Alyson’s Archive #3 – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie”

Welcome to this occasional series where I very embarrassingly share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web! 

One of the things I found in the archive box recently was an old pocket file containing lots of pin-ups from 1970s teen magazines such as Jackie, Fab 208 and this lesser known publication (and one I had forgotten about), called FAN. I can tell which of these pin-ups had appeared on my bedroom wall at some point as the corners are a bit damaged with drawing pin holes or sticky blu-tack. This one of David Bowie was in mint condition however which makes sense as at this time it was David Cassidy and Donny Osmond (I was only 12) who tended to grace my walls, but I had obviously been enough of a fan to carefully remove it from the magazine and keep it for posterity.

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What I’ve discovered to be the most interesting aspect of having kept all this stuff for over 40 years however, is that yet again I seem to have developed a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the musical heroes of my youth. It is only after reading the articles on the back of these pin-ups that you work out what was actually happening in the world of pop music in the early ’70s as opposed to what we choose to remember was happening. No need for a long wordy post with this one therefore as it’s just kind of interesting to read this 1973 interview with Mr Bowie as it stands – It took place right around the time of the release of the album “Aladdin Sane” (with it’s iconic lightning bolt cover) and just before he embarked on the tour that would culminate in the “retirement” of the character that had become his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.

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Question Time with David Bowie, not David Dimbleby!

Considering Bowie went on to make albums right up until his death at the beginning of 2016, it is bizarre to read in this 1973 interview that he fully intended to wave goodbye to the music industry at that time and concentrate on other projects. In fact he doubted that he would appear on stage again for a very long time!

Anyway, as the timing of this interview coincided with the release of “Aladdin Sane” (apparently a play on the words “A Lad Insane”), it is entirely appropriate that today’s featured song should be something from that album. The Jean Genie had been a hit for him in December 1972 reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. It had a protagonist that was partly inspired by his good friend Iggy Pop, or an “Iggy-type” character at any rate. Much has also been made about the title referring to the author Jean Genet however Bowie himself admitted that even if it was the case, it was probably done subconsciously.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’m loving looking back at all this material from over 40 years ago but time and time again I’m having to reappraise my memories of the times. Back in the ’60s, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks fully expected their careers to last for 2 or 3 years maximum, and being of the first rock ‘n’ roll generation there was no model to suppose it would turn out to the contrary. Likewise in the early ’70s David Bowie fully embraced that his music career was probably now over and I no doubt just accepted that as being the case back then. How bizarre then to think that I have a friend who is just back from seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rolling Stones are still touring and Ray Davis has just been knighted. Who would have thought it?

The Jean Genie Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie)

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go and everything tastes right
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile
She loves him, she loves him but just for a short while
She’ll scratch in the sand, won’t let go his hand
He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition
And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his module
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule
Loves to be loved, loves to be loved

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

17 thoughts on “Alyson’s Archive #3 – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie””

  1. I can vividly remember reading a couple of irate missives on the letters page of a music weekly (probably Record Mirror) around the time of ‘Jean Jeanie’. One was that the line ‘He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his module’ was actually ‘He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his Marc Bolan’, proof, apparently, of a perceived feud between the two old chums – in today’s parlance, that’s fake news!
    The other concerned the central riff of ‘Jean Genie’ bearing a striking similarity with that of The Sweet’s ‘Block Buster’, which was recorded for the same record label around the same time and released just a couple of months later.
    I might even still have these cuttings somewhere, though sadly my own stash of memorabilia is somewhat depleted nowadays.
    Fascinating post Alyson – more please!

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    1. I don’t remember there being a perceived feud between those two at all but as you say, fake news anyway. As for Blockbuster by The Sweet I remember it well and remarkably similar in places. Unlike Bowie they actually made it to coveted No. 1 spot with that one.

      As for the memorabilia, I have just so much of this kind of stuff stashed away in archive boxes but am realising much of it will have to go – Have embarked on a serious amount of decluttering around here so just hope nothing gets disposed of that I regret parting with later on – A difficult one. Your little poly-pocket cases for the CDs/DVDs are something I’m going to have to acquire as that should cut down on the need for as much storage space. A 21st century dilemma!

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  2. What I find most bizarre about this interview is how normal Bowie sounds. How everyday and ordinary. No mystique at all. It’s unsettling because in my mind he will always be alien, otherworldly, out there… Like something from a David Lynch film (which he became). I just cannot imagine him saying a line like “I hope the fans will enjoy it.” Actually, no, I don’t think he ever even did this interview. It was just a PR guy from the record company. Must have been, or all my illusions have just been shattered.

