The Advice John Lennon Gave to David Bowie in His Early Career: ‘Stick With It. Survive’

John Lennon gave David Bowie some short but sweet advice in his early career. The former Beatle knew a thing or two about how the music business worked. It sucked you in and spat you back out. Like The Beatles, Bowie brought something new to the table, so he needed all the help he could get. However, Bowie was initially cocky and didn’t take the advice to heart. Eventually, he learned his friend was right.

David Bowie, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon at the 1975 Grammy Awards.
David Bowie, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

John Lennon gave great advice to David Bowie in his early career

During a 1976 interview with Playboy, Bowie talked about all he’d accomplished in his career by that point. He claimed he brought on a change in the music business, but other than that, he didn’t know what he’d accomplished. The music business was challenging. Bowie remembered what John had said to him in his early career.

“All I’ve made is an impact and a change, which, of course, is worth a lot,” Bowie said. “I keep telling myself that. The best thing to say about it all is that it’s archetypal rock-‘n’- roll business. Read the reports of the Beatles, the Stones and a lot of other big entertainers and take some kind of amalgamation of all that; it’s a pretty accurate picture of my business.

“John Lennon has been through it all. John told me, ‘Stick with it. Survive. You’ll really go through the grind and they’ll rip you off right and left. The key is to come out the other side.’ I said something cocky at the time like, ‘I’ve got a great manager. Everything is great. I’m a Seventies artist.’ The last time I spoke to John, I told him he was right. I’d been ripped off blind.”

John might’ve given good advice, but Bowie learned for himself what the music business was like

Initally, Bowie followed John’s advice and stuck through all the challenges that came his way in the music business. He told Playboy that he wasn’t bitter about it as John and Mick Jagger were. He learned, and it helped him in the long run.

“You see, I needed to learn about it,” he said. “You’ve got to make mistakes. It’s very important to make mistakes. Very, very important. If I glided through, I wouldn’t be the man I’m not today.”

At the same time, Bowie announced his retirement from rock ‘n’ roll multiple times.

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Bowie gave up on rock ‘n’ roll a couple of times but never truly did

It seems Bowie wanted to listen to John’s advice as much as possible, but it was hard. He gave up on rock ‘n’ roll many times but never left it behind.

Bowie first announced he was leaving rock ‘n’ roll during his encore at an outdoor London concert in 1973. However, shortly after, he released Diamond Dogs and booked a three-month U.S. tour. He next announced his retirement from rock in April 1975.

“I’ve rocked my roll,” he said. “It’s a boring dead end. There will be no more rock-‘n’-roll records or tours from me. The last thing I want to be is some useless f****** rock singer.” However, that didn’t last either.

Months later, he arranged an interview by satellite with popular talk show host, Russell Harty, to explain that he had a new album, Station to Station. Bowie added that he also had an upcoming “six-month worldwide concert blitz,” Playboy wrote.

Bowie never truly left rock ‘n’ roll, so John’s words must have had some effect. In 1975, John helped his friend again by co-writing Bowie’s first U.S. No. 1 single, “Fame.” Bowie certainly had a lot to thank John for in his early career.