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  Review of ICA's
"A Rock N Roll Suicide"

Steve Harvey as Ziggy Stardust

by Pat Hewitt

Fan Story Index

A review and some personal thoughts on "A Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Friday 3rd July 1998

Last night I had the time of my life. I took part in the most wonderful piece of performance art I have seen. Anyone who went along expecting the performance to evoke in them the feelings of the original audience from Ziggy's now famous final performance, may have missed the point of what was going on and what their part in this re-enactment was meant to be. If, however, they'd gone to add an air of authenticity to the audience participation then they, like me, would have had the night of their lives. From the opening strains of Beethoven's 9th to the ending which consisted of furious hand waving and grabbing at our imitation idol we took part in a knowing and very affectionate repetition of one of music's most enduring images. An artist at the height of his fame and popularity who quit, on stage! Whilst keeping my tongue firmly in my cheek I positively rocked once more to Ziggy Stardust, Hang Onto Yourself, White Light - White Heat, well I am sure all you die hard Bowie fans will know the set list for that infamous gig off by heart.

One of the most enjoyable parts was imagining the audience reaction and attempting to authentically re-enact them. What fun! No, it wasn't Bowie, no I did not feel the thrill I used to feel as I sat in the front row of the Rainbow watching Bowie as Ziggy in front of me. I didn't expect to feel that way. After all no one can be Bowie, only Bowie. However, the band looked so sweet in their wigs and fake sideburns (Trevor Bolder). Mick Ronson was superb in his silk shirt and knee britches. He was also, incidentally, a mean little guitarist. I did however, during Width of a Circle, have a few melancholy moments as I recalled the times I had seen Mick himself performing this number and realising that this was something that we could never see again due to his untimely death. Steve Harvey (Ziggy) had obviously studied the film of the original show a million times as he made sure that every expression, every movement was perfect. This did make the performance from the front of the stage a little bit wooden but I feel that this confirms that all movement during performance is an expression of one's own soul and therefore no one but you can ever be you. Equally you yourself can never repeat a performance because the mood of soul can never be exactly as it was on the first occasion.

The music was wonderful and admirably re-created. I totally got into all the songs as I know them so well and had such a good time when at the end of 'My Death' we all knew what we had to do! Shout out 'me', 'me', 'me'. After all we were the original audience remember, we were part of the performance. During the show we were all making grabs for Ziggy and obviously all gave the horrified cry of disbelief after the famous speech. We knew that we were part of a very well researched and affectionately performed piece of art. The full seven costume changes were there as was the appearance of guest Jeff Beck which did not appear on the video release as, according to a fellow fan I spoke to, Frank, who was at the original gig, it was cut because Beck was wearing flares and did not want to be seen in them!

At the end I came away feeling genuinely elated and felt that the audience had all had the most wonderful shared experience. There seemed to be a really genuine air of affection for the performance, the band and each other. As I left I overheard a guy calling frantically to his friends that "If you want to meet him you have to come right now." I told him that we want to meet him in character! Who said Ziggy was dead! People still crave that complete individuality, glamour and dangerous edge that he embodied. We are definitely about due for another Ziggy, our world is so dull, safe, culturally and one dimensional. Is there anybody out there who will pick up the baton?

Once I arrived home and during the following day I began to think very deeply about what I felt the artists who put on this performance had said about it and to examine my own feelings. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the creators of "A Rock'n'Roll Suicide" wrote "To present the fake was one thing, to re-present the original fake was quite another". This led to me to the conclusion that they believed that the final performance of Ziggy was a fake, in that Bowie was performing in character. This is to miss the whole point of Bowie's killing Ziggy off. At the final gig and for quite lot of the final tour Bowie was Ziggy. He was no longer performing. This is what I think terrified him. Many of you will know of a piece of mime Bowie performed called 'The Mask' (from the Love You Till Tuesday film). I felt that the whole Ziggy phenomenon was life imitating art. It began as a performance and he thought at Hammersmith that if he just stood and said it was over he would be able to walk off and become David Jones again. However, he said goodbye but could not remove the mask. It was not only that he had completely lost his own spiritual identity but everyone around him also could not see David Jones any more, they all saw Ziggy. So this character was repeatedly reflected back to him and in the end it was him.

