Oh, not another Bowie post! Oh yes, yes it is. We don’t keep our love for Bowie secret, and along with his first album in ten years comes new archival material: new to us that is, and maybe to you too.
Now, if your primary experience of Bowie was through his early 70s character Ziggy Stardust—a rock opera creation as much as Hedwig or Dr. Frank-N-Furter—it would be easy to believe Bowie was Ziggy. He inhabited the character so fully that it’s hard to imagine he was playing a very deliberate part the whole time.
But of course, he was. Ziggy and the Spiders were, as Bowie says above, a “theater piece.” Previously, we’ve featured a documentary (see again below) that chronicles the rise of Ziggy Stardust, from Bowie’s somewhat obscure beginnings to his breakout as the character. In the 1977 interview clip above from the CBC, watch Bowie, as himself, describe the experience of being Ziggy.
He talks of his influences—a mélange of kabuki theater, mime, and New York art rock (“Velvet Underground, whatever”). He calls the music from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars “a British view of American street energy.” In retrospect, it’s easy to see the act as just that, but in the moment, Bowie’s fans believed in Ziggy as surely as they believed anything else. Watch, for example, as starstruck audience members rapturously mouth the words to “Moonage Daydream” in this clip from D.A. Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust film.
Pennebaker’s film caught Bowie’s final performance as the alien rock star at London’s Hammersmith in 1973. No doubt these fans were horribly crushed when Ziggy announced his retirement before the final song. But I’m sure they kept their electric eye on the re-invented Bowie in Berlin, a period he also discusses above, when he left L.A. for Germany and began working with Brian Eno and Iggy Pop.
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness