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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars

by Pip Charles - Malta Independent Online (14 September 2002 & 4 October 2002)

Our musical expert PIP CHARLES takes a look back thirty years ago when David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust and pop history was made.

The legend behind Ziggy Stardust – Part One

On 6 June 1972, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, by David Bowie, one of Rock Music’s most important albums, was released by RCA. This album was considered to have dealt a mortal blow to the great music of the 1960’s for the simple reason that its subject matter was conceptually futuristic, its stage projection was considered as an intelligent mix of music and the stage arts and all future shows in rock music had to be redrawn totally due to its unequalled vision. The album with its innovative stage show generated a new line of thought for those involved.

The Story
A star man from Mars, comes down to Earth in human form! He finds desolation around him, as Earth has only five years of life left. Ziggy Stardust comes with a simple message: to let the children lead on as they are tomorrow’s future - they might provide a solution to Earth’s miserable problem.  At first, Ziggy finds that preaching his simple message is not easy, and he has to think of another way of driving his message through. So he decides that he has to become a Rock ‘n’ Roll star, which he succeeds in doing, thus reaching everybody with his music and songs. Once a star, however, the inevitable happens. Ziggy tries to exert self-discipline but he starts to lose control which leads to his total downfall as he realises with extreme suicidal disappointment that he has failed to conclude his mission successfully.

Perfect projection and vision
Bowie entered Trident Studios with a clear idea of what he wanted and advised the co-producer Ken Scott that this album would be nothing like the previous one (Hunky Dory ), that it was going to be much heavier and strange and that he (Scott) would not like it. Bowie was wrong here as Scott loved this album.

Bowie felt confident in taking this important gamble, as he had carefully studied which area in rock music could be exploited to the full. With the thrill of threading into unknown ground, it gave him a stimulus to produce an album into which he put in a superhuman effort, because he was sure it would be a hit. How right he was! Ziggy Stardust was a concept album; one of the few to succeed by using the formula of story telling by merging the songs. It never loses the track of the story and has a beginning, a middle and an end to the whole musical idea. Many have tried this formula but have failed miserably. Only a select few succeeded in making it into this exclusive and yet elusive list where Ziggy Stardust belongs. 

David Bowie had a very tight band, The Spiders from Mars, with Mick Ronson ( died 30 April 1993) who was on guitar, piano, backing vocals and also the musical arranger. Trevor Boulder who played bass and trumpet and Woody Woodmansey a drummer since the age of 5. Having a lot of live experience behind them, they became a great band led decisively by Bowie, resulting in a winning and vital combination. This album was recorded in a totally different way, as some of the songs were already written before they went into the studio. All that was needed was for Bowie to write new material to shape the story and record it. With this unique method they did not lose any valuable time by either over rehearsing or over production. Ziggy Stardust was probably the first (if not the only) album ever to be recorded in such an economical way. One has to mention that Bowie spent around five months, between July and November 1971, in the Trident studio when he recorded Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. Both turned out to be two of the most outstanding albums in rock music.

Ziggy Stardust revealed – Vince Taylor
On explaining on how Ziggy Stardust came to be, Bowie said that Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a certain rock ‘n’ roller called Ronald ‘Vince’ Taylor, born in England, who moved to America, and found little success. He had a hit in the UK with I’ll be your Hero, a song that reached No. 15 in September 1960. He moved to France and was a deadly rival to Johnny Halliday (the noted French rock ‘n’ roller) in the early sixties, and became successful, but he started going crazy. On one occasion, he fired the band while on stage, then on another night he went on stage wearing just a white sheet and told the audience to rejoice as he was Jesus Christ and started reciting the Bible. Back in London he used to carry a lot of maps of Europe and he used to spread these maps on the pavement at Charing Cross Station and at Tottenham Court Road and used to tell those around him, Bowie included, where the aliens have landed and where money was hidden and that one day he would get these aliens and the money. Eventually, he was put away in a mental institution (just like Bowie’s brother Terry) and when released, he ended up as a maintenance worker at Geneva Airport, in Switzerland and died some years later. Bowie said that the track Ziggy Stardust was written about Vince Taylor .

Ziggy Stardust – What’s in a name
According to reliable sources, Bowie picked the name of Ziggy Stardust from Iggy Pop (James Jewel Osterberg) former leader of The Stooges (an American Proto Punk Garage Band) and the one and only the talentless The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (a dismal Country & Western free form performer). Thus, with a Z and Iggy plus Stardust, you have one of the most memorable creations in rock history.

