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My "Ziggy Wall" (1979)

Ziggy and our teenage dream (1/2)

by Madeline

Fan Story Index

Ziggy was our saviour. He rescued my only friend Lisa and I (two American kids with very British taste in music) from teenage boredom and launched us through outer space to his very own planet, somewhere beyond Pluto. The US TV show "In Concert" featured the final Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars concert at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. It was the first and only time we would see Ziggy live in action (besides the hundreds of magazine photos and posters we had). The stage was dark, the focus was soft and the camerawork shaky and evasive. Ziggy was shrouded in mystery. He was definitely from the cosmos; androgynous, surreal and seductive, perfect porcelain skin, unearthly mismatched eyes with a foreign, piercing stare. It was impossible to discern if he was for real, or if this was in impeccable performance. We saw this on a black & white TV, yet it was still utterly compelling. We had found our ultimate icon, and there he was announcing his final performance. Our devastation mounted.

New York’s Radio City Music Hall

We never got to see Ziggy live. When Ziggy landed his space ship on stage at New York’s Radio City Music Hall I was alone in my room watching the clock, forbidden by mom to attend such an event, yet knowing that he had landed on stage - at the exact moment the second hand reached eight o’ clock - in a cloud of smoke with "Moonage Daydream" reverberating throughout the stratosphere. I could swear I heard it faintly from my room twenty miles away.

Although we were into Bowie for a year already, his latest incarnation as Ziggy Stardust was the most fascinating. His final appearance as Ziggy was when Lisa and I saw him in quasi-kabuki drag on the TV show Midnight Special in 1974 (from the Marquee club in London) when we were in our pre-teens and highly impressionable. We were now sexually damaged for life. We had no concept of "camp" (except for summer camp) or about gay culture. Our innocent perception of gender was instantly perverted. We didn’t know any other way to take this but at face value, and we took it - seriously. It was the most impressive sight we had ever seen (in all of our mere fifteen years on earth) and I remain to this very day as I said, damaged. Something cracked my world open that night and the void has never closed. When I watch the "Floorshow" now on video it’s truly hilarious and just as colourful, but then it was utterly intriguing and so damned important. At the time this glowing, fleeting kaleidoscopic instant in history was gone in a flash with no hope of ever being seen again (in the pre-VCR days). I know I didn’t blink once in the entire 90 minutes! We thought this must be the highest form of art or theatre, or whatever alien genre it was and what did the mere boys at school know about art or beauty.

On TV that night, Bowie had an angel beside him dressed all in white from platinum hair to white platform boots. The way he played guitar sounded so sweet it made me cry. Mick Ronson the icon, the perpetrator of guitar head, the rock in Glam rock was later to become a dear friend to me but this was yet inconceivable. For now, he was the most sublime being who ever lived. Mom sat at the kitchen table polishing her nails, exhaustively apathetic. How could she so blatantly ignore this astounding spectacle?! Actually, she had a disdainful look on her face as if she knew how deeply I was mesmerised by such "trash" when in fact it was in direct rebellion to all the corny old-fashioned music she listened to.

History books depict minute details of eras and civilisations long gone by which capture the curiosity of later generations. People are fascinated by, and wish they could have lived in Dickensian England or during the Renaissance, the Gay 90’s (which in this decade takes on a whole new meaning!) or Picasso’s blue period. We were fixated on the histrionics of the Ziggy period. We had lived in those times but merely as children. We were forever combing the earth for fossils and artifacts - our history books were rock magazines - that could piece the whole story together. England seemed a distant and foreign land to us. When Ziggy landed in America we were not yet allowed to attend concerts. Forbidden fruit begat an insatiable hunger for the truth which was slowly revealed in brief teasing hints and momentary flickerings of the TV screen. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was our favourite real-life fairy tale. Just as an excited child would ask for his favourite part of a story to be told again and again ("Tell me the part about when they threw the witch into the oven!!!!) I’d have to repeatedly hear the part about how Bowie got the macho Spiders (Mick, Woody and Trevor) to dress in Glam drag! Poor Mick Ronson looked like George Washington or a pilgrim on-stage at the Hammersmith Odeon with his glittery knickers and leotards, buckled platform shoes and bleached silver hair, yet it somehow worked. He was beautiful!

Alone in the darkness of night so quiet that one could hear rumblings on a distant planet, with mom and dad tucked away asleep upstairs, the intergalactic sounds of Ziggy Stardust blasted through the blackness and static of my stone suburban life. I would imagine there was an amplifier on each planet, beaming this sonic fantasy toward all farthest reaching points of the galaxy. The emotional wailing of Ronson’s stellar guitar reverberated in crashing sound waves and wrenched my heart as Ziggy sang of earth’s impending demise. I felt as though everyone in the universe could hear it (I sure played it loud enough!). I wished everyone could hear it the way I did, and feel all the glory - yet I was happy to be among the minority of kids in America to be aware of the Ziggy phenomenon. As the planets vibrated and the room mutated into a rocket ship, I’d drift and moonage daydream of the starman who would "like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds". Who’s to say he wasn’t really singing to us on that record? Lisa and I felt like those two kids in the song:

"I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey that’s far out - so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on Channel 2
Look out your window, I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don’t tell your papa or he’ll get us locked up in fright"

That was exactly how we’d discovered Ziggy - flickering upon TV signals beamed in from Mars late at night - when I phoned Lisa and we both knew that this was special and not of this world. We shared a sacred secret which we were dying to tell the world, but nobody would listen. We could strongly relate to a fictional British rock star from space, but our parents and friends were beyond reach. They foolishly ignored our pleas and warnings that the earth would destruct in "Five Years".

We were drawn to Bowie’s music by its fantastic, futuristic nature. Each song had its own landscape and inhabitants like in Bolan’s mythological songs, and Bowie was the storyteller and main character with his double tracked up-front British accented vocals. In headphones it sounded as if he were right there with you in bed. We’d read the lengthy lyric sheets to "Cygnet Committee", "Width of a Circle" and "Quicksand" deeming them pure genius although incomprehensible to our young minds. "Bewlay Brothers" totally confused and amused us. His lyrics painted strange pictures and inspired some wild imaginings on our part. We thought this was the highest form of intellect, allied with supreme decadence and a bit of flamboyance thrown in for good measure. And the fact that he wore makeup and nail polish clinched the deal for us! We were sold! Later it was revealed that the lyrics were a product of Burrough’s cut-up and paste technique which Bowie admits to " borrowing" which put an abstract expressionist twist on the interpretative end. It all seemed so cryptic and alluring.

Lisa and I began to water-colour our hair red and green, wear glitter on our faces and fingernails and wear various home-made Glam outfits and platform boots to school. Nobody was doing this at the time. Now you can buy all kinds of crazy hair colours and mass-produced "rock n’ roll" clothes, but this was the early 70’s - the drab age of denim. All the kids in school thought we were nuts. They had never seen the likes of Glam rock, in fact they were the opposite - messy, sloppy, hairy, pimply Deadheads. Lisa and I would save our lunch money each day (we were both rail-thin to begin with, and we got thinner by skipping lunch) to buy records and magazines. We began to resemble our idol with our skinny bodies, anaemic complexions and colour-streaked hair. Our teacher came back to class after a 6 month illness. She was emaciated and pale, and we told her how fabulous she looked. We gave ourselves shag haircuts since there was nothing other than old ladies’ hair salons at the time who refused to give us the Ziggy cut when we described it (layered on top and long on the bottom). They would say, "that’s two different haircuts" and we’d reply, "So is there a law against that?" Why wouldn’t they just do it for us? It was quite frustrating.

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---This page last modified: 29 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)