David Bowie's space-hippie, proto-punk, peace freak, interstellar rock 'n roll ambassador Ziggy Stardust character debuted 40 years ago today in London at a gig at the Toby Jug pub. The rail-thin Bowie, resplendent in dyed red hair, androgynous clothing, and a beat mixing The Velvet Underground, The Kinks, Vince Taylor, The Rolling Stones and The Who, was embarking on a great musical experiment. Throwing glitter and a dash of scary sexuality -- at the time -- into a macho rock scene.
The fact that the Ziggy Stardust character doesn't seem 40 years old is a testament to Bowie being ahead of the curve, or rather, creating the curve. Imagine what a world still reeling from hippies, mods, the sexual revolution, all of these things, and then being hit with Stardust.
Stardust would linger in the Bowie discography from 1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1973's Aladdin Sane and that year's covers album, Pin Ups, finally ending in 1974 with Diamond Dogs, after which drugs took over the Stardust persona and turned Bowie into the R&B-obsessed man on the cover of 1975's Young Americans.
Even now musicians don't work at that same ferocious clip. Bowie went from Ziggy to the Thin White Duke on Station To Station within five years, and smacked straight into his Berlin trilogy in seven. Americans was sort of an aberration, a placeholder. If you can tell that I have been on a Bowie binge lately, it's true. Our favorite Bowie album at this moment is 1977's Low.
Stardust is still doing his job, by providing a template for rockers to reinvent themselves, to helping sexually-confused kids find their way in this world. Even straight guys can admit that Stardust oozed sexuality, and when girls dress like Stardust -- or Bowie from any period really -- it's incredibly cute. Even a chick dressed like Jareth from Labyrinth is enjoyable.
Other rockers would debut their own alter egos after Stardust, or at least bringing a pronounced theatricality to their own. The work of locals Roky Moon & BOLT! is a perfect synthesis of modern crunch, vintage Bowie, and Broadway. Alice Cooper went full "Alice" by 1975 for Welcome To My Nightmare, KISS' Starchild, Demon, Spaceman, and Catman were sly nods to Bowie, and even Lady Gaga has now four alter egos she calls her own. Let us now have a moment of silence for Chris Gaines.
Here is the soundtrack to tour documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture directed by D. A. Pennebaker, the man responsible for Bob Dylan's Dont Look Back, and the excellent 1993 look at the 1992 Clinton presidential push, The War Room. If you think about it, politicians are sort of like Stardust in their own way too.
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