“He was half out of sci-fi rock,” David Bowie once said when describing Ziggy Stardust, “and half out of Japanese theatre. The clothes were, at the time, simply outrageous and nobody had seen anything like them before.” When he took this mercurial creation onto Top of the Pops, he pointed down the lens of the camera and it was as though he had unzipped your TV screen. His figurative finger waggled and welcomed you to climb inside his bohemian universe. The world would never be the same again.
A year later, Ziggy Stardust lay dead on the floor of the Hammersmith Odeon. After years of endless failure, David Bowie stood over the height of his success and announced: “Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest… Because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.” It took creative cajones the size of coconuts to carry through with the killing but it was a fitting end for the man who saved the world, and the life that went before remains untainted.
Below we’re delving into the rock ‘n’ roller-coaster times of a character Bowie boldly created like a Dr Frankenstein of music’s next chapter. By amassing the various writings Bowie compiled from a never-released theatrical performance and the narrative of perhaps the greatest album of all time, we bring you the rise and fall of a (near) fictional hero.
The life and times of Ziggy Stardust:
Waiting on a hero:
“The news is bleak today I’m afraid folks,” a downtrodden anchor announces to the masses of the world as though everyone gets the same universal broadcast ala apocalypse movies forevermore. “The bad bastards in control of this world have used everything up. They’ve jizzed it all up the wall, just like the irrepressibly greedy banker figures in the noughties. I regret to inform you all – dearly beloved global citizens – that we have only five years to the day left. By that time, not even an Inuit floating on an ice cube has a hope of sticking around.”
The broadcast fizzles out and a universal despair descends like thick rain—the sort that lodges itself under loose paving stones and causes a tidal wave of errant urban slosh to splash up on your leg when you idly step on it—the sort of wet sock slosh that make you give up on the boon of rock ‘n’ roll entirely. However, through this crushing downpour, a meek sun can be seen. Rumours of a hopeful salvation echo in the underground…
Hope is on high for the world in a very literal and metaphorical sense. Some far out alien messiahs float above us. The world can be saved if only these overlords can be reached. If only someone among us has the daring grasp to clutch the Excalibur of existential salvation and call upon these space oddities to redeem us from our blind greed. Step forward Ziggy Stardust, like some cat from Japan, he could lick them by smiling. This unflinching mystic figure of frolicking fun is what the world needed in its hour of rock ‘n’ roll need, and Mr Stardust didn’t need a second invitation to leap into the spotlight like a speed-freak lemur on a tremoring trampoline.
A freak comes to life:
On behalf of the floating eternal “starmen”, Ziggy sets about grabbing the lapels of the youth and rattling them into action like a second hand Skoda travelling over a cattle-grid. He sustains himself on a diet of sex and drugs and cocaine and coitus, and assumes the role of a divine messenger.
He assembles his trusted coterie of cool cats and christens them the Spiders from Mars. Therein his wayward ways impart one sure-fire message: We are here to fart around, not one fart more and not one fart less. Or, as this is often put in the language of rock ‘n’ roll: We’re here for peace and love, dude. The inevitable result is that Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars enrapture the youth and begin their ascension to stardom. This is their rise, but as the title foretells, a fall must follow.
The antics of a rock ‘n’ roll saviour:
Androgyny followed as our bisexual hero smiled sadly for a love he could not obey. All the while, he was awful nice, really quite paradise. However, as Ziggy made his transformation as a rock ‘n’ roll star and became a regular superstar, moving like a tiger on Vaseline, he thrust himself further into the spotlight, and the mask he bore began to eat into his face. Loved by the masses his own hubris was dawning and the drugs got stronger, the sex grew tasteless, and the messenger began shouting without picking up the phone… but boy could he play guitar!
Once a prophet who brought news from a dream that the starmen would soon land and save us, the worship he receives transforms him from mouthpiece to false idol. The black-hole jumpers might have been allured by this ‘Lady Stardust’ on stage, but he has since soared too close to the sun and his end is neigh. The world may be saved, but his view of intergalactic stardom will never be.
The fall of Stardust:
“You’re wonderful, Ziggy,” the descended starmen say to our hero under the spotlight, “Gimme your hands”. As he foretold, the eternals have arrived and our five-year fatality never came to fruition thanks to the debasement of farting around in a rock ‘n’ rollercoaster frenzy, whirling through a kaleidoscope of hedonisms. Playing is simply the only point, but there is no point to simply playing – and that is the step too far that he has taken. The fall is upon us, and clutching the hands of a hero, the eternals tear him apart on stage in a rock ‘n’ roll suicide. Our saviours take a piece of him and float on forevermore.
Eternal life through legacy:
The final twist to Ziggy’s tale is in the creation itself. The obliterated hero, who saved the world but took it too far, lingers in the rickety rafters of Aladdin Sane. His creativity can never die, and this is almost a meta-declaration from the man behind the mask.
On a US chat show, David Bowie once joked, “I reinvented my image so many times that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman.” The chameleonic reinventions that Bowie swirled through like an alchemist of identity were a calling card for his ethereal artistic talent. They were not just character studies or quirky conduits for creativity; they redefined what was possible in rock music; that’s not a boon that can necessarily save the world from an impending disaster, but at some drunken wee hour in a kitchen, when all things cosmic seem to be in symphony, it can certainly feel that way.
One man who witnessed this rise from the outside-in, was the late photographer and close friend of David Bowie, Mick Rock. Rock once said, “I do not use the word ‘genius’ lightly, but if David Bowie is not a genius, then there is no such thing.”