Fight of the Week: Lou bops Bowie

by Allan Jones / Melody Maker

21st April 1979

The word was that Lou Reed wanted to see me backstage after the show.

….He also wanted to see Giovanni Dadomo, a freelance writer who had recently contributed an enthusiastic preview of Lou’s Hammersmith Odeon concert to Time Out, the London listings magazine.

….Howard Harding, the Arista press officer who had been dispatched with the invitations, led us backstage. We lingered awhile in the bar, to allow Lou a moment or two to cool down after his performance. We had a drink and lingered. There was no sign of Lou. We had another drink and lingered. There was still no sign of Lou. We lingered awhile longer. Howard Harding went off to find Lou.

He returned five minutes later.

“Aaah,” he said. “Lou’s gone.”

Bloody typical, we all agree.

“I’ll try to find out where he is,” Howard Harding promises.

….Lou, he informs us upon his return, is having dinner at a restaurant in South Kensington. He is with David Bowie.

“He says he wants us to go over,” Howard tells us.

….Dinner with Lou and the Thin White Duke! Seems a damned attractive proposition. Howard notes our enthusiasm and agrees to drive us to the restaurant – the Chelsea Rendezvous in Sydney Street.

……“They’ll be on the pudding by the time we gets there,” Giovanni Dadomo reflects.

Lou and David are in a huddle together at the head of their table when we arrive.

……Lou has his arm around David’s shoulder. David is smiling. Lou is laughing, slapping the table. David seems content to play a supporting role. Lou talks. David listens, hands cupped together, elbows on the table in front of him.

.We are shown to our own table. Howard presents himself to Lou, tells him that Giovanni and I have arrived.

“Lou says to go over,” Howard tells us.

Giovanni leads the way. Lou takes him firmly by the hand.

Bowie, meanwhile, looks up at me.

“Allan,” he says, extending a hand.

“David,” I say, taking it.

“Nice to see you,” says David. “How are you?”

Bowie’s charm is overwhelming.

“Allan,” roars Lou.

“Lou,” I reply, less raucously.

He clasps my hand, nearly breaking a finger in the process. He yanks me across the table. I almost end up sprawled in Bowie’s lap. I have an elbow in the remnants of Lou’s dinner.

“Do you know Allan?” Lou asks Bowie.

“We meet occasionally,” he tells Lou.

“Did you see the show tonight?” asks Lou.

“I’m still recovering,” I tell him.

“Good,” says Lou. “What did you think of it?”

“I felt like I was been given a good pistol-whipping.”

“You probably deserved it,” Lou snaps.

I decide to leave them to their supper.

“Yeah,” says Lou. “Go.”

I go. Lou turns back to David. They get their heads down, the old pals’ act well under way.

Lou gets up and waddles down the restaurant to talk to some people at a table adjacent to ours. He deposits some dirty dishes on the floor, grabs a chair for Bowie who’s followed him. There is a considerable amount of mutual backslapping, good times remembered. They exchange dates; contemplating some joint project in the near future, it appears.

Lou orders Irish coffee.

It is delivered.

Lou and David raise their glasses in a toast.

“To friends”.

It’s a touching scene.

They return to their original places, resume their conversation.

Five minutes later, the place is in uproar.

Bowie has said something to Lou. Lou is not entirely enamoured of the comment. He fetches David a smart crack about the head; fists are flying. Most of them are Lou and they’re being aimed in violence at Bowie. David ducks, arms flying up above his head. Lou is on his feet, screaming furiously at Bowie, still lashing out.

“Don’t you EVER say that to me!” he bellows, hysterically, “Don’t you EVER f***en say that to ME!”

About nine people pile on Lou, wrestle him away from Bowie, drag him away from the table. There’s an arm around his throat. He continues to spit insults at Bowie, who sits at the table staring impassively, clearly hoping Lou will go away. Lou shrugs off his minders (or are they Bowie’s?). There’s a terrible silence. People are watching open-mouthed in credulity. Howard Harding looks as if he might die.

……Lou sits down next to Bowie. They embrace. There is a massive sigh of relief. They kiss and make up. We wonder what on earth provoked the argument and Lou’s fit of violence.

……“Perhaps,” suggests Giovanni Dadomo, “David tried to pinch Lou’s Bakewell tart.”

Meals are resumed. More wine is brought to the tables.

It looks as if the tiff has blown over.

The next thing I know, Lou is dragging Bowie across the table by the front of his shirt and fetching him a few more smart slaps across the face. The place explodes in chaos again. Whatever David said to precipitate the first frank exchange of conflicting opinions, he’s obviously repeated. The fool. Lou is beside himself with rage and rains slaps down upon Bowie’s head before anyone can drag him off.

