I was in LA when I got a call from someone who I soon found out was Coco asking me if I might be interested in working on a video with David, the film that eventually became Jazzin’ For Blue Jean, which was the big marketing exercise for the Tonight album. So I flew back to London, we met, and what I remember is that I was completely surprised by how ordinary he was. I was expecting The Man Who Fell To Earth, someone otherworldly, and what I got was Cheeky Dave…
So the first meeting was rather disorientating, although intellectually we clicked. We collaborated on what would become this twenty-minute film for ‘Blue Jean’, and he was an absolute delight to work with. We even came up with the ending on the spot, when we’d run out of time and money, by feigning an argument between us and by breaking the fourth wall by having him yelling at me, the actor to director. He was very, very collaborative, and very keen that you got your point across. I think he felt that he was the casting director, and if he’d cast you properly, then he should just let you get on and do it. He wouldn’t micromanage, he’d really want you to do what he’d hired you to do. If you watch that film now, I still maintain that the ‘ordinary’ version of himself that he plays in the film is the closest approximation of what David was actually like. It’s the nearest thing to the ‘real’ David Bowie that’s ever appeared onscreen.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie and Temple worked on the plot and storyboards together, before playwright Terry Johnson was brought in to tighten up the dialogue.
He asked me to do the Jazzin’ For Blue Jean video. He had a funny perspective on rock stardom and wanted to take the piss out of himself, portraying a side of himself he’d kept hidden. It was risky, because part of Bowie’s power is mystique. One minute he’d be walking down Frith Street with people open-mouthed, touching him, then I’d be walking next to a very normal bloke. He took me to West End dive bars that had been there since the 60s, and everyone knew him from the old days.
I’m not sure how happy he is with fame and I think the 70s character roles were a way of dealing with it, in the same way Keith Richards became a junkie. There is a normal version of David, but I’ve seen him before he goes on stage and he somehow has the ability to will himself into something magnetic and incandescent.
The Guardian, February 2003
Bowie played two roles in the film: the hapless, nervous Vic, whose valiant efforts to impress the passive Eve Ferret are largely rebuffed; and Screamin’ Lord Byron, an aloof New Romantic-style singer who ultimately gets the girl.
The thing that we’ve just put together is more like a ’50s short than a video, the music takes a back seat – more or less. It’s a piece in the film. The first thing that EMI are going to have to do is put subtitles on it, because there’s so much dialogue that it won’t mean a thing if it’s shown in Germany or Spain or France without them. The talkies – I think we’re into the talkies. The format of ‘Blue Jean’ is of a small talkie, and that’s the emphasis.
New Musical Express, 29 September 1984
Byron’s band in the film included Richard Fairbrass on bass guitar, who would achieve fame with Right Said Fred seven years later. Also appearing in the video was Chris Sullivan, a London-based DJ, journalist and nightclub owner.
When we launched the Wag Club in Wardour Street in 1982, he started popping in a lot, often with Julien Temple. He seemed to like Soho, loved seeing what was going on, soaking everything up. I was called one day at home and asked if I wanted to be an extra in Jazzin’ For Blue Jean, and when I turned up at six o’clock on the day of shooting they handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘These are your lines.’ They weren’t the kind of lines I needed at six in the morning, let me tell you. For a person who runs a nightclub, 6am is like eight o’clock in the evening. Anyway, I had to do my thing as David Bowie is up a ladder, and I had to actually do some acting and I did it about six times and every time was worse than the last. He was very nice about it, and said it was the same for him on The Man Who Fell To Earth, which unsurprisingly didn’t make me feel any better.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
According to Temple, Bowie was troubled during the shoot by thoughts of his half-brother, Terry Burns, who was an in-patient at Cane Hill hospital in Coulsdon. Burns had suffered poor mental health for many years, and on 16 January 1985 took his own life.
The important thing to realise about David is that he worried terribly about Terry, while at the same time being continually worried that he was going to fall victim to the same kind of schizophrenia. He absolutely idolised Terry, and in his eyes Terry was a hero. He really loved his brother, and hated the fact that he was incarcerated. One morning during the shoot for Jazzin’ For Blue Jean I was late, and I’m never late, so I got up and rushed to the set but I was over ninety minutes late by the time I got there. But weirdly David wasn’t there. He called me to apologise and then asked me to come round to this little hotel he was staying in, in Hans Crescent. He was sitting up in bed, in his little stripey blue-and-white pyjamas, and he was crying his eyes out. I think something had happened to Terry. But that day I felt like his big brother. I think perhaps he looked for brother-type figures throughout his life.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
In 1985 ‘Blue Jean’ was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, but lost out to ‘Dancing In The Dark’ by Bruce Springsteen.
That same year, Jazzin’ For Blue Jean won the Grammy Award for Best Video, Short form. This was Bowie’s only Grammy won during his lifetime, although he was given four posthumous awards for the Blackstar album.
The second video for ‘Blue Jean’ was a three-minute edit of Jazzin’ For Blue Jean, containing just the performance of the song.
Temple made a third and final video for ‘Blue Jean’ a few days after shooting wrapped on Jazzin’, which was shot at the Wag Club in London’s Soho.
This third film was made for the MTV Awards, where it was shown in New York on 14 September 1984. Bowie introduced his band as “the Aliens”, and dedicated the song to “all our friends in the American Empire”.
In the clip Bowie mimed to the studio recording, although the video musicians’ live vocals were audible during the chorus.
Jazzin’ For Blue Jean and the MTV video were both included as hidden extras on the Best of Bowie DVD.