular order (there are, of course, other Beatles and solo links not directly related to Lennon):
- Lennon’s mentioned in Life On Mars? (“Lennon’s on sale again”)
- There’s a cover of Working Class Hero on the first Tin Machine album
- Bowie’s early band The Hype performed Instant Karma ! live in 1970
- Another of his bands, Feathers, did a version of Strawberry Fields Forever
- Bowie performed a cabaret show in 1968 which featured When I’m Sixty-Four and Yellow Submarine
- This Boy was covered by Ziggy and the Spiders From Mars on a few tour dates in 1972. Apparently there are bootleg recordings.
- Cover of Across The Universe on Young Americans
- Co-write of Fame on Young Americans
- “I read the news today, oh boy” is in the vamp towards the end of Young Americans
- Tony Visconti, who produced the YA album (though not the Lennon songs, which were a late addition) married May Pang in 1989 (and was married to Mary Hopkin before her)
- Bowie performed Imagine on the final date of the Serious Moonlight tour, which was the third anniversary of Lennon’s death
- There’s a cover of Mother by Bowie, recorded in 1998 for a Yoko-arranged tribute album to John, which was never released but leaked online in 2006
- Lennon, Ono and Bowie were photographed together at the 17th Grammy Awards in 1975
- David Bowie on John Lennon, from a speech given in 1999.
I’ve recently been reading a book called The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg. It’s another of those song-by-song guides. This ones illuminating because he definitely knows his stuff, but it’s let down over-reliance on stock phrases (“it made its way onto the bootleg circuit” is one that gets particularly overused, and makes me think of a novelty racetrack).
Anyway, to the point. Slip Away, from 2002’s Heathen, is one of Bowie’s best late-period songs. I’ll let the music speak for itself (Stylophone and all), so give yourself a few minutes to let this wash over you:
Here’s an extract from Nicholas Pegg’s article on the song:
One of the undoubted highlights of Heathen, the majestic ‘Slip Away’ is a sweeping ballad whose wistful piano, soaring strings and heartfelt chorus immediately evoke classics like ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Life On Mars?’. The lyric is a melancholy meditation on lost happiness and faded glory, in this case somewhat cryptically expressed through the perspectives of two puppets from the obscure low-budget children’s television series The Uncle Floyd Show. Fronted by pianist and entertainer Floyd Vivino, the show began airing on New Jersey networks in January 1974 and continued on and off, amid fluctuating fortunes and ever-changing TV channels, until 1999, when the Cablevision network finally sounded its death-knell. An anarchic and irreverent early evening children’s variety show pitched somewhere between Banana Splits and The Muppet Show, Uncle Floyd enjoyed its first flush of success on the WTVG channel in the late 1970s, when it began to attract wider media attention and enticed guest bands like Squeeze and The Ramones to perform in the studio. During one recording in 1980 the show’s performers were astonished to see David Bowie in the studio audience, singing and clapping along to the signature song ‘Deep In The Heart Of Jersey’. David went backstage afterwards to tell the cast how much he loved the show, revealing that he watched it every night during his make-up sessions for The Elephant Man. When the flabbergasted performers enquired how he had first come across the show, he told them that he had been introduced to it by another fan, John Lennon .
“Back in the late seventies, everyone that I knew would rush home at a certain point in the afternoon to catch The Uncle Floyd Show,” David recalled in 2002. “He was on UHF Channel 68 and the show looked like it was done out of his living room in New Jersey. All his pals were involved and it was a hoot. It had that Soupy Sales kind of appeal, and though ostensibly aimed at kids, I knew so many people of my age who just wouldn’t miss it. We would be on the floor, it was so funny.”
Although Uncle Floyd was joined by a supporting cast of human entertainers, the show’s central appeal was his interaction with the many and varied puppet characters, foremost among whom was Oogie, a clown-faced wooden alter ego voiced and operated by Floyd himself in the manner of a ventriloquist’s doll (no ventriloquist himself, Floyd would wait for the camera to cut to a close-up of Oogie’s face during their conversations). Another favourite puppet was Bones Boy, a cynical wisecracking skeleton doll whose catch-phrase “Snap it, pal!” became one of the show’s trademarks.
The Uncle Floyd Show inspired fierce devotion among its homegrown New Jersey audience, but never achieved the hoped-for transition to nationwide success. The nearest it came was in 1982, when the series enjoyed a brief period of national syndication by the broadcasting giant NBC, but it was soon pulled after the customary complaints (one station denounced it as “garbage”, and many others objected to the perceived religious irreverence of a character called Brother Billy Bobby Booper). By 1983 the show was once again relegated to the New Jersey cable circuit.
