They collaborated on a few occasions, most notably on Bowie’s Fame, of which Lennon wrote the unforgettable titular lyric (though he sang it “aim”). Bowie even went as far as naming Lennon his “greatest mentor” – a tremendous compliment considering the staggering influence he himself had on music and pop culture.
Listen to David Bowie reflect on his friendship with John Lennon and cover Imagine during a performance on the anniversary of his death.
While one tour in 1983, one of Bowie’s performances happened to coincide with the third anniversary of Lennon’s murder. He took the opportunity to talk about his friendship with John, sharing a few candid stories of their experiences together and what Bowie learned from him.
“I asked John one day, ‘how do you write your songs’, he said ‘it’s easy, you just say what you mean, you put a back beat to it,” he reflects. “I said ‘what do you think of my kind of rock ‘n’ roll?, he said ‘it’s great but it’s just rock ‘n’ roll with lipstick on.”
He also talked about the last time he saw John, and how he snapped a picture of him wearing a Beatles jacket in a Hong Kong market. Then he dove into a cover of Imagine.
It’s probably one of the most special performances of the song – one of the most covered of all time – given their relationship and the gravity of the occasion, it being the anniversary of Lennon’s death. Of course, Bowie is flawless too.
George Simms, a Bowie collaborator and back up singer for the performance, said:
“If I remember well, we didn’t rehearse that song. The night David did the ‘Imagine’ song, none of us in the band had any idea how that song was going to come off. David told us before, at a certain point, he would cue the band to start the song instrumentally. We didn’t know what he was going to do in the beginning but he had it very carefully worked out with the lighting people. We were on stage and it was dark.
David was sitting on the stage at one particular place and, all of a sudden, a single spotlight went on David and hit him exactly where he was sitting. David started to tell something about John Lennon. During this, it went dark a few times again, but then when the spots went on again David was sitting somewhere else on the stage. David cued the band and we started the song. It was the third anniversary of Lennon’s death; it was December 8.
We all grew up listening to The Beatles and John Lennon. After we did “Imagine,” we all went off the stage and back into the holding area. Normally we’d be slap-happy, talking and laughing, but that night there was absolute silence because of all the emotion of doing a tribute to John Lennon—especially knowing that David was a friend of his and that David was speaking from his heart. We didn’t know how dramatic the lights’ impact was going to be. Nobody wanted to break the silence; it was like a sledgehammer into your chest.”[via Open Culture].