When John Lennon and David Bowie Shared a ‘Mountain of Cocaine’
Award-winning record producer Tony Visconti has enjoyed some incredible experiences across his impressive career. One of the most memorable? A night with David Bowie, John Lennon and a “mountain of cocaine.”
It was December 1974 and Visconti was with Bowie in New York recording material for the the singer’s Young Americans album.
“One night he left the studio early,” Visconti recalled during an appearance on The Bob Lefsetz Podcast. “He says, ‘I'm going to go back to my suite.’ He was in Hotel Pierre, and he said, ‘Lennon is coming by tonight.’ He goes, ‘I'm a bit frightened of him, a bit scared of him.’ He goes, ‘Would you mind coming after work, after you finish all your tidying ups and all that, would you mind coming over and kind of buffer the meeting?’”
READ MORE: Every David Bowie Single Ranked
Visconti jumped at the opportunity to meet Lennon and quickly agreed. After finishing his work at the studio around midnight, the producer caught a cab to Bowie’s hotel.
“I go up to David's suit and I knock on the door a lot and nobody answers. But I hear a lot of scuffling behind the door, and finally I don't know who answered, but I think it was Neil Aspinall, one of the minders of the Beatles,” Visconti recalled. “I said, ‘It's Tony. Tony Visconti. David asked me to come by tonight.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, OK. We were just a bit worried you might be the police.'”
Once he entered the suite, Visconti was surprised by what he saw.
“I walk into the main room and I saw a sight I'll never forget,” he explained. “On the floor was David and a beautiful Hispanic woman, really really beautiful, and between them there was like a mountain of cocaine. It was Mount Everest but about six inches high. You know, with ski slopes, it was like the real deal. And on the couch is my idol, John Lennon. I couldn't believe it.”
READ MORE: Top 80 John Lennon Songs
Visconti soon grabbed a seat on the sofa next to Lennon and politely began asking him about various Beatles tunes. The two chatted about the song “A Hard Days Night,” but Bowie stayed out of the conversation.
“I had [Lennon] for a good hour. And then he's like looking over at David. You know, now David's being absolutely rude,” Visconti noted. “He's so frightened of John, he's not even looking up at John. He's just in with this girl, they're chopping lines away, and John had a few.”
David Bowie and John Lennon Started Drawing
Eventually, the ice was broken not by a conversation, but by an activity.
“David picks up a pad, a sketch pad, and he's got some charcoal pencils or something like that, and he starts, you know, David was a great artist, and so was John. So David starts sketching a portrait of John, like a caricature," Visconti recalled. “And John says, ‘Hey, give us a piece of paper and give me a pencil,’ and John puts it on like a tea tray or something like that, and he starts doing David.”
READ MORE: The Best Song From Every David Bowie Album
“From this point onwards, it broke the ice,” Visconti continued. “I couldn't buffer anything. The drawing of each was very funny, and they picked it up and they showed each other the drawings and had a good laugh, and they'd start a few [again]. And then eventually David and John started talking to each other.”
David Bowie and John Lennon Worked Together on 'Fame'
During that same time in New York, Bowie and Lennon ended up collaborating on the song “Fame.” The track was recorded in January 1975, however Visconti wasn’t present for the hastily arranged session. When Bowie called the him in London to let him know they’d have to find space for the song on Young Americans, the producer was stunned.
“I said, ‘David, I would have booked my own ticket on the Concord,” Visconti recalled. “‘If you had told me, I would have been there in five hours.’”
David Bowie Albums Ranked
Gallery Credit: Bryan Wawzenek