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

Steve Harvey as Ziggy Stardust

by Sebastiano Patane

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


By Sebastiano Patane

I've always thought that imitatonal art must carry with it a weighty baggage of problematics including, heaviest of all, guilt. Guilt at being labled a copyist, of recycling something that somebody else, quicker, earlier and probably better than us, has already explored before.

Jain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the artists behind tonight's 'Live Art Event' feel obviously guilt-free and quite happy to reproduce before our watery eyes and emptied wallets what 25 years ago was considered a milestone of contemporary artistic endeavour; the very last Ziggy Stardust live appearance.

It's Friday, it's the I.C.A. Waiting for the doors of the theatre to open I have a look at the rapidly swelling crowd (tonight's performance is sold out) and try to spot the odd glammed-up freak or vermillion-rinsed hardcore fan (crowd watching has always constituted my climatic activity of any decent night out - call me sad, I call it post-anthropology). Instead what I see is couples and groups of mates well in their thirties, beer bellies hanging out, hair-lines receeding. Some had ironed their 'Ziggy' T-Shirts from their closets (ironies - haha), others had carelessly applied 'Stardust' on their cheeks (Gary Glitter Xmas gigs anyone?) Once inside my gig companions and I try hard to supress nervous laughter. The stage does vaguely resemble the original with 'Aladdin Sane' lighting at the back. Accordingly the expectation is now growing thicker as we wait for an hour to a glam rock hits soundtrack. I try hard not to sourly dismiss a bunch of loud blokes next to me, who appear to be the result of some bizarre telekinetic disaster who've strangely gravitated here rather than remain in front of the World Cup on telly. Okay, okay, that's a pitiful statement of discrimination, but the 'How can thou be into this?' ethic has always been part of any respectable subculture ideology.

To my bemusement, when the band arrive on stage before a heated audience, there is mayhem. No one appears to question it. From the first notes of 'Hang Onto Yourself' people are dancing, shouting and passionately cheering. I am too busy checking the arrangement of wigs and laughing at the werewolf-like sideburns of the bass player. Steve Harvey, as Bowie/Ziggy, appears immaculately costumed by original designer Natasha Kornilof yet looks a bit clumsy in platform heeled perspective. He's no Ziggy but none the less from now on it's Rock and Roll euphoria.Steve performs his script to the letter, every detail from inbetween song asides, mouth twitching and all. But as an only passable imitation of the real McCoy it only stresses the importance of the unbeatable original. Naturally it's not as simple as that. While I'm being pushed around by more carefree karaoke lovers I keep my rather detached amused deconstruction; Steve is not stiking, his voice is decent but not sublime, his legs are a bit too thin and his moves are somehow theatrically predictable. Nevertheless, towards the end of the fourth number I'm gradualy convinced by such a display of passion and determination. Steve/ Ziggy kind of becomes our second-rate hero, squint your eyes and you may fool yourself for a split-second. Sadly it's a feeling of sympathy rather than adoration. The bands's energetic live show and 'Mick Ronson's' flamboyant guitar masturbation provide enough entertainment for about 30 minutes. After that it's all boredom and bitter grins amongst us cynical snobs.

What puzzles me is the rendition of this as a live art piece. By all means I've always been a supporter of non-art forms which challenge stereotypical assumptions of 'high art', but what is perhaps irritating tonight is the unquestioned proposition. The undeveloped critique of this transaction 25 years old. Mere pastiche, even if placed in a cutting-edge art environment, is simply not sufficient. Obviously the had a reaction, at least from me, but the comparison of notions of transformed performativity and alternative gender politics within an old rockers convention is hardly rivetting. Ironically, later the following week I miraculously meet the man himself, David Bowie, on a drowsy day at work. He laughs at my clumsy account of the gig and in a matter of seconds I realise I've never been more blessed by such a dose of charisma and energy. I'm truly starstruck.

THE SCENE: The Tate Gallery. Seb and Harry are manning the ticket desk for entrance to the new Patrick Heron exhibition. They are idly chatting to pass the time during a rather slow afternoon. Little do they know they are about to receive a rather important visitor.......

Seb: (talking about the recent Ziggy Stardust tribute night at the I.C.A) "So yes, it was a bit boring in the end, we were just laughing"
Harry:"Yeah, I though it might be a bit like that."
Seb: (Spots David Bowie and Iman approaching the desk) "Oh my God, here we go."
Harry: (oblivious) "What?"
Seb: "I think I'm going to faint."
Harry: "Why? What....."


Dave: "Hi"
Harry: "Oh hello, we were just talking about you."
Ziggy: "But of course! (laughs)"
Seb: (Chuckles nervously)
Harry: "No we were, we were just talking about the Ziggy Stardust thing at the I.C.A. People thought you'd turn up."
Thin White Duke: (interested) "Oh right."
Harry: (pointing at Seb) "He went."
Bloke from Tin Machine: "Did you? What was it like?"
Seb: "Oh it was hilarious (laughs), I wasn't sure really."
Brett Anderson's Dad: "I bet!"
Seb: "Basically the guy did and said everything as you did back then."
Iman: Really?
Major Tom: "Did they have a Jeff Beck?"
Seb: "Yes they had! They had everything. At one point 'he' went, "I've got a friend of mine tonight on stage....Mr Jeff Beck". He was grinning (mimics mad grin) like that."
The Absolute Beginner: "Excellent! I should do it myself really (puts finger to head to act crazy), NOT! (laughs) Totally past it. I nearly made contact on the internet on the second night. I thought about it."
Seb: "Oh yeah, you should have."
Harry: "You should tour again, can you still do the high bit in 'Young Americans'?"
The Man who Fell to Earth: "No, no I never could. I've never done that live ever."
Harry: (falsetto) " "Break down and cry" "
A Lad Insane: "Yeah, I never could. Just once in the studio."
Harry: "That's my favourite thing you ever did."
Winner of 'Q Magazine's' Lifetime Achievment Award: "Thanks."
Harry: Can I have an autograph for my friend Dan? He's a Beckenham boy like yourself."
The Jean Jeanie: "Right sure, there you go."

And then, as if by magic, time fell wanking to the floor and Dave and Iman whisked off to look at some art. Frank is sure you would all join in and salute David Bowie, The Guv'nor!

---This page last modified: 12 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)