The long play song list

Side A

1. Five Years 4.42 (Bowie)
2. Soul Love 3.39 (Bowie)
3.Moonage Daydream 4.37 (Bowie)
4. Starman 4.16 (Bowie) *
5. It Ain’t Easy 2.57 (Ron Davies)

Side B

1. Lady Stardust (Bowie)
2. Star 2.47 (Bowie)
3.Hang on to yourself 2.38 (Bowie **)
4. Ziggy Stardust 3.13  (Bowie) **
5. Suffragette City 3.25 (Bowie) * & **
6. Rock ‘n’ roll Suicide 2.57 (Bowie) *

The total time of the Long Playing album is 38 mins 37 secs.

* Tracks released as Singles.
**Tracks released as B sides to singles

Some curious facts
From the first day that Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, he was completely confident about its global success, but he did not realise that at some time, that the same Ziggy would eventually turn into the Frankenstein of rock. He was actually living as Ziggy Stardust but not as David Bowie and he became deeply aware that it was turning into a very bad situation indeed. Ziggy was turning into a monster and it was a millstone tied to Bowie’s neck. So Bowie found the perfect solution by getting rid of Ziggy Stardust in the concert held at the Odeon, Hammersmith in London on 3 July 1973. At the end of the concert, he thanked the fans, the band and the road crew and then dropped a bombshell, when he announced that of all the shows in the tour, this one would remain with them as long as they lived. It was not only the last concert of the tour but it was to be the last concert that they would ever do. This announcement not only shocked the fans present but also the world of music. Critics at that time did not understand this moving statement but Bowie later showed them why he did that, when he changed his style and music completely and kept on touring successfully and giving top class concerts. What he did was that he killed Ziggy on stage so that Bowie could live his life. A shrewd move from the Brixton lad.

* This was a one off situation in rock, where the fans were hero worshipping a fictitious character, that is, they adored Ziggy Stardust but not David Bowie.
* 8,000 copies were sold in its first week of release and the album was certified gold in June 1974.
*One of the tracks on Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, was given to Mott The Hoople (the first ever Heavy Metal Band in Rock) to release as a single, once Bowie heard that this group was on the verge of disbanding or had already disbanded. However, Ian Hunter, the band’s main man, refused to accept this song as he realised that sooner or later Bowie would release this song on his own album. On hearing this, Bowie wrote (in some fifteen minutes) the anthem of the 1970’s, All the Young Dudes, with the solemn promise that he would not record it as a studio song. He gave it to Mott The Hoople and after producing it with Mick Ronson, he gave them their biggest hit ever and a top selling album with the same title.
* A re-encounter that confirmed Bowie’s prediction that one day he would be a rock ‘n’ roll star was when he was producing Lou Reed’s great hit, Walk on the Wild Side. The baritone saxophonist in that song was Ronnie Ross who gave Bowie his first ever saxophone lessons. At the end of the recording session, when that sublime sax solo was recorded, Ross thanked Bowie who replied that he was the one who should be thanking him. A confused Ross asked what he meant. Bowie told him that it was he who taught him how to play the saxophone. Even more surprised, Ross asked Bowie when these lessons took place. Bowie asked him if he recalled that nine or ten year old kid who came to see him about some saxophone lessons.  Ross quickly remembered that little boy who even told him that one day he would be a rock ‘n’ roll star!
*A total of 17 photos were taken for the front and back covers of the album. They were using a Royal-X-Pan black and white film. These shots were taken on a cold and wet night in January 1972. They were shot by Brian Ward, who took seven photos of Bowie posing in front of 23 Heddon Street, London, with four photos of Bowie inside and around the telephone box and the rest in close ups.  Brian passed the chosen photos to Terry Pastor of Main Artery, for the artwork that was to colour the black and white photos; a method commonly used in those days. The idea to shoot the photos in black & white was so that once Terry was colouring them, he would be able to capture that cartoon/ science fiction likeness, an idea that was fully realised.
*The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was re-released in a special 2 CD plus book edition last June. It should be found in every serious CD collection as it represents one man’s ability to amalgamate shock sci-fi theatre with rock music in a single and original way thus representing one of the main highlights of the 1970’s as well as rock music in general.

I am deeply indebted for the information gathered from the following books, Living on the Brink by George Tremlett published by ARROW BOOKS 1997 and We Could be Heroes by Chris Welch published by CARLTON BOOKS 1999. Further information was taken from the website www.5years.com (Michael Harvey).

The legend behind Ziggy Stardust – Part Two

Pip Charles concludes his in-depth look at the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie) whose album came out thirty years ago The early 1970’s touring scene

Last week, I took a close look at the making of the album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, and how it was acclaimed in the Rock world.   This was a time when Rock music was craving for innovative and fundamental changes. The musical output from various top artists was amazing but the touring side was in total shambles. Promoters were cheating the performers by hiring seedy, dirty venues, low cost but unreliable sound systems and minimal lighting equipment. Some of the big name artists began arriving very late in a drunken or drugged stupor, crashing out in their dressing room or being too stoned to give a good performance. Likewise, audiences in filthy moods were behaving in a rowdy way. With the arrival of Glam Rock, it was the right time to construct an entire change in this vitally important sector of Rock music.

