The Curious Case of Ziggy Stardust
It has been over a year since we have lost one of the most unique and inspiring musicians in rock. David Bowie was the face of art and glam rock for five decades, and his music continues to impact the world today. Bowie shocked the system. He did outlandish things on and off stage that were considered taboo in the yearly 70’s. Fans loved him immediately and he became an instant sensation. Over his successful career, he released over twenty-five studio albums, acted in several films, and performed all over the world. Bowie was unstoppable. He received 9 platinum album awards, 11 gold, and 8 silver in the UK, and 5 platinum and 7 gold in the US. He also released a total of 11 number one albums and was a 1996 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Like I said, unstoppable.
David Bowie was not just a musician, he was an all-star entertainer in all aspects of the word. He remained active until his unfortunate death in January of 2016 due to liver cancer. Bowie essentially defined an era, well the music anyway. He even created an eccentric alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Together, Ziggy and David spearheaded glam rock and still remain idolized almost 45 years later.
Here are three things to know about one of the most popular alter egos in history:
1). The Birth of Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie was already at the top of his game. He released four great albums and perhaps his most iconic song to date, Space Oddity. Then, in 1972, he sensed that the music world needed something different to spice things up. Hence, the creation of Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was an androgynous, swashbuckling rocker who ‘was much more plastic than anybody’s. And that was what was needed at the time,” according to Bowie.” The flamboyant figure was born in conjunction with the release of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The world, and Bowie, needed something new, and he delivered.
The idea sparked when Bowie met Vince Taylor, a British musician and pioneer in his field. The two spent a lot of time together until Taylor had a mental breakdown due to excessive drug use. All of a sudden, he joined a cult and “decided that he was an alien god on Earth.” Bowie had always been obsessed with the unknown, space, and science fiction. He had been searching for something deeper than just a surface figure. When he heard Taylor’s ramblings, Bowie began to mold his ideas around him and other people and ideas. This ‘melting pot’ boiled the creation known as Ziggy Stardust.
Ziggy was conceptualized as a rock star from space and was sent to Earth as a messenger. He was out of control but served the purpose of bringing hope to a doomed world. People love weird stories, and Ziggy Stardust and the album that birthed him told one of the most outlandish stories that changed the music scene.
2). A Faltering Start
With any mainstream piece of media that has stood the test of time, it is difficult to imagine any rough beginnings. Although David Bowie was already an international star and seasoned musician at the point, his new album still needed the blessing of producers and a record label. In the early 70’s Bowie presented RCA Records with his new concept and music for Ziggy Stardust. The label was unimpressed and said that ‘they didn’t hear a single.’ Unaltered, Bowie wrote the ‘breakthrough track’ Starman and recording began in February 1972. Once the album was recorded, Bowie focused his attention on building a following for Ziggy and worked on ‘changing the music industry.’ According to drummer Mick Woodmansey, “We got into the practice of creating a show, rather than just making music.” Months of effort went into designing and creating the elaborate costumes for Bowie (Ziggy) and his bandmates (the spider from mars). It was all an act to “out glam” the current stars in the genre.
With all of the effort that went into the album and their image, the UK tour was a bust and the album did not sell like it was intended to. Then, in a blink of an eye, all of that changed. Ziggy Stardust became a UK household name, the album was a huge success, and when they began their US tour, “it was a pandemonium.”
3). The End of Stardust
By 1973 Bowie had grown tired of splitting his time and personality between himself and Ziggy Stardust. It almost seemed as though fans confused the two and the growing popularity and idolization became too much for Bowie. “I became convinced I was a messiah. I woke up fairly quickly.” He announced on camera that he was putting an end to Ziggy Stardust. The character had served his purpose: to “alter music forever” and introduce a new element to music as a stage performance.
However, Bowie didn’t kill off the beloved persona because he was finished with his creative visions. Quite the opposite. Not wanting to get trapped by one persona, Bowie unleashed Aladdin Sane, a ‘darker version of Ziggy.’ For creative geniuses like Bowie, the next step was always planned out. He knew what the masses needed and wanted before they did. The legacy of David Bowie and all of his characters has remained relevant through many generations and he will remain an icon in music forever.
By Patrick Ortiz