I was going to go with a completely different album for today’s post, but today is the 40th Anniversary of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, so I figured it would be a good time to look back at this seminal album.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is a practically a genre of its own. Throughout its 11 songs Bowie covers a lot of ground: there’s the R&B flavored “Soul Love”, the proto-punk of “Hang Onto Yourself”, the straight-pop of “Starman” and the operatic opening “Five Years”. He single-handily invents both power-ballad and glam-rock with the title track. It’s a rock opera like The Who’s Tommy, but with as much sleaze as Exile on Main St. And throughout it all, like his heroes The Velvet Underground, Bowie gave a voice to the misunderstood.
That voice is what fuels the heart of Ziggy Stardust. No doubt about it, Ziggy is a weirdo with “screwed-up eyes, and screwed down hair-do like some cat from Japan.” Yet, even for all his strangeness, Ziggy seemed real. Ziggy was well-hung could play like the guitar like Hendrix (whom he modeled after), but with Bowie telling his tale, he seemed tangible and believable, especially to those who felt like they didn’t quite fit in with “normal” society. Rolling Stone’s recent article on Ziggy Stardust stated that both Bowie and the album became icons for Gay Community which was mostly underground at the time. When Bowie imitated a blow-job on stage with Mick Ronson was it Bowie or Ziggy doing the act?
I remember when I first saw pictures of Bowie dressed-up as Ziggy. This was long before I had actually heard the album. I must have been around 10 at the time and seeing a guy dressed so wildly confused and excited me. The red/orange hair wreaked of rebellion. The sexual over-tones of the Ziggy costume went straight over my head, but I knew immediately that there was something about David Bowie than even my 10 year old self couldn’t deny.
It would be a more years before I would actually hear the album in its entirety. Some of the songs I already knew from the classic rock station: “Ziggy Stardust”, “Starman” and “Suffragette City” (whose chorus I thought was: And I saw the gypsy theeeerre!”). My sister gave me a copy for Christmas one year, and if it had been a vinyl copy I surely would have worn out it fairly quick. Every single song seemed like it was an album onto itself. Bowie’s vocal performances have never been bettered, and the Spiders From Mars treated the harder songs like a rocket shooting off into orbit. The softer songs are played with such a majestic quality it almost feels like a spiritual being has actually touched down on Earth. Really, there’s no other way to describe “Starman”.
No matter how many times I’ve listened to it, Ziggy Stardust never fails to excite and engage. It’s the musical equivalent of a science-fiction or super-hero movie. When you’re taking part in the experience you’re blown away and taken to an exotic place. Then when you leave, you begin to wonder – maybe there is a deeper meaning and multiple layers.