The relationship between Mick Jagger and David Bowie is one that any psychologist could have a field day with. Aside from any unsubstantiated rumours, it was an association fraught with the same fandom, foe-dom, and pandemonium as a dog and a cat under the same roof.
A paradigm of this is how Bowie once quipped, “I think Mick Jagger would be astounded and amazed if he realized that to many people, he is not a sex symbol, but a mother image.” However, Jagger wouldn’t have to look much further than ‘Drive-In Saturday’ to see the very same Bowie revere him as a liberating rock ‘n’ roll sex symbol.
Equally, Jagger could be very complimentary of the star. “He had a chameleon-like ability to take on any genre,” Jagger once declared, “always with a unique take, musically and lyrically.” Going on to add: “We were very close in the ’80s in New York. We’d hang out a lot and go out to dance clubs. We were very influenced by the New York downtown scene back then.”
Both no strangers to hedonism, the intoxicating debauchery of the downtown scene was the perfect kaleidoscopic habitat for them. As Jagger commented: “That’s why ‘Let’s Dance’ is my favourite song of his — it reminds me of those times, and it has such a great groove.”
However, as both men knew, there was a flipside to the lark-about ways of profligacy too. And it was at the height of Bowie’s satanic splurge into the depths of cocaine, fascism, and, well, frankly great music that saw Jagger take aim at his art. “If I got the kind of reviews he got for that album,” Jagger said of the widely slated record David Live, “I would honestly never record again. Never.”
He went on to dub it “awful”, but really no further superlatives were needed when he said he’d retire at the height of his game. As harsh as that sounds, Bowie himself wasn’t too far from agreeing with him. “David Live was the final death of Ziggy,” he remarked. “And that photo on the cover. My God, it looks like I’ve just stepped out of the grave. That’s actually how I felt. That record should have been called ‘David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory’”
But Bowie was no stranger to bad reviews that he retrospectively made look foolish. After all, the BBC once rejected him for having “no personality” and Frank Sinatra turned down an early version of ‘My Way’ which later became ‘Life on Mars’. The same could be said for 1974s David Live, the raucous energy may have sounded scratchy and unrefined upon release, but now it is just about as transportive as live records can ever hope to be.
Lester Bangs may have written in Creem that without the proper visuals, the record is a “dismal flatulence”, but with the hindsight of Bowie’s glowing legacy, you can paint those visuals in yourself, the sweat on the walls oozes from the swirling guizer of the vinyl and the bonkers production plays out like a projection on the screen of your imagination.
What’s more, his gruff and shredded vocals on ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ and the howl on ‘Changes’ could haunt an empty house, and Earl Slick’s guitar on ‘Suffragette City’ has so much attitude you’d think he’d just chowed down on a fedora. Nevertheless, the cover font is far from satisfactory.