The Jean Genie

Album: Aladdin Sane (1972)
Charted: 2 71
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Songfacts®:

  • This song has two likely influences: Iggy Pop and Cyrinda Foxe. Many of the lyrics reflect Iggy Pop's lifestyle and stage antics (he often slithered around on stage and cut himself). Cyrinda Foxe was an actress who starred in commercials for Jean Genie jeans. Legend has it that Bowie wrote this in Foxe's apartment in an effort to entertain her. Foxe would go on to appear in the song's official video alongside Bowie.

    Cyrinda Foxe was Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler's first wife - they married not long after she broke up with David Johansen of The New York Dolls. They had a daughter together, but got a bitter divorce. In 1996, she wrote a tell-all book about Tyler called Dream On, alleging that he didn't pay much child support. Tyler tried unsuccessfully to stop publication and was very angry with Foxe, but they became friends once again when Cyrinda learned she had brain cancer. Tyler paid her medical bills until her death in 2002.
  • On the Santa Monica '72 live album, Bowie says that this is about a "a New York lady and a guy who lives in New York and he's called The Jean Genie" (referring to the rebellious French writer Jean Genet).

    David Bowie added in his 2005 book Moonage Daydream: "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."
  • This was one of the first tracks Bowie wrote in New York City. He loves the city and has written many of his songs there. In 2001, Bowie opened the "Concert For New York," a tribute to the police, firemen, and rescue workers involved in the World Trade Center attacks.
  • In 1973, Bowie spoke to NME about this song: "I wanted to get the same sound the Stones had on their very first album on the harmonica. I didn't get that near to it, but it had a feel that I wanted – that '60s thing."
  • The lyric, "He's so simple minded, he can't drive his module," provided the inspiration for the remaining members of Johnny & The Self Abusers to become Simple Minds, who later scored a #1 US hit with "Don't You (Forget About Me)."
  • Mick Rock, who also did Bowie's videos for "Space Oddity" and "John I'm Only Dancing," shot the "Jean Genie" video in San Francisco, mostly in a studio but also outside of the Mars Hotel, where Bowie stands by as Cyrinda Foxe poses. This an appropriate location for Bowie considering his song "Life On Mars?" (Rock directed the video for that one, too. In 1974, the Grateful Dead released an album called From The Mars Hotel with a rendering of the edifice on the cover.

    Rock went on to greater renown as a still photographer, snapping the shots for several iconic album covers, including Transformer (Lou Reed), Queen II (Queen) and I Love Rock n' Roll (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts).
  • In 2011, a cameraman named John Henshall found a tape of Bowie performing "The Jean Genie" live on the British music show Top of the Pops in 1973 - a performance that had thought to have been erased. In December 2011, the performance aired for the first time since January 1973. You can watch the footage - which was filmed using Telefex Fisheye lenses which Henshall himself designed - here.
  • Aladdin Sane was ranked at #277 on Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time." The album art shows a closed-eyed Bowie with a red and blue lightning bolt painted across his face - an image that would later be replicated by Lady GaGa.
  • When Bowie says "get back on it" just before the first chorus, he's talking to his bass player, Trevor Bolder, who started playing the chorus one bar too soon. Bowie liked it, so it stayed in the song.