Ziggy hits the road
The fictitious character of Ziggy Stardust was the right medium to change things around. Bowie was working hard on his image, his personality and his presentation on stage to give Rock a new outlook in entertaining. He had to shock, motivate and lead to his claim of fame which in the early 70’s was not that easy as the Rock world was still deeply embedded in the utopian dream of the 1960’s. Bowie was going to make sure that that dream would end with the invention of Ziggy Stardust.

The sensational and outrageous look The clothes
The main inspiration that helped Bowie to visualise the sensational and outrageous look on stage came from the Stanley Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange, but he gave it a softer look as it did not need to be so ultra violent. Bowie was helped by his wife Angie (Mary Angela Barnett) who used to go to London’s side street shops to look for extremely colourful and cheap clothes, which broke all the then existing fashion rules. This was a very intelligent move as it was probably the main inspiration that captivated fashion designers to come out with the Unisex clothes in the early 70’s. Those were the type of clothes that helped in no small way to establish Bowie as Ziggy, a plastic performer. However, Bowie was shrewd enough to perform in the usual crisp white shirts and jeans, a sort of a Rock band’s stage uniform in venues that were far away from London. He would only change into the outrageous clothes as the bland played closer to London.  The Bowies set up Freddi Burretti and friends in their spacious mansion flat in Beckenham, London. Freddi, who was a clothes designer used his imagination to provide Bowie with some of the most stunning range of clothes ever to be worn by a rock entertainer, both on and off stage.

Clothes wise, Bowie was well equipped to take the Rock world by storm when he started a seven month concert tour on 3 February 1972. In the later concerts, he wore costumes bought from Japan, designed by Kansai Yamamoto, since this country was included in the world-wide tour. While performing in Japan, Bowie had to resort to miming, as the Japanese could not really understand English. He ended up miming the songs as well, thanks to the guidance of the masterful Lindsey Kemp.

The Hair
Ziggy’s hairstyle was created when Angie walked into the Evelyn Paget salon in Beckenham High Street and talked to stylist Suzy Fussey ( the future Mrs. Mick Ronson ) on how she wanted her hair to be styled, a white, red and blue stripe down the side of her head. Little did Suzy know that this was just an audition for a future legendary hairstyle! Angie invited Suzy to their home and when Bowie asked her if she liked his hair style, she replied that it was boring. Suzy suggested that he cut his hair short but Bowie did not want an ordinary hair cut!

During this conversation, Angie was flipping through a Vogue magazine and came upon some ideas such as a pointed fringe, two long strips of hair down the side of Bowie’s face and ending with the top and back cut short, to be dyed in red. With this general idea in mind Suzy got to work and when finished, this new hairstyle was approved. The next morning, however, Bowie was horrified at the way his hair looked and phoned Suzy who came over to repair his hair. Angie tried to calm her husband down by telling him that all he needed was to have his hair glowing and everything would turn out fine. Suzy bleached Bowie’s hair then dyed it red. Using setting lotion for the front she had Bowie’s hair standing up in orange-red spikes. Suzy became Bowie’s personal hairdresser and thus, the legendary Ziggy Stardust hair style was created out of sheer desperation!

The personal admission
So far Bowie had made two important fashion statements: first with his clothes, then the hair. But that was not enough, this change needed something else, much stronger, much more menacing , much more outrageous and much more shocking. He shook the whole British way of life when he admitted that he was gay – the ultimate coup de theatre . This shocking statement was purposely given off-handedly during an interview to Michael Watt from Melody Maker in January 1972. The news spread like wild fire all over Britain, confusing everybody as they could not figure Bowie out. How can he be gay when he is married and has a kid (Zowie)? But then he wears dresses plus a handbag! What is he actually? They were totally dumbfounded about his lifestyle.  Though homosexuality in the entertaining field was known to exist, it was always kept as low-profile as possible. Not even Hollywood could come up with something so open as this, since even well-known gay film stars would never have spoken so frankly. It was a very tight secret.  At first, Bowie was not so sure about the wisdom of what he had done as he was crucified by the press. Then to his great relief it was generally accepted as a normal thing. He said that his mother (Margaret Jones) phoned him about this and Bowie told her not to worry as it was just an act because he simply wanted to be shockingly outrageous and create havoc and uncertainty in the private lives of many people. It was more to shock; just to get noticed. He later admitted that he had lied about his sexuality, as he had always been heterosexual. But his open ‘admission’ regarding his sexuality proved to be one of the most outstandingly strong statements ever in the history of Rock Music. It sent shock waves through the industry as no other rock/pop star had ever said anything of that sort in public. It was only a few years later that one of the superstars of the 70’s, Elton John admitted that he was gay and others followed suit.

