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(Credit: Shiver Shi)

How one David Bowie album changed Blondie drummer Clem Burke’s life forever

We’ve all had it, haven’t we? That one moment when everything clicks and suddenly music makes far more sense than ever before. This realisation, in a clichéd world, is attributed to being in love as “suddenly all of the love songs make sense,” says every rom-com protagonist ever created. However, sometimes it can be derived from a far simpler source, like the discovery of an artist who will “join up the dots”. For Blondie drummer Clem Burke, that arrived when he dropped the needle on one particular David Bowie album.  

Burke was taking part in a conversation with Goldmine Magazine regarding 10 albums that influenced his life both on and off stage when he mentioned the David Bowie album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Undoubtedly one of the most vibrant and engrossing albums of the seventies, the LP found Burke at a special time in his life and convinced him that he was on the right path. It was a path which would eventually see him become one of the integral members of Blondie and define the genre new wave with his metronomic disco beats.  

“I quite possibly might have to say that of all the records I’ve mentioned so far, this David Bowie album was for me the most life-changing of all,” recalled the drummer when speaking with Goldmine and selecting the classic record. “David, for me, connected the dots and influences to all the things I was listening to at the time.” The album is, without doubt, one of Bowie’s best.    

Not only did the record go on to define a generation of glam rock kids who sat glittered and glitzed, ready for their rocket ship out of mundanity, but set out David Bowie as an artist unlike any other. The album is jam-packed full of unique songs that simply nobody else would dream make and, in truth, the thought of anyone else attempting to sig ‘Moonage Daydream’ or ‘Ziggy Stardust’ or ‘Starman’ feels impossible. Despite its undeniable legacy, the project also saw the birth of ‘concept albums’ as Bowie himself put it into practice. With Ziggy Stardust, and this album specifically, Bowie turned himself into the walking, talking and let’s not forget rocking, piece of performative art. It’s simply beautiful.

It was a phenomenon Burke experienced first hand, too. “The most important concert I ever attended was the Ziggy performance at Carnegie Hall on September 28, 1972,” the drummer remembered. “I was 17-years-old and had just graduated high school. Talk about life-changing! It turns out that a few of my future CBGB’s cohorts were also in attendance, including Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Joey Ramone, and, oh yeah, Andy Warhol, too.” What a crowd it was, a crowd which could possibly rival the Manchester Sex Pistols show as one of the most vitally important in rock history.

Burke thankfully, for all those who weren’t there, attributes witnessing such an event into perspective: “If the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in ’64 seemed to have come from another planet, then David appeared to be from an entirely different solar system.” It’s easy to see how visually Bowie was so captivating but the music still had to hold up, luckily Bowie was blessed in that area too. “The Ziggy album, to my mind, totally informed what was on the musical horizon with great songwriting, great musicianship and amazing otherworldly presentation.” Bowie’s impact on the cultural landscape on both sides of the pond was impressive and vital to the growth of pop music as we know it, as he neatly summarises: “I would say you had to be there but in reality, who doesn’t know how special David’s time on this earth was for all of us?” 

We couldn’t have put it any better ourselves. While there will likely never be another David Bowie, we can all enjoy the music, the creations and the mystical joy he left behind, namely from the album that changed Clem Burke’s life, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. 

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