    That said: keep these coming, Alyson.

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    1. I think you are probably right – Most of these so-called interviews were probably fabricated with the help of a PR guy but I’d like to think they were based on fact and what was going on at the time. Being aimed at young teenage girls, the language used had to be of a certain style so as you say very everyday and ordinary, but still quite interesting to look back at after all these years. I did watch a lot of Bowie footage after he died and he wasn’t always alien and otherworldly – He had a great sense of humour and could be very funny.

      Sorry if I’ve shattered any illusions but it was just a silly magazine article with a pretty great picture on the other side – No need to take it too seriously! I will vet anything else I share so as not to shatter any more illusions.

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      1. Please don’t… I’m a big boy. I can handle the truth. Or the untruths. I think you were maybe taking me a little too seriously… But unless I add a smiley face to my comments, I understand that they might not always be read with the wink I write them with.

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    1. Yes I have watched many interviews where they all thought their careers might last another couple of years, if they were lucky, as up until that point no-one had actually carried on for much longer than that – Those interviews were from 50 years ago and many of them are still going strong. My daughter loves all sorts of stuff from the ’70s that still sounds almost contemporary but for us in an older age bracket there is no parallel to the music from our parents generation – I mean I do love Glenn Miller and Fred Astaire, but not quite contemporary!

      Yes very sad to hear about Tom Petty’s death – A long career for him too.

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    1. Good grief – In a “club”! My daughter took me to a club earlier this year as a Mother’s Day treat and I quite enjoyed it actually. I’m wondering what kind of club it was if they played Blockbuster and then Jean Genie but good to know all these years on they still get played – Who would have thought it?

      Thanks for the link – interesting to hear how unashamedly similar everything often was back then (and they got away with it!). Love the costumes worn by The Sweet – Somehow, dressed like that, Brian Connolly manages to look both threatening and macho. There is also a hint of Tammy Wynette in there however!

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      1. What a great clip and although I was a big fan of Life On Mars I had forgotten about that scene – Gene Hunt’s signature song playing in the background and a chance encounter with Marc Bolan! Sam Tyler nearly changed the whole space-time continuum thingy with his warning but one I’m sure you would have been happy about. Will have to seek out Life On Mars and give it a rerun as great telly for those of us who remember those times from first time around. Fortunately things have moved on apace in terms of male/female workplace relationships, although not it seems in the Miramax organisation!

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  3. This is so fascinating. I love old magazines and papers like this, so glad you’ve kept some! – as you say, it’s easy to kind of re-write things in our heads based on what’s happened since so you have to forgot all that and imagine reading/seeing it as if for the first time. I’d forgotten about ‘Fan’ until you showed us this too and I’m pretty sure that my sister may have had this issue as she was into Bowie and bought Aladdin Sane at the time and it looks familiar (tho’ again, I might be re-writing that bit. There were probably loads of pics like that in circulation at the time). I loved the album too, I was totally mesmerised by the cover image, and at 9/10 became v familiar with the whole thing (and the lyrics… ‘wanking’ and ‘quaaludes’??!! … ah, the innocence of youth, I really had no idea!)

    “…We hope it won’t mean you disappear from your fans’ sight?”
    “No I don’t think so…”
    That made me smile.

    Some years ago we found a copy of an old ’60s pop mag in a second-hand shop and it had a light-hearted article about a young Francis Rossi in it, in which they’d also mocked up a picture of what they imagined he might look like when he was an old man… Wish we still had it as I’m pretty sure he looks just like that picture now!

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    1. As Rol above pointed out I think we have to take these “interviews” with a pinch of salt as probably somewhat fabricated but very much based on what was happening at the time so still of great interest from a historical point of view – Yes, I also found the fact that back then he “didn’t think he might disappear” quite amusing – When you hark back to the outpouring of grief and the many tributes that flooded in after his death, he very definitely didn’t disappear.

      FAN magazine was very much a vehicle for great pin-ups I think as I seem to have quite a few in the folder – You were at a great age for all this stuff and as you say, the innocence of youth meant you really didn’t understand what the heck the lyrics were about anyway – To be honest even at my age I often still don’t. On the other hand I was about 12/13 at this time and the teenage hormones had really started to kick in – My good taste in music left me for a while and didn’t return until I was about 15/16! Too much time spent swooning over good looking teen-idols and weeping uncontrollably over absolutely nothing – Girls really are given all the rubbish physical changes right through life aren’t they, and they just keep on coming!

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