ZiggyFest ’16

Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Intimate
Three-Word Review: Driving, exhilarating, sexy

Album: Aladdin Sane, 1973
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Intimate
Three-Word Review: Dramatic, provocative, random

Album: PinUps, 1973
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Intimate
Three-Word Review: Diverse, overdone, affected


Behold the awesomeness of my Aladdin Sane earrings.

Like most of his audience of 1972, I first got into David Bowie when I got into Ziggy Stardust. I never carved my hair into a red mullet (thank god) but a chunk of my work’s computer archives retains the name of the Spider Lad Insane.

On revisiting, each Red Hot Red-era album was the best thing ever for a listen or two. And then, to my own surprise, I pretty quickly said you know what? I’m kinda done here.

So I took a fast rocket ship to space and zinged back on the same rubber band. It was just long enough to pull out my shelf’s worth of Ziggy swag. Here’s the good stuff.


Simon Goddard, Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust. Goddard describes the Starman’s advent as a cultural culmination centuries in the making, visiting kabuki theater and H.G. Wells before Ziggy zaps from the heavens to possess a certain one-hit(ish) wonder in 1972. A great survey of all kinds of things you didn’t know you needed to know, with every coincidence mined for unnecessary but delightful meaning.

Dylan Jones, When Ziggy Played Guitar: David Bowie and Four Minutes That Shook the World. Microsections of that immortal Top of the Pops appearance on 6 July 1972 and why it mattered. The finger-waggle alone merits a dissertation. Now you want to watch it again. Be my guest.

To put it a different way, “No Relation” Jones’ book is a longread discussion of that moment when Arthur Stuart nearly comes out to his parents. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly haven’t seen


Velvet Goldmine (1998). Oozing beauty and savvy, this lightly disguised love letter to Bowie, Angie, Iggy, and all the young dudes flaunts shirtless Ewan McGregor to make up for the fact that Jonathan Rhys Meyers isn’t nearly as gorgeous as the original. (Sorry, man. Harsh truth.) No amount of worship got mastermind Todd Haynes the right to Bowie’s songs. A mishmash of roughly same-era numbers sounds great but also points up just how majestic a songwriter Bowie is by comparison. A must-see, probably repeatedly.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973). The concert in which Bowie killed off Ziggy in one massive final performance – and, rumor has it, without forewarning his band. Took place on 3rd July 1973; premiered round my place on 3rd July 2013, a satisfying anniversary.

The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy, and Lou 1971-1973 (2010). A worthwhile documentary about the cross-pollination among Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed up to 1973. Includes an interesting glance at management tactics of the time, ribald anecdotes from Angie Bowie, and further proof of Mick Ronson giving the best guitar face ever.

Other Music:

Santa Monica ’72 (recorded 1972, released 2008)
An outstanding rendition of a range of songs spanning 1968-1972, with bonus weird stage chat about lobsters and palm trees. Hearing this makes me notice how much I appreciate a consistent quality of Bowie’s studio albums (shout-out to Ken Scott and Tony Visconti, mostly): how high the voice is in the mix. Maybe it’s just because I trained as a vocalist, but I like to be able to understand the words, you know? Almost impossible to get that clarity from a live album. But this is a stellar one nonetheless.

Ziggy Over the Rainbow Theatre, 1972. A good-quality bootleg of a high-energy concert at the famous venue, with an extra helping of Mick Ronson. The only place I know where Bowie lets ‘Starman’ mutate into its ancestor ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

Lulu’s cover of ‘Watch That Man’ (1974)
This may be honestly one of my favorite renditions of anything ever. And Bowie’s singing backup.

Bowie and Covers

SEH wAladdin Sane Cover

That’s me and covers, at my rockin’ local vinyl shop.

You may guess from my three-word review above that I’m not so crazy about PinUps. It’s not that I don’t like covers; let me gush at you sometime about John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album. It’s more that the R&B/pop of mid-60s Britain is so much my favorite thing that I don’t see a need for its Ziggyfication. I’d actually rather listen to the Yardbirds, or especially The Who.

PinUps was educational, I admit. When I came to it, I’d probably only heard about half its songs before. It led me to check out some great stuff. And maybe that was some of the point.

Just for fun, I went and had a listen to the (more or less) originals that Bowie covers. Get your dancing shoes on.

Next: glam catch-up with ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ and the other early 70s singles.

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