The fantastic stage shows
With the recording of the album going according to schedule, Bowie could spend time perfecting his fantastic theatrical shows whenever possible, working on the notion that his shows would continue to be more spectacular and exciting. It was said that if you had a ticket to Ziggy shows you were absolutely privileged. No wonder Bowie was one of the most important figures of 1970’s pop culture. He changed everything around in a most distinctive, outrageous and bizarre way, but every single risk he took whether by clever thought or by accident, seemed to come at the right place at the right time.

The plastic Ziggy
Bowie described Ziggy Stardust as ‘Japanese Theatre meets American Science Fiction’. He later admitted that Ziggy Stardust had made his career since the character Ziggy was more of a credible plastic rock star than anything else at the time, including the fabricated Monkees. Bowie probably mentioned the Monkees for two important reasons. First, they were one of the first ever studio produced groups in 1966; a project which at first looked deadly serious but which then fizzled out completely by 1968. They were just a group of four guys, culled from around 450 hopefuls who applied for the job; a quite imaginative idea in those days. The Monkees were formed to become America’s answer to the Beatles. They sang other people’s songs and soon came out with Monkees merchandise for sale. Their strongest point was probably because they had credible and well-produced pop songs and it was due to their TV show, Here Come the Monkees , screened world-wide, that they became so popular between 1966 to 1968. An immediate collapse followed when it was discovered that they did not actually play in their successful songs and they became history.  Secondly, it was one of the Monkees, the English singer, Davy Jones, who unknowingly forced Bowie to change his surname from Jones to Bowie. David choose the surname from Bowie’s knife, named in honour of Jim Bowie, one of the heroes of the Fort Alamo battle. Bowie had a vast knowledge of cowboy stories of which he was an avid reader when he was young.

The Spiders from Mars
Though Ziggy’s band looked heavy with their multi-coloured hair, make-up, way out clothes and laced up, shiny platform boots they were never involved in any sort of violence on stage, hotels or any other places. While performing in their earliest concerts, they were even called ‘poofters’, due to the Melody Maker statement, their shocking image and Bowie’s outrageous behaviour on stage such as when he pretended to perform fellatio on Mick Ronson’s guitar.  During his pre-Ziggy days , Bowie and Angie used to hang out at the Sombrero, a cafe in the morning, changing into a night club/disco by evening where homosexuals, transvestites and prostitutes used to meet. Bowie probably learnt a lot of his gay mannerisms from these people.

A star is born
The press claim that Bowie was not hailed as a star during one of his concerts but in a charity concert organised by the Friends of the Earth for Save the Whale campaign. Ziggy and the Spiders appeared together with Lou Reed, Marmalade and the JSD Band. It was held on 8 July 1972 at the London Festival Hall where Ziggy came on a blacked out stage with a Moog playing Beethoven’s The Song Of Joy, chosen from the film, A Clockwork Orange. A single white spotlight picked out Ziggy with his red spiky hair, bleached face, red and green space suit and his thick platform red boots. He announced himself as Ziggy Stardust and the band, The Spiders from Mars. Astonishingly, he performed beyond everybody’s expectations. The comments varied from the Guardian saying that Bowie was a remarkable performer to the Times comparing Bowie to T.S. Elliot with a rock ‘n’ roll beat .  But the best comment was made by Ray Coleman of the Melody Maker who headlined his report ‘ A Star Is Born’.

From Ziggy to where next?
The early 1970’s were moving very fast and with Bowie killing off Ziggy on stage after a sixty-date tour, he had to keep changing his image, sometimes drastically. From Ziggy Stardust he became Aladdin Sane with Pin-Ups, then a Diamond Dog, to a Young American across the Ocean, returning back to Station Europa, as the Thin White Duke, settling in Berlin by lying Low as a Heroic Lodger and finally unleashing his Scary Monsters and Super Creeps in 1979. That was the total amount of output made by Bowie in the 1970’s decade, not forgetting the pre-Ziggy albums, The Man Who Sold The World and, Hunky Dory, plus other productions with Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople, Lulu, Iggy Pop and even Bing Crosby. There were also films, shows and other appearances which made him one of the most influential musician ever.

Though still producing music, such as the recent Heathen and while diversifying his interests with painting, sculpting, the stock exchange, a website and film appearances, he has remained one of the most important rock personalities of all times. This is not only due to his amazing musical output but also because of his changeable identities and his unique contribution to rock music.

I am deeply indebted to some of the information gathered from the following books: Living on the Brink by George Tremlett published by Arrow Books and We Could be Heroes by Chris Welch published by Carlton Books. The rest is from my memory of those great years of real music, incredible myths and super legends. Any comments about this article can be sent to pipcharles54@yahoo.co.uk

---This page last modified: 13 Oct 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)