Produced & directed by Mick Rock – San Francisco, October 1972.
Copyright Mick Rock 2002.
"The Jean Genie" is a song by David Bowie, originally released as a single in November 1972. According to Bowie, it was "a smorgasbord of imagined Americana", with a protagonist inspired by Iggy Pop, and the title being an allusion to author Jean Genet. One of Bowie's most famous tracks, it was the lead single for the album Aladdin Sane (1973). Promoted with a film clip featuring Andy Warhol associate Cyrinda Foxe, it peaked at No. 2 on the UK Singles chart.
Bowie composed "The Jean Genie" in autumn 1972, completing the song in New York City, where he spent time with the Warhol set's Cyrinda Foxe. Bowie would later assert, "I wrote it for her amusement in her apartment. Sexy girl." The recording took place at New York's RCA Studios on 6 October 1972. Mixing occurred the following week at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee; the original single mix is in narrow stereo, while the stereo soundscape is wider in the album mix.
The song's chugging R&B riff is often compared to The Yardbirds, especially their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man",, but was most probably inspired by french singer Jacques Dutronc's La Fille du Père Noël (1966), while the lyrics have been likened to the "stylised sleaze" of The Velvet Underground. The subject matter was inspired in part by Bowie's friend Iggy Pop or, in Bowie's own words, "an Iggy-type character... it wasn't actually Iggy." The line "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module" would later give the band Simple Minds their name.
The title has long been taken as an allusion to the author Jean Genet. Bowie was once quoted as saying that this was "subconscious... but it's probably there, yes". In his 2005 book Moonage Daydream, he stated this less equivocally: "Starting out as a lightweight riff thing I had written one evening in NY for Cyrinda's enjoyment, I developed the lyric to the otherwise wordless pumper and it ultimately turned into a bit of a smorgasbord of imagined Americana ... based on an Iggy-type persona ... The title, of course, was a clumsy pun upon Jean Genet".
Mick Rock directed a film clip to promote the song, in October 1972 in San Francisco, mixing concert and studio footage of Bowie performing with the Spiders From Mars, along with location shots of the singer posing at the Mars Hotel with Cyrinda Foxe. Bowie wanted the video to depict "Ziggy as a kind of Hollywood street-rat" with a "consort of the Marilyn brand". This led to Foxe's casting, and she flew from New York to San Francisco especially for the shoot.