I believe that it has taken David 25 years to find himself again. He has had to completely reinvent himself. This explains the different people he has portrayed over the intervening years. Just like the adolescent he has been trying on all the different kinds of people he could be because he had to re-contact his own soul life to find himself again. He had to go to America because there he felt that he would not see Ziggy reflected back to him in anyone that he spoke to. They did not know the Ziggy phenomenon that had existed over here. I now know why whenever I have watched the 'Cracked Actor' documentary (Alan Yentob's BBC film) I have felt such pain and sadness during the scene in the back of the limo (that whole "there's a fly in my milk" bit). And interestingly it is soul music that he is getting into and uses on Young Americans and the Philly Dogs tour. It is so obvious in this scene that he does not know who he is at that moment. He talks about soaking up the surrounding culture. He had to - he had lost his own, spirit-defining, identity. He was adrift in a soulless sea. He had lost contact with his spirit. That's such a lonely place to be. No contact with your inner 'you' because you don't have an inner 'you'. I believe that we begin from babies to soak up our environment and social surroundings. We unconsciously begin the process of awakening our own spirit so that by the time we reach 21 we have a very good idea of what kind of spirit lives within us. Imagine you are Bowie at the age of 23 - you suddenly begin to take on a different spirit - one that is given to you from outside. No one is interested in the David that you were before, only the David you are now (or the Ziggy). There are fewer and fewer references or compass points to the past as the rollercoaster rides along. Old friends are left behind, they can't keep up. Family fades into the background, new people surround you who bring new experiences, though you are not yet mature enough for your newly born spirit to stop these new experiences having a strong effect on your inner life. In the end all you have left and all that is reflected back to you is this new person. You become this new person but this is an invented spirit from outside, it is not really you. Your soul life dies so you try to rekindle it by taking drugs. This doesn't work so the invented spirit commits suicide. This works but now you cannot contact your own spirit. You try to rediscover your spirit by removing yourself from your artificial sycophantic environment and listen to the souls of other beings speaking to you via American soul music. You come back to England in your fascist phase (all adolescents have a fascist phase). You then disappear to Berlin and immerse yourself in the feelings coming from your inner life and live through the pain that has been inflicted upon your spirit. This is your adolescent right of passage all over again. The Low and Heroes albums are full of adolescent angst but Bowie was 30 years old! Lodger was the adolescent "look mum and dad I am so weird" phase. Then Scary Monsters was David Bowie as he was to remain, completely reborn and with a much wiser and stronger spirit than most of us would have at the moment of our own birth, as a completely individual spiritual being, achieved for most people at around the age of 21. His accelerated rebirth then went on to the "I'd better try and be a part of society" awkward twenty-something. He became straight because as yet he was too young (spiritually) to go it alone. He did not have a strong enough relationship with his own spirit. In other words he did not love and accept himself yet. This takes us all a long time. Carrying on the theme of spiritual maturity and arriving back at his present position he continued through the 1980s to produce crap. He knew as we all discover within ourselves that he had to be true to the person he was and that actually this person was not all that bad. He now acknowledges that this was his worst period musically. He then decided to try and recapture his youth (Tin Machine) - mid life crisis here we come. See how his spiritual growth has now caught up with his physical maturity because the spirit had already been formed, it had just been lost.

We now come up to date with a David that is completely in touch with his own spirit and who can now recapture those heady days of Ziggy and the Spiders from a position of knowledge and strength of spirit. It is no surprise to me that the Outside and especially Earthling live shows are a complete return to Ziggy and the Spiders. He is enjoying himself as he has not done for years. I believe that he has been searching for the Spiders for most of his musical career since 1973, as they represented a true expression of his soul and he knew unconsciously that if he ever found them again he had found himself. It is no coincidence that his last album is called Earthling and that Ziggy was all about Starmen and aliens. Earthling represents his coming down to earth and staying grounded and in touch with his own spirit. After all, he is an earth sign.

In conclusion I think that the songs being performed on the recent Earthling tour confirm my hypothesis. He is playing songs that he has rarely performed with such passion, love and affection since the period ending with the virtual suicide on stage in 1973. Queen Bitch, Quicksand, The Supermen, Waiting for the Man, My Death, The Jean Genie, The Man who sold the World, White Light White Heat, All the Young Dudes and the fabulous Moonage Daydream.

Welcome back Ziggy - keep rockin' keep groovin'.

Pat Hewitt (a life long fan.)

---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)