I confess this didn’t mean a whole lot to me, as a non-American, but I’m sure some people here will know about it.
I think this was the source of the Lennon/Bowie/Uncle Floyd story:
After moving over to the right column, I then saw a small entourage with more guards come in. The guards seated their charge at the table by the left column. It was David Bowie! At an Uncle Floyd Show?
I got a couple of B&W shots off while he signed autographs and saw he was actually wearing an Uncle Floyd button! How on earth is this Brit an Uncle Floyd fan?
After the show, I had to run right over to the Ritz to shoot Jerry Lee Lewis, so I didn’t go backstage to see Floyd and cast. Big mistake!
I never in a million years thought there was even a remote possibility that Bowie would go backstage to meet Floyd and the cast, but that’s what happened! I’m told Floyd initially didn’t know who he was and sought to have him removed, but things got straightened out and they all met.
Bowie was a real fan and knew some of the songs and bits and said he watched the show on TV. The cast was flabbergasted and asked him how he found out about the show. The answer was astounding!
‘John Lennon turned me on to it’!
It turns out that during his househusbanding years while he took care of his son, Sean, Lennon discovered the show and told Bowie about it. Bowie, who was starring on Broadway in ‘The Elephant Man’, used to watch while he was being made-up for hours every day.
The following people thank Joe for this post:Zig, The Hippie Chick, meanmistermustard
I linked to this in the list above, but it deserves printing in full.
“From a speech David Bowie gave to the Berklee College of Music’s Class of 1999“, on the official John Lennon Facebook page.
DAVID BOWIE ON JOHN LENNON
“It’s impossible for me to talk about popular music without mentioning probably my greatest mentor, John Lennon . 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.”
The seductive thing about John was his sense of humor. Surrealistically enough, we were first introduced in about 1974 by Elizabeth Taylor. Miss Taylor had been trying to get me to make a movie with her. It involved going to Russia and wearing something red, gold and diaphanous. Not terribly encouraging, really. I can’t remember what it was called — it wasn’t On the Waterfront, anyway, I know that.
We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited. 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.
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.”
A couple of nights later we found ourselves backstage at The GRAMMYs where I had to present “the thing” to Aretha Franklin. 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.
So the big moment came and I ripped open the envelope and announced, “The winner is Aretha Franklin.” Aretha steps forward, and with not so much as a glance in my direction, 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.
And John bounds over and gives me a theatrical kiss and a hug and says “See, Dave. America loves ya.”
We pretty much got on like a house on fire after that.
He once famously described glam rock as just rock and roll with lipstick on. He was wrong of course, but it was very funny.
Towards the end of the 70s, a group of us went off to Hong Kong on a holiday and John was in, sort of, house-husband mode and wanted to show Sean the world. And during one of our expeditions on the back streets a kid comes running up to him and says, “Are you John Lennon ?” And he said, “No but I wish I had his money.” Which I promptly stole for myself.
[imitating a fan] “Are you David Bowie?”
No, but I wish I had his money.
It’s brilliant. It was such a wonderful thing to say. The kid said, “Oh, sorry. Of course you aren’t,” and ran off. I thought, “This is the most effective device I’ve heard.”
I was back in New York a couple of months later in Soho, downtown, and a voice pipes up in my ear, “Are you David Bowie?” And I said, “No, but I wish I had his money.”
“You lying bastard. You wish you had my money.” It was John Lennon .”
The following people thank Joe for this post:Zig, The Hippie Chick, meanmistermustard, Beatlebug, lennonflower
14 April 2010
Bowie covers Mother . From the YouTube comments:
David Bowie covers John Lennon ‘s “Mother ” as recorded in August 1998 in Nassau, Bahamas and mastered in New York City. Lead Guitar: Reeves Gabrels, Drums: Andy Newmark, Bass: Tony Visconti. Produced by Tony Visconti for a tribute album to John Lennon that, unfortunately, was never released.
No mention of the piano player, but I don’t think it’s Mike Garson (it sounds too conventional).
18 April 2013
1 May 2011
Sounds like a studio run-through does ‘Across The Universe ‘ as the band works out the arrangement.
"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris)
6 July 2016
3 August 2014
That line in Life on Mars. I always thought it was “Lenin’s on sale again”. i.e a book by Lenin
So did I! Perhaps he got that play on words thing from the Beatles, especially John. He says ‘comic wheel’ instead of the expected ‘cosmic wheel’ on Mind Games and they do so many others we could start another thread. Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) occasionally does the same. I love it 🙂
5 November 2011
Very warm words from Yoko about Bowie’s relationship with the Lennons.
All living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit