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Divine Symmetry: So, is Paul McCartney’s “Jet” (1973) about David Bowie?

I once saw filmmaker Oliver Stone give a lecture and stood in line to ask him a question. When I had my chance, I asked him about a scene in his movie, Nixon, that seemed to suggest that Watergate and Nixon’s near-impeachment were all a setup by a group of shady oil executives who previously supported him and helped engineer his election. Stone said I misinterpreted the scene and what I thought was there, wasn’t there. In replied that I had just seen the movie. And he responded, “It’s my movie!” I still think I was right. Which brings me to Paul McCartney and “Jet.”

It amazes me that the point is seldom made that the 1973 song “Jet” is clearly about David Bowie. Or at least it makes some pretty obvious Bowie references. The idea that it isn’t about Bowie comes from McCartney himself who said the song was inspired by his dog. But listen to the song and follow along with the lyrics– this is not a song that about a dog.

Instead, it contains lines such as, “I thought the only lonely place was on the moon”, and, what should be the case closer– “I thought the major was a lady suffragette.” Keep in mind the time period– 1973. “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s first hit, was four years old. It was played during coverage of the moon landing. It hardly needs mentioning that the protagonist of that song was also a major, but Bowie in 1973 had presented himself as androgynous. “Suffragette City” was even newer– Bowie released it the previous year. That song and this song are the only two I can think of that use the word “suffragette.” It is just too convenient McCartney was referencing someone other than Bowie, who had a song played during the moon landing about a major, who switched pronouns in songs like “Queen Bitch” and “Lady Stardust” and himself wore feminine clothing and makeup.

In that light, other lines from the song might be indirectly related to Bowie– “I can almost remember their funny faces.” Whose? Bowie and the glam musicians wore exotic makeup and certainly had funny faces compared to hippy-era rockers. “With the wind in your hair of a thousand laces”– this one is more ambiguous but the “laces” reference is vaguely feminine. “Climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky”– along with the line about the moon and the major this could be another nod toward “Space Oddity.”

Then there’s the name, “Jet” itself. This one is a coincidence, but shortly after McCartney released “Jet,” Elton John released “Bennie and the Jets,” which songwriter Bernie Taupin admitted was inspired by Bowie (and if there’s any doubt in your mind, look at the album’s liner art). Although I don’t think this happened, there also aren’t a lot of rock songs with “Jet” in their title, and for two having something to do with Bowie to come out in the same year suggests that the songwriters might have been mulling over the same thing.

This is not he first time I’ve made this point, and I’m not the first to do so. But as far as I can tell, it’s not generally accepted that “Jet” is about Bowie, or that at least those lines were inspired by Bowie. BUT IT IS AND THEY ARE. I don’t care what Paul McCartney has to say about it!

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The Divine Symmetry series compares Bowie songs to other songs with some sort of similarity, intentional or otherwise. The term is borrowed from Bowie’s song, “Quicksand.”

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