Historiography Saturday: Mick Jagger

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Singer, songwriter, and one-time economics student Mick Jagger is best known for heading English rock group the Rolling Stones. Over a career spanning more than half a century Jagger became a household name, spurred in part by a performance style so highly sexualized that it is sometimes used as a case study in ethnomusicological studies of gender and image, along with numerous pop culture references. He was knighted for his services to music in 2003, making his full name Sir Michael Jagger. His homepage, which includes biographical information as well as videos and links to his other social media, can be found here.

Jagger’s sexual orientation is a challenge to label for two reasons: the lack of definitive testimony and the question of scale. His inclusion here is based on secondhand witness statements from former lovers who allege that he had a love affair with fellow rock musician David Bowie. The allegations, while compelling, are not devoid of the possibility of exaggeration, or even outright fabrication; to whit, Bebe Buell, a lover of both men, has described the characterization of their relationship in a recent biography as misleading. While Jagger is also on record as having said that “everyone knows that everyone is basically bisexual,” that cannot be considered to be a definitive self-description.

Even with the rumors surrounding Jagger and Bowie taken at face value, the question of what constitutes bisexuality remains unanswered. Jagger’s is famous in part for his numerous affairs with women; while that does nothing to diminish the possibility of an attraction to men, his behavior suggests that he is primarily or exclusively heterosexual, and an argument can be made that it is wrong recategorize his sexual orientation based on a single exception. His lack of stated identification with a bisexual label despite the opportunity to do so raises further questions about when it is appropriate to categorize someone who does not apply the category to themselves.

 

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