A silvery confection of turrets and domes, the Ansonia Hotel reigned like a dowager empress over Manhattan's Upper West Side. The basement of the Ansonia, however, more closely resembled a steamy cross between Hades and an Esther Williams movie.
These were the famous Continental Baths, the subterranean gay mecca where Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester and other performers got their start playing to howlingly appreciative homosexual audiences.
The principal activity at "the Baths" had nothing to do with music -- or baths, for that matter. There was indeed an Olympic-size swimming pool, and there were steam baths. But the real action took place inside dozens of cubicles where all manner of menages, orgies and S&M; extravaganzas took place.
When Mick Jagger stepped down into this tile-walled Gomorrah, the reception he received was hospitable -- unsettlingly so. One man wearing nothing but a towel walked up to Jagger, dropped his towel and stood there waiting for Jagger to do something. Mick turned away only to have another man walk up to him, rip off his towel and stand there with the same look of anticipation on his face. A half-dozen other hopefuls similarly bared themselves to Jagger as he beat a hasty retreat.
Not that Mick was in any way intimidated by gays or the lives they led. Onstage and off he embodied the bisexual chic that had taken firm hold in 1972.
Bisexual chic owed much of its appeal to the outrageous exponents of a new musical sub-genre called Glitter Rock.
No one personified this epoch's excesses more than David Bowie.
Bowie's Day-Glo orange hairdo, plastic disco boots and painted fingernails had established his stage character, Ziggy Stardust, as the androgynous king of space rock.
Jagger eyed Bowie with envy. Although only four years younger than Mick, Bowie was being touted as pop music's hottest new star since the Beatles. And he did not have to share the glory, not to mention the proceeds, with anyone.
At a Bowie concert in the spring of 1973, Jagger ventured backstage and was greeted warmly by the star in full Ziggy attire. It was apparent to bystanders that both men were taking ** the opportunity to size each other up.
Bowie fascinated Jagger
Both as a star and as a man Bowie fascinated Mick. While Mick had pioneered high camp, he had been careful to dance around the subject of his own sexuality. Bowie, on the other hand, openly declared that his stage persona was not merely an act -- that not only was he bisexual, but so was his wife, and they often enjoyed sharing partners. Having focused his sexual energies on the pursuit of women, Jagger was now intrigued by Bowie's unfettered ambivalence -- not to mention the positive effects it might have on a pop icon's career.
For his part Bowie was flattered at the attention being given him by an established giant of the music industry. If Jagger was a willing student, Bowie was an enthusiastic teacher.
The two became inseparable.
Soon this oddest of couples would be photographed in a hotel room. Bowie cradling Jagger's head in his lap.
At first Bowie's wife, Angela, tried to discourage the friendship. She felt that Jagger's glory days had passed, and that by associating with him David ran the risk of alienating his hip young audience. "There was this feeling," said a Bowie associate, "that Mick was washed up and that David was the wave of the future. And David was huge at the time. But he also knew that, when it came to longevity in the business, there was a lot he could learn from Mick."
One morning Angie returned from a night on the town and went straight to the kitchen to make some tea. The Bowies' maid, who had arrived for work an hour earlier, coyly told the lady of the house that someone was in her bed.
When she pushed open the door to her bedroom, Angie Bowie saw her husband and Mick Jagger. Both men were startled awake. David looked up at his wife, and said, "Oh, hello. How are you?"
"I'm fine," she replied. "Do you want some coffee?" Jagger said nothing. Without skipping a beat, Angie went downstairs to the kitchen and returned with orange juice and coffee. She then obligingly served Bowie and Jagger breakfast in bed.
David Bowie was not the first man with whom Jagger had been found in bed. In 1963 John Lennon, who had reportedly slept with the Beatles' gay manager, Brian Epstein, dropped in at Jagger's Edith Grove residence one afternoon and found Jagger and Keith Richards naked in bed together. "I'm not sure about those two, you know," he told Paul McCartney later. "What do you think?" According to McCartney, it was a question they never resolved.
On another occasion Jagger was reportedly discovered in bed with Eric Clapton, then lead guitarist with the hugely successful "super-group" Cream. "Eric and Mick were caught in bed together, it's true," claimed Marianne Faithful's ex-husband, John Dunbar. "It was a very narcissistic scene, very ambivalent
sexually. Bisexuality and androgyny are not only accepted, but they are encouraged." Others close to both men were not aware of any such relationship between Clapton and Jagger. They could only confirm that the two men were close friends.
Dunbar's assertion did not surprise writer Victor Bockris, who covered the late-1960s rock scene in London. "There was a lot of extremely hedonistic, dope-induced behavior at the time. Clapton was very much a part of that," said Bockris, pointing to Clapton's longtime heroin addiction. "Nothing was sacred. The idea was to break every taboo. This was a time period when there was no sense of finger-pointing if you were bisexual. It wasn't perceived as something to be ashamed of. Everyone was experimenting, including heterosexual rock stars."
During the summer of 1972, Jagger also spent several days in the company of another glamorous symbol of the new sexual philosophy, Rudolf Nureyev.
An incident at the home of television personality Geraldo Rivera that summer provides some insight into the relationship between Nureyev and Jagger. Rivera threw an impromptu party at his apartment in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and Nureyev and Jagger were among the guests. While the two men smoked marijuana and danced in his living room, Rivera went into the kitchen to mix some drinks.
"Suddenly," recalled Rivera, "someone snuggled up behind me. I felt an arm around my waist, and I made a kind of half-pivot to see who it was. It was Nureyev. He was being playfully suggestive, overtly sexual, and before I had a chance to even think how to respond, Jagger approached me from the front and started doing the same thing. They were kidding, and giddy, but there was also something seriously competitive going on between them."
As Jagger continued to run his hands over Rivera's chest, Nureyev ran his fingers through Rivera's hair. "He's a virgin, you know," Rudolf told Mick.
"Oh, well," laughed Jagger, "we can break him in."
Rivera remembered he "squirmed out from between this odd sandwich and laughed the whole thing off." But he was convinced that, playfulness aside, they were making a serious ,, attempt to seduce him.
Next: His Satanic Majesty. Ever the chameleon, Jagger had been searching for a way to outrage and offend fans' parents, and nothing fit the bill better than Satanism. The black arts offered it all: heresy, violence, spectacle and -- best of all -- sex.