“I told you NEVER to say that,” Lou screeches, fetching the hapless Bowie another backhander; another furry of blows follows in hot pursuit. Lou is batting David about the top of his head. David cowers. Lou looks like an irate father boxing the ears of a particularly recalcitrant child for pissing in his slippers. He gets in a few more whacks before the minders haul him away from Bowie. He will not calm down. He tussles and struggles, tries to launch himself again at Bowie.

The silence that follows is ghastly.

Lou’s party decide to leave. Lou is escorted from the restaurant by an especially large fellow. He has his arm around Lou’s shoulders, less in support than restraint. Lou has a look of ferocious blankness, his face set in a fierce scowl. His eyes look dead. He leaves with his party.

“Good Lord – what happened?” asks Howard Harding.

Bowie is left at the head of the table. It’s a desolate scene. The table is covered with the debris of the meal and overturned wine bottles.

He is joined by two friends (a man and a woman; they are never successfully identified). Bowie sits with his head in his hands. He appears to be sobbing. He seems to be trying to explain what happened between him and Lou.

I decided to play the fearless reporter and wander over.

“I’ve just come to say goodnight,” I say.

“Oh,” says Bowie. “Why don’t you join us?”

“There isn’t a chair,” I tell him.

“Then sit on the table,” he replies, a little testily.

.I sit on the table.

I tell him that I’m sorry that his reunion with Lou seems to have ended so disastrously.

“I couldn’t hear what was going on … Lou seemed very upset …” I mutter.

“Yes,” says Bowie, wearily. He seems close to tears.

“It was nothing. It’s all over,” says his female companion.

“It isn’t,” says Bowie, hands clenched, eyes glaring.

“If it hadn’t been for the heavies, they would have bloodied each other’s noses and it would have been all over and they’d have been all right,” his companion says.

The idea of Bowie bloodying anyone’s nose seems remote.

“Are you a reporter?” someone asks.

“Yes,” I admit. “But don’t worry – you won’t see any of this on the front page of the Daily Express in the morning.”

This is intended as a feeble joke. No one is amused.

“You’d better go,” I am told.

“David’s just invited me to stay,” I protest quietly. “I was just wondering what happened.”

This does it.

Bowie leaps to his feet.

“F*** off,” he shouts. He means me. “If you want to know what happened, you’ll have to ask Lou Reed. Don’t bother me with your f***ing questions. Ask f***ing Lou. He knows what f***ing happened. He’ll tell you.”

“But he’s already gone,” I remind Bowie.

Bowie, angry, with tears in his eyes, turns on me. He grabs me by the lapels and shakes me. I fear he might rip the jacket (recently worn by Mike Oldfield on stage in Berlin, it is of considerable sentimental value).

“Hey,” I protest eloquently.

“Just f*** off,” Bowie swears, shoving me back. “You’re a journalist – go and f***ing find him. Ask him what happened. I don’t know.” He pushes me again, turns away, knocking over a chair. I am grabbed from behind and dragged away. I return to my table.

“I think you’ve upset the Thin White Duke,” remarks Giovanni Dadomo.

“I think perhaps I have,” I reply.

Bowie sits down again. Then he stands up, furniture starts to fly.

“Aaaaah f***,” he declares. He pushes his way down the restaurant, chairs are kicked out of the way. He begins to climb the stairs to the street. Most of the steps on the stairway are decorated with potted plants and small shrubs, and a palm tree or two. Bowie smashes most of them on his way out. He kicks a few, up-ends the others. There is a most terrible mess on the stairs.

The remaining guests are speechless at this further outburst. The waiters looks (sic) on, astonished. We share their amazement.

The damage, it turns out, is not expensive. I discover later in the week from the manager of the Chelsea Rendezvous that Bowie has sent “a bodyguard” to the restaurant to pay for replacement of the demolished plants; a cost of about £60.

The cause of the altercation remains, however, obscure. Lou flew out early the next morning to Dublin, cancelling all engagements.

The most popular explanation suggests that Bowie had been discussing with Lou the possibility of producing his next album.

Bowie, though, is said to have demanded one thing before committing himself to the project: that Lou clean himself up, and get himself together.

If Lou didn’t clean up his act, David would refuse to work with him.

Lou, perhaps, was outraged at the suggestion that he was too untogether, and replied by belting David. The bully!

A further irony is added to the tale the following morning when it is announced that Bowie’s new single is called “Boys Keep Swinging”.

Oh, how we laughed.

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