Ziggy Stardust 40 years on
If you are a David Bowie fan I probably don’t need to remind you that it is the 40th anniversary of the release of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars or that Ziggy played guitar.
In any case market capitalism being what it is, there is a 40th anniversary edition of the record, just as there was a 30th anniversary version in 2002. You may also hear rather more than usual of David Bowie’s back catalogue being played on radio and in cafes and pubs, reflecting the power of the music industry to push its ‘product’ at particular moments.
I still have the original vinyl which I must have acquired very close the original release date of 6th June 1972.
Bowie was 25 years old at the time of the release of Ziggy Stardust and tracks from the record had been premiered on the John Peel and Bob Harris radio shows early in 1972 and then the Old Grey Whistle Test.
The record sold 8,000 copies in the first week of its release and stayed in the album charts for two years reaching no 5 in the UK
Bowie and the left have not enjoyed happy relations. Indeed it was Bowie’s styling of himself as the ‘thin white duke’ during his late 1970s ‘Heroes’ period that was felt to imply at least a sympathy for fascism that was one of the original motors for Rock Against Racism.
Bowie has since made amends, although the episode still leaves a nasty taste for many who were active at the time.
The profile of Ziggy Stardust was a little different. At 40 years distance it may viewed in part as social history.
It loosely based on a series of influences from the Legendary Star Dust Cowboy to Iggy Pop and has a narrative running through it of the world running out of resources and electricity no longer being available to play rock music.
The world did not end in ‘Five Years’ as the opening track on side one suggested but the idea that the Earth faced environmental catastrophe, then a relatively new one, has become an almost common sense point since.
Whether or not you like Bowie’s music or this particular record is a matter of personal choice. The music itself was not particularly radical in form, echoing back in songs like Star to the 1950s.
Rather it was the centrality of the record to something known as ‘glam rock’ that was important.
Men, and women dressed in striking clothes, both wore make up and it was often difficult to judge which gender they were. It was a statement about sexuality rather different from the macho world of heavy rock. Pictures of Bowie from the period can easily be found on the internet. Again it made a lasting impact and for the better.
Bowie told a music paper early in 1972 that he was ‘gay’ although married to a female partner at the time but subsequent interviews clarified that he wanted to explore the sexualities and sexual possibilities which had only recently become openly possible following the legalisation of homosexuality in the late 1960s.
Gay News in July 1972 hailed a Bowie concert at the Royal Festival Hall as ‘gay rock’ and whatever Bowie’s intentions the world of music and culture was a broader and more open place.
The back cover of the original 1972 vinyl record carried the words ‘to be played at maximum volume’ echoing the surrealist slogan ‘knock hard life is deaf’. The message was without doubt heard on this occasion.