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Music

Why did David Bowie compare Mick Jagger to a "brothel keeper"?

@SamWKemp

In 1974, David Bowie took part in one of the most fascinating interviews of his career. He was Joined by Beat Writer William S. Burroughs, who had just decided to kick heroin and move back to New York after more than a decade in London. The city had swung itself into oblivion, and now was the time to go. But before leaving, he and Bowie sat down for a long and rambling conversation about, well, pretty much everything, including Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

After briefly touching on Andy Warhol, who Burroughs described as unremarkable aside from his “strange green colour,” the pair started discussing, all things, China. For Bowie, the key distinction between China and the West was how they felt about rock music: “they don’t need rock & roll,” he began. “British rock & roll stars played in China, played a dirty great field and they were treated like a sideshow. Old women, young children, some teenagers, you name it, everybody came along, walked past them and looked at them on the stand. It didn’t mean anything. Certain countries don’t need rock & roll because they were so drawn together as a family unit.”

In Bowie’s view, China – which at that time was governed by The Gang of Four – had a distinct national parental character. “China has its mother-father figure,” he said. “I’ve never made my mind up which, it fluctuates between the two.” He then expressed his belief that while China’s paternal characters were government officials, the West’s were rock ‘n’ roll stars. “For the West, Jagger is most certainly a mother figure and he’s a mother hen to the whole thing. He’s not a cock­adoodledoo; he’s much more like a brothel-keeper or a madame.”

It’s a bizarre comparison but an accurate one nonetheless. If you think about how Mick Jagger moves around on stage – arms hoisted on his skinny hips, lips pursed – it’s easy to see where Bowie was coming from. “He’s incredibly sexy and very virile,” the glam star continued. “I also find him incredibly motherly and maternal clutched into his bosom of ethnic blues. He’s a white boy from Dagenham trying his damnedest to be ethnic.”

That virility as Bowie put it might have something to do with Jagger’s two main dance influences: self-declared sex-machine James Brown and R&B icon Tina Turner. Speaking about a formative trip to America, Chris Jagger, Mick’s brother noted the huge impact Brown’s style had on the Rolling Stones frontman: “we travelled to the USA and caught James Brown at the Apollo Theatre in New York and that was a huge influence,” Jagger explains. “It wasn’t just the moves he made – it was the energy he put into it, that was amazing.”

That first trip to the states made one thing clear to Jagger: if he wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll frontman, he would need to give his female fans something to scream about. Looking for a little guidance on the gyrating front, Jagger turned to Tina Turner: “Mick wanted to dance – and I was a dancer,” Turner once recalled. “He said his mother taught him how to dance. But we worked with him in the dressing room, me and the girls, and we taught him how to Pony.” Combined, those influences helped Jagger establish himself as one of the top frontmen of the British Invasion. By the mid-’70s however, his posturing was starting to strike some as a little indulgent. Is it possible that Bowie had started to see through Jagger’s adopted sensuality?