Comments: 18

  • Rocky Vette from Nashville TnI read somewhere on Google that guitar player Mark Ronson said he kept playing a riff from a yardbirds cover of a Bo Diddly song. I Don't remember the song title, Ronson said that Bowie had some unfinished lyrics from a earlier song that turned out to be "Jean Jeanie". Bowie and Ronson was on the tour bus headed to Nashville tn from Cleveland oh. in 1972 I believe it was the Dimond Dogs tour cause that was the album he was out touring at that time.
  • Jondwyer from Buckingham, UkI think that the subject of this song is actually Brian Connolly of 'Sweet', who were also signed to RCA. Bowie saw Connolly as artificially 'outrageous', living the glam-rock lifestyle when he wasnt', in Bowie's view, a true artist. Connolly wore denim, hence 'Jean Genie', the 'chimney stacks' were high platform shoes. Bowie even nicked the opening riff to Sweet's 'Blockbuster', to complete this character-assassination.
  • David G from EnglandBit surprised with the speculation about the influences and mistakes. Trevor Bolder offered explanation for both. Also take a listen to Blockbuster by Sweet and then follow the story through. Trevor Bolder the quiet man with many years with Uriah Heep offers that he made the mistakes noted and that Bowie not only commented on them with "Get back on it" but also decided to leave it in. The Riff comes from I'm a Man by Bo Diddley who also lent from Mannish boy.
  • Tim from FlaDavid Bowie certainly borrowed the beat from the doors' "WASP (Texas radio and the big beat)" please listen to both and see if you agree.
  • Jim from Enid, OkEvery time I hear this song I'm possessed! Whilst listening to it after not hearing it for years I went absolutely insane! This song is one kick-ass song! David's voice is very unique and the rhythm of this song drives me nuts. And the way David wrote the vocals where he sings and the other vocals meld magnificently while diverging in their own directions. Incredible.
  • Daniel from London, United KingdomJust before the first chorus, you can hear Bowie saying 'get back one'. This is because Mick Ronson (the guitarist) starts a bar early into the chorus. (Another poster said this was the bassist's mistake but it sounds like the guitar starts too early, not the bass).
  • Lisa from Baltimore, MdThe band Simple Minds got their name from the line in the last verse, "So simple minded"
  • Osma from Kazool, AfghanistanThe line is "keeps all your dead hair from making a bugbear." A bugbear is a Brit folkloric elf/goblin that causes irritating things to happen. "making a bugbear" is simlar to saying making a nuiscance

    Long live Hamid!
  • Reuben from Amsterdam, NetherlandsBowie recorded a worth while live version of this song with Jeff Beck on guitar.
  • Amy from Nashville, TnI read in some Bowie biography that this song was written in Nashville and not New York, as somebody here has claimed. Or maybe I'm confused; which song did he write in Nashville? I know it was one of the hits.
  • Drew from Mount Laurel, NjI think this is a great song, but it appears that the usually rock steady bassist Trevor Bolder makes 3 mistakes in this song. One in the beginning right before the 1st chorus(very obvious - he changes too soon), and then 2 at the end. With the large budget they had for this album, it amazes me they left this in.
  • Jeremy from Warren, RiThe line in the song where Bowie says "keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear", is a reference to Englands "Devils advocate" Allister Crowley. Bowie believed that hair clippings and nail clippings should be disposed of immediatley to avoid spells cast on him!
  • Alan from London, EnglandI thought the song was about Jean Genet, the French writer who can be read about here http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jgenet.htm
  • Jeremy from Warren , RiThis song was actually written about Iggy Pop, it's not about Cyrinda Fox! "The Gene Jeanie lives on "HIS" back, not "HER" back! I have to agree with Anita as well.
  • Anita from Nyc, NyI knew Cyrinda Fox appeared in the VIDEO of "Jean Genie," but I had always heard that the song was about Iggy Pop. Can we really say of a FEMALE Jean Genie that "HE screams and he balls"? And, since Bowie frequently refers to "balling" in his early lyrics, I don't think in this song he meant "bawling"! And I do like to think Bowie might have been making a parallel between Iggy Pop and Jean Genet as Pequenity suggests!
  • Pequenita from Washington, DcI thought this song had to do with playwright Jean Genet.
  • Sam from Barrington, RiWhen writing Alladin Sane, Bowie toggled with the idea of Alladin Vein which almost did become the name of the album. Alladin Sane was also another counter-personallity to Bowie as was Ziggy Stardust.
  • Tara from London, AzDavid Bowie's brother was Schizophrenic.
    The term A Lad Insane refers to his brother.
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