David Bowie's Death: Who Else Visited Hong Kong?
David Bowie was here a couple of times, and his sadly premature death has me thinking of his time in the city with another artist who left the world too young: John Lennon.
Bowie and Lennon hung out in Hong Kong in June 1977. The former Beatle was in town with his son Sean, showing him the sights on the way to Japan. Lennon was staying at the Mandarin: Bowie was in town with Iggy Pop and they bumped into each other.
But put three of history’s greatest rockers together and they’re not staying gently decorous for long. Soon they went drinking, successfully. There were even kicked out of a topless bar, with Lennon shouting “I’m a BEATLE!”. Lennon drank snake blood and forced Bowie to eat a thousand-year-old egg, which he later claimed was the worst thing he’d ever put in his mouth. If you’ve David Bowie, that’s quite the pronouncement.
There’s a story Bowie once told about that time in Hong Kong with Lennon. The two are out on the street and a child comes running up to them, asking, “Are you John Lennon?”
Lennon quips, “No, but I wish I had his money.”
The child slinks away, disappointed. Bowie thinks it’s brilliant, tells Lennon he’s going to steal the line.
A few months later he’s in New York and he hears a voice: “Are you David Bowie?” Here’s his chance—
“No,” says Bowie, “but I wish I had his money.”
“You lying bastard,” says Lennon. “You wish you had my money.”
Bowie was back in Hong Kong in 1983, to play the last two nights of his 96-show, 16-country “Serious Moonlight” tour. The final performance fell on December 8, three years to the day after John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment in New York. At the end of his set the lights came down, and with a single spotlight on him Bowie talked about his friend the Beatle. He explained how he’d once asked Lennon what he thought of Bowie’s kind of music.
“It’s great,” said Lennon, “But it’s just rock and roll with lipstick on.”
Bowie told the audience that the last time he was with Lennon was at a street market in Hong Kong. They’d bought a too-small Beatles jacket and taken a photo with John wearing it. Then Bowie launched into a simple, husky cover of “Imagine.” It was a little rough—it hadn’t been rehearsed more than a couple of times—but he sang it like he meant it. Hong Kong saw the last encounter between Lennon and Bowie. He made it worth the remembrance.