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(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Capitol Records)

Music

Dissecting the people who influenced David Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust'

@TylerGolsen

Ziggy Stardust didn’t just appear out of thin air. He might have been transported to earth within the loose narrative of his titular album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but David Bowie‘s most iconic character had bits and pieces from some of music’s most notable and outlandish figures.

“I wanted to define the archetype messiah rockstar,” Bowie told CBC Radio in 1977. “That’s all I wanted to do. I used the trappings of kabuki theatre, mime technique, fringe New York music.” Bowie’s eclectic tastes made for a truly unique creation, bringing in pieces from art and artist all around the world. The result would be a character all his own, but Bowie needed some real-life inspirations in order to flesh out his “leper messiah”.

With 50 years of hindsight, some of the origins for Ziggy have become obvious based on the music Bowie was listening to at the time and the arts that he had practised in the years immediately prior to the creation of the character. Others remain slightly outside the realm of mainstream pop culture, with their legends now being tied to Bowie’s singular alien.

As Ziggy Stardust completes his 50th trip around the sun, we’re taking the time to dissect some of the more prominent influences and inspirations that made the character possible. From chaotic proto-punk frontmen to musical megalomaniacs to wild Japanese fashion designers, these are the real-world figures that helped form Ziggy Stardust

The influences behind Ziggy Stardust: 

Iggy Pop

By name and reputation alone, Iggy Pop is perhaps the closest one-to-one comparison to what eventually became Ziggy Stardust. This was before Bowie had befriended the frontman for The Stooges, but his appreciation for Pop’s unhinged performance style was clear.

As Bowie put it in 1990, “that Iggy connotation” was always important to what eventually became Ziggy.

Lou Reed

Another of Bowie’s future friends, Lou Reed was still being admired from afar by Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust years, but his appreciation came through in the Ziggy character.

“My references were the Velvet Underground,” Bowie proclaimed in 1977. “It was a British view of American street energy.” As the ultimate embodiment of that American street energy, Reed had quite a hold on Ziggy’s rock-star persona.

Vince Taylor

Often cited as the starting point for the Ziggy character, English singer Vince Taylor had the wild outfits and charismatic draw that was directly imparted onto Ziggy. Taylor also believed himself to be a messianic alien, one of the major components of Ziggy’s storyline.

Taylor was one of the few direct inspirations that Bowie had actually met before devising the persona, and Taylor remains the real-life figure who most closely resembles the final Ziggy character.

Gene Vincent

Although 1950s rockabilly star Gene Vincent didn’t exactly have the far out qualities that would make Ziggy so unique, there was a specific element to him that kickstarted a key part of Bowie’s creativity. Bowie had seen Vincent perform after shattering his leg in a car accident before the concert.

“It meant that to crouch at the mike, as was his habit, he had to shove his injured leg out behind him to, what I thought, great theatrical effect,” Bowie later recalled. “This rock stance became position number one for the embryonic Ziggy.”

Legendary Stardust Cowboy

The more you look at them side by side, the more Ziggy Stardust and American cult musician Legendary Stardust Cowboy resemble each other. With similar names and similar outlandish personas, Ziggy and the Ledge could have made a fascinating duo.

With acoustic guitars and spacey origins, Ziggy Stardust and Legendary Stardust Cowboy were reflections of the same state of mind.

Kansai Yamamoto

Japanese costume designer Kansai Yamamoto was making wild and outlandish outfits for years before Bowie asked him to help bring the work-in-progress Ziggy Stardust to life. Yamamoto was both an inspiration and a collaborator, helping create the outfits that would be donned by Ziggy on his titular 1972 tour.

In terms of bridging the gap between concept and final product, Yamamoto deserves more credit than just about anybody.

Marc Bolan

Since Ziggy Stardust was the ultimate glam rock figure, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the original glam rocker, T. Rex leader Marc Bolan. Bowie and Bolan had forged a friendship in the 1960s, and the two were playing a friendly game of one-upmanship all throughout the early 1970s.

Bolan’s flamboyant stage persona pushed Bowie, and Ziggy, to new heights, with the pair keeping their friendship solid all the way through Bolan’s untimely death in 1977.