Even the most singular creations contain a myriad of influences hidden within them. Ziggy Stardust was a creation that rock ‘n’ roll had never seen before and remains far too idiosyncratic to imitate. Ziggy Stardust was a Promethean feat that cemented David Bowie’s status as an otherworldly luminary and brought him his first glimmer of success.
As millions of people all over the world can attest, when he appeared on Top of The Pops in 1972 and midway through ‘Starman’ he pointed down the camera lens, his finger seemed to be pointing directly at you, and with it, he seemed to be coaxing you into a new bohemian world.
This was a new bohemian world that Pink Floyd’s former frontman, the late Syd Barrett, was already a resident of. “Syd was a major inspiration for me,” Bowie declared in the wake of his death back in 2006. “He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter.”
Later adding, “Also, along with Anthony Newley, he was the first guy I’d heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed.”
His love for early Pink Floyd under Syd Barrett was profound. His landlady, Mary Finnigan, who soon became his lover, once recalled that Bowie playing her some of his favourite records in 1969: “We went into his room and he made a little nest on the floor, with cushions and great big speakers on either side, and played his favourite music. Jimi Hendrix – that was the first time I heard stereo phasing – and Pink Floyd, Jacques Brel, some baroque music, probably Monteverdi.”
Around this time, Bowie also started hanging out with the photographer Mick Rock who had worked extensively with Syd Barrett. “We started hanging out,” Mick once said. “And he loved hearing all my stories about Syd Barrett.”
Bowie would then take Mick Rock down to London’s Sombrero club, which was essentially a hedonistic hotbed for the otherworldly and one night when he was in there with Angie Bowie, he became captivated by an outfit sported by the fashion designer and later musician, Freddie Burretti aka Frederick Burrett, aka Rudi Valentino. Bowie would later go on to call Burrett “the ultimate co-shaper of the Ziggy look”.
It would seem that in prognostication of fate, all of these kaleidoscopic influences were meddling in the creative blender of Bowie’s brain and conspiring to cook up a mutant rock figure from outer space.
Bowie hatched himself a plan to make Burretti the frontman of his new project. The project in question was his short-lived group the Arnold Corns, a name which derived from the Pink Floyd song ‘Arnold Layne’. Although the band failed to survive a few brief months in 1971, it was clearly a dry run to Ziggy Stardust.
During the Arnold Corns period, Bowie honed his flamboyance and dipped it in the psychedelia of Pink Floyd, a band which he said he loved since he was “ten years old.” With Arnold Corns, he produced early incarnations of ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Hang On To Yourself’ and very importantly, ‘Lady Stardust’. In their Arnold Corns guise, these tracks flopped like a badly flipped pancake, but Bowie was determined to resurrect them from the ash heap of history. Thus he persevered and creatively finagled his way to celestial stardom via his take on the ultimate rocker, Vince Taylor.
Although the sound and styling of the Arnold Corns phase may have transitioned from its early Pink Floyd-laden genesis, much of Ziggy Stardust’s space dust trail leads back to Pink Floyd and the iconoclastic presence of Syd Barrett. Bowie’s alchemical brain might have rewired everything thereafter, but it’s another noteworthy example of Bowie having his finger firmly pressed on the pulse of the creative zeitgeist.