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Start Me Up: Bowie’s Affair With Jagger | Swagat Baruah

Swagat Baruah

At their respective career’s zenith, David Bowie and Mick Jagger had access to all the world’s drugs, booze and women, and they were not very modest about it, to say the least. They acknowledged it very well.  At a time when the Brits were invading American soil and the music space, sex had become a staple topic for debate on liberation  With the boom generation in America facing a collective existential crisis due to their economic excesses, coupled with their nation’s military excesses in Vietnam, a country they didn’t know existed prior to their unjust war with it, morality in personal lives was shaken up from the root bottom or rather, the point of economic and psychological saturation saw the birth of the ‘alternative lifestyle’.  And Bowie and Jagger with his Rolling Stones were at the helm of this movement, both representatives of their time’s revolution against itself.

The Rolling Stones had gathered enough moss for themselves, in and around the world, for their reputation of the “bad boys of Rock n’ Roll” by openly embracing sex and drugs. By 1968, their frontman Brian Jones’ heavy drug abuse had become a hindrance for the band itself, who eventually committed suicide at the tender age of 27 in 1969. Jagger filled his shoes really well, and in fact rose to even wider fame after Jones’ death. But it wasn’t until 1973 that Jagger actually met Bowie, both at the peak of their fame, one, a sexually charged beast on stage with one of the most unique voices in Rock n’ Roll’s history, and the other, an equally prolific singer, a specialist with a mysterious persona.

Both men redefined sexuality and masculinity in many ways for their generation, which is why it makes the fact funnier that they both ended up in the bed very often.  The British dramatist and novelist Philip Norman, in his book, Sympathy for The Devil: The Rolling Stones Story, talks extensively about Jagger’s influence on the concepts of sex, sexuality and masculinity. He associated the early performances of Jagger with the Rolling Stones in the 1960s as a male ballet dancer, with “his conflicting and colliding sexuality: the swan’s neck and smeared harlot eyes allied to an overstuffed and straining codpiece.” Comparing the singer’s popularity among women with the popularity of the King of Pop Elvis Presley, he writes that even Elvis in his most scandalous phase had not exerted “a power so wholly and disturbingly physical”, as opposed to Jagger who “had the ability to make even men uncomfortable.” To quote Sheila Whiteley from her book Rock Music in Performance, his performance style “opened up definitions of gendered masculinity and so laid the foundations for self-invention and sexual plasticity which are now an integral part of contemporary youth culture

Mick Jagger on stage antics [Courtesy: The Rolling Stone]

David Bowie on the other hand was rather conflicted about his sexuality, being one of the first rockstars to come out of the closet in 1972, he declared himself as gay in an interview to Melody Maker. In a 1976 Playboy interview, Bowie said, “It’s true—I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me” only to negate the statement himself in a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, calling his public declaration of bisexuality “the biggest mistake I ever made.” and that he was always a closet heterosexual. But this didn’t stop him from being a strong propagator of the Gay Pride movement during its infancy years, provoking English dads of the 1970s by openly embracing his guitarist Mick Ronson and staring him in the eye, lovingly, on UK Primetime Television, a show watched by 14 million people. Dylan Jones, editor of GQ and author of When Ziggy Played Guitar, was one of many, who were liberated by the dawn of Ziggy Stardust. In his own words, “He was a dangerous figure on British TV at a point when television didn’t do danger. 41 years ago, it was an extraordinary experience. It didn’t immediately fill me with gay longings – though with some people it did. But nothing was quite the same afterwards”. Depeche Mode were equally inspired. Dave Gahan claimed that, “Bowie gave me a hope that there was something else … I just thought he wasn’t of this earth.

Bowie on stage with his guitarist Mick Ronson.

So how did the somewhat two androgynous rebel rockstars of their generation end up in the bed together? The best witness claim comes from Bowie’s first wife Angie, who not so co-incidentally shares her name with a Rolling Stones hit (in her autobiography she once walked in on Bowie and Jagger in bed together, a claim which Jagger denies). The story goes somewhat like this:

Angie had been out of town for a few days when she returned home one morning and went straight to the kitchen to make some tea. The Bowies’ maid, who had arrived about an hour earlier, approached Angie with a peculiar look on her face. “Someone,” she told Angie, “is in your bed.”

Angie went upstairs to her bedroom, slowly pushed the door open, and there they were: Mick Jagger and David Bowie, naked in bed together, sleeping. Both men woke up with a start. “Oh, hello,” said Bowie, clearly taken by surprise. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Angie replied. “Do you want some coffee?”

Mick, blinking awake, remained silent. Angie returned a few minutes later with coffee and orange juice on a tray. While she didn’t walk in while they were “doing it”, Angie “felt absolutely dead certain that they’d been screwing. It was so obvious, in fact, that I never even considered the possibility that they hadn’t been screwing.

Bowie and Jagger at a party.

Ava Cherry, a backup singer who lived with the Bowies for a time, reportedly told a friend that “Mick and David were really sexually obsessed with each other. Even though I was in bed with them many times, I ended up just watching them have sex.”

Bowie and Jagger weren’t really discreet about it and never made any attempts to conceal it either, leaving it open to interpretation for the press and the public. They were both very often spotted together without their wives in the 1970s, sitting ringside at the Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton bout, hanging out at the London disco Tramp, yelling and stomping their approval at a Diana Ross concert, or just cuddling up together on a hotel room coach. Neither superstar complained when one enterprising photographer snapped the two men in a moment of repose, Bowie tenderly cradling Mick’s head in his lap. Bowie also took Mick to gay films. If the statements of Playboy model and the mother of actress Liv Tyler, Bebe Buell (who was having an affair with both Mick Jagger and David Bowie at once), the two would make calls to her, inviting her to exotic late night orgies, with “four black women” or even, “four black men“.

Mick Jagger and David Bowie both fascinated each other. Leee Black Childers, former executive vice president of MainMan, the management firm that handled Bowie said in an interview, “Mick was very conscious of doing whatever it takes to stay hot; David was the hottest thing around at the time.” And although they were never discreet about it, they were never open about it either, mostly denying claims made by various people close to them, but they only denied few incidents in isolation, never really denying their affair wholly, which might lead us to safely conclude that the two spearheads of the bi-sexual movement and perhaps, two of the greatest influences in Rock n’ Roll, slept together, thus uniting the two powers of sex of the 20th Century.

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