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Gospel According to
A reader wrote to me about what she saw as the strong religious influence present in the Ziggy Stardust album:
"The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars" stands out for me as one of the classic albums of all time, an amazing concerto-like performance, in which each song plays its part in a shining whole. I was surprised not to find on your site any reference to what I thought was obvious; [that] Ziggy Stardust seems not only "Messiah-like" to me, but in many ways the songs on the album refer closely and literally to the Gospels.. I have always wondered if David Bowie had a religious upbringing because of the deep feeling evident in this album beneath his playfulness and creativity....I think Jesus, who always went the extra mile to save the strange, twisted and sexually wicked, would have liked Ziggy too." - Katja (1999)
Well Katja was right! I hadn't referred to this before AND it is interesting to speculate on just how much David Bowie designed Ziggy Stardust as his very own rock bible. So many thanks to Katja, Trudi, James, Antonin and Margaret for their inspiration, ideas and feedback. If you have your own ideas please let me know.
Is the Ziggy Stardust album a mini "Godspell"?
While on one level the Ziggy Stardust album is a straightforward story (about the perils of rock stardom), on another level it can also be seen as a modern day morality play with its songs both referencing and mimicking a number of Judeo-Christian themes. In this light - the album begins in "5 Years" with an apocalyptic event looming; discusses worship in "Soul Love"; offers salvation in "Starman" and then chronicles the RISE of a Christ-like rock figure followed by a FALL in which The Spiders (his disciples) bitch about his success ("should we crush his sweet hands") while his followers first deny ("Oh how I lied, when they asked if I knew his name"1) and then crucify him ("when the kids had killed the man").
The storytelling, variously in first and 3rd person, suggests a multi-dimensional Ziggy Stardust which would fit in well with the religious concept of the Trinity. Therefore was "The Starman" a possible metaphor for the Father/God, "Ziggy Stardust" - God's Son and "Soul Love" - the Holy Spirit/Ghost?
And if all of this is true - why would David Bowie do this? Was he making a religious statement? Is he a religious person? Well, only he can know these things but my personal belief is that in "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars" he was telling a story on many levels - and one of these was the proposition that rock stars had, for many, become the new gods - a view that John Lennon had also dared to express in the 1966 when he said that "The Beatles were bigger than God". In the Ziggy Stardust outtake "Sweet Head" - David Bowie, as "Brother Ziggy", pretty much summed it up in one line when he sang "Till there was rock - you only had God..."
But don't take my word for any of this - read on, check out the theories below (some are fanciful) and you be the final judge.
1 Taken from the demo version of "Lady Stardust"
Five Years (Bowie)
Helping establish a biblical feel at the very beginning of the album is the gospel-like narrative of "5 Years" in which it becomes clear that a tragedy is in store for the Earth (a flood? a plague?). A religious option is first offered when "a cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest". Highly significant are the lines "I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk". Christ was betrayed by a kiss (from Judas) and "I want you to walk" were the exact words he used in raising Lazarus from the dead. By putting these words in the mouth of Ziggy Stardust, the strong implication is that Ziggy was God or at the very least God-like.
Katja also sees strong parallels between the "newsguy" and John The Baptist and suggests that the "news-guys' tears could be seen as the symbolic baptism of the TV audience. Is that too far-fetched? Well consider this, the Gospel according to Luke does seem to draw all of these elements together when describing a sinner's reaction to Jesus - "weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed him with the ointment" (Luke 7:36)
There is a significant moment too in "5 Years" of what could be called a "spiritual-connection" when the listener is suddenly drawn personally into album - specifically by the line "I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour..." A lot of fans report this to be one of those "shiver ran down their spine" moments. Other lyrics of this type occur in "Starman" (see below) and the finale "Rock n Roll Suicide" ("Gimme Your Hands").
"The most memorable part of that Thursday night was when David Bowie sang the line "I had to phone someone so I picked on you ooh ooh" while at the same time pointing his index finger....It was as if Bowie actually singled me out...a chosen one...it was almost a religious experience!" - A fan commenting on the 1972 Top Of The Pops performance of "Starman"
Soul Love (Bowie)
This song is often considered out of place in the Ziggy Stardust "rock star" story but taken in a religious context it makes sense by helping to contribute more religious imagery and feeling.
"Soul love" is a religious type of love/worship - the most powerful of the three types of love mentioned in this song and of course the "soul" is the spiritual principle that Christians believe is embodied in all human beings. The lyric "she kneels before the grave, her brave son - who gave his life to save the slogan" could refer to Mary's grieving for her son Jesus (the brave son) after he was crucified and in this light the "slogan" mentioned could represent Mankind. The word "priest" is again used along with the word "God" - "...the priest that tastes the word and Told of love - and how my God on high is all love". Specifically, the phrase "the word" appears in the Gospels (John 1:1) and literally refers to God i.e, "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and God was the word."
Moonage Daydream (Bowie)
Interstingly, in the BBC Top Gear radio show (May 1972) performance of "Moonage Daydream" Bowie would also sing that he was "busting up [his] brains for the word" (which became "words" in the lyrics on the final album) and the song also includes the line "The church of man, love, is such a holy place to be.." - possibly as a pointer as to how the world can be saved (through the worship of Ziggy Stardust?).
The Saviour theme is strongest here with the welcome suggestion of intervention (Jesus/Ziggy sent to save Mankind?) if only the young would "sparkle" (believe?) then help would come from above (Sky/Stars=Heaven?). In this context the "Look out your window, I can see his light" could allude to God's "heavenly light". When people are converted they often say that they have "seen the light".
Author David Buckley believes that some of the lyrics in "Starman" were a deliberate attempt by Bowie to compare pop hero-worship with religious fervour:
"The lines 'Let the children use it, Let the children lose it, Let all the children boogie' intentionally echo Mark 10:14 ('Suffer little children to come unto me'). A literal reading of "Starman" ... suggests that Bowie is commenting good-naturedly on the Second Coming of Christ." - David Buckley pg. 132 Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story (1999).
It Ain't Easy (Ron Davies)
This song can be seen as referring to either Christ's temptation in the desert and/or the sermon on the mount ("When you climb to the top of the mountain."). Although not a Bowie song "It Ain't Easy" maintains the religious feel with gospel-like chorus/content and sounds very much like a Negro spiritual. Note the use of the words "heaven" and "Lord" and importantly the solution proposed to end human suffering in "It ain't easy to get to heaven when you're going down.. Well all the people have got their problems.. That ain't nothing new...With the help of the good Lord...We can all pull on through.."
"I'm a massive fan of the track "It Ain't Easy." The power of those choruses truly bring home the enormity of the weight on Ziggy's shoulders. Its a truly possessed song and among my favourites. The psychotic delivery of those piano chimes spooks me to the core, and then, all of a sudden, the heavens burst in those choruses and we are as one with the Ziggy. Stupendous stuff. I don't think the song is out of place at all, the album would be a lot poorer without it, or any of the tracks for that matter." - Trudi (1999)
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---This page last modified: 12 Dec 2018---