‘Ziggy Stardust’ was written by English singer-songwriter David Bowie for his 1972 concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. David Bowie created different personas for himself over the years and he experimented with pantomime studying with mime artist/dancer/performance artist Lindsay Kemp and he was adept at role-playing. Bowie felt the need to write a theatrical piece and he was able to achieve this by creating this outlandish character. Being a great vocal dramatist and having experience with cross dressing and gender bending, Bowie knew just what to do. Angela Bowie liberated the shy young musician and gave him the push over the top that he needed. David Bowie announced that he was bisexual, while he was married to his wife Angela and this made him different from the very hetero male rockers of the early seventies.
It didn’t take long before the lines between the real person and his contrived character began to blur. Davy Jones became David Bowie who became his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. His character was a composite of a few people and David became obsessed with his creation and eventually Ziggy Stardust had to die, as Bowie admitted to being totally lost in the character, and it took a long time to shake him off. Ziggy Stardust claims that there are only five years to go before the end of the earth and Bowie’s concept of an alien rock star and him assuming the persona of Ziggy, made Bowie a superstar.
Bowie was interested in people and he appreciated oddballs and Iggy Pop (note the name Iggy is very close to Ziggy) met him in 1971, when Bowie was on tour to promote his previous album The Man Who Sold the World. Bowie convinced Iggy that he needed to sober up and he tried to help him out with his career and later they enjoyed a working relationship and even toured together. Some people point to Twiggy (the British model) as being an influence for Ziggy, but they did not meet till a year later when she appeared on the front cover of David Bowie’s Pin Ups album. Marc Bolan of T Rex who was a pioneer of the glam rock movement thought about calling his group T. Rex by the name Zinc Alloy at one time, and it is not that farfetched to see that Zink plus Iggy make Ziggy.
Gene Vincent a rockabilly star who injured his leg in a 1960 car accident that killed Eddie Cochran gave Bowie the idea that Ziggy Stardust should have a unique stance. Bowie saw Vincent in concert, when he was wearing a leg brace and had to stand with his injured leg behind him, so Bowie copied this posture appropriating this stance, calling it “position number one for the embryonic Ziggy.” Even Jimi Hendrix could have been an influence on the character Ziggy Stardust, as “He played it left hand, but made it too far” because Hendrix was left-handed. There is also a connection to Lou Reed as Bowie’s character was influenced by Doug Yule, bassist for the Velvet Underground. After attending a VU concert in 1970, Bowie went backstage and began talking to Yule, mistakenly thinking that he was speaking to Lou Reed. Yule never corrected Bowie and he answered all of his questions as if he were Reed. Bowie recalled later that he was intrigued by the question of whether Yule was real or fake.
Bowie got part of the name Ziggy Stardust based on the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, a Texas psychobilly pioneer named Norman Odom who was on the same label as Bowie. He recorded the ’60s single ‘Paralyzed’, which has been described as “the most awful cacophony” ever put on vinyl, but also considered to be a masterpiece by others. Bowie viewed him as somebody playing music who was probably not working with a full deck, but Bowie fell in love with his music.
The only musician that Bowie admits was a direct influence is Vince Taylor, an English singer who took the “rock star” persona to the extreme, calling himself Mateus and declaring himself the son of God. Taylor was popular in France in the early ‘60s, and Bowie met him in 1966, after his popularity had faded. Vince Taylor was the main inspiration and he was known in Britain for his Presley-like performances. Unfortunately, drug abuse and erratic behavior caused him to fall from grace. When Bowie first met him in 1966, Taylor had recently appeared on stage in a white sheet and declared that he was the son of God. He was also fond of pointing out places throughout Europe where UFOs were going to land. Taylor was indulging in heavy drug use and Taylor was immersed in an alternative reality.
Bowie thought that the world needed a plastic rock and roll character and because he considered himself to be an actor, he made up Ziggy Stardust, an otherworldly being who came to Earth to save it. Ziggy Stardust never saved earth as he found rock & roll and started to sing about change and pain, and he played the music better than anybody. This made his vanity soar out of range, and he became an ass like so many other rock stars. That character had made David Bowie famous, and it formed an audience and community around this made-up personality. Bowie became a bisexual demigod in red boots, which was the perfect formula for fame and it allowed Bowie to put on extravagant theatrical performances.
Bowie decided to make Ziggy bisexual which displayed an acceptance of all kinds of sexual orientations and this was incredibly controversial back in those days. Bowie had always been interested in science fiction and space travel, as displayed in earlier songs like ‘Space Oddity’ a track inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, but the combined influence of Vince Taylor, who believed that he was an alien god and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy who used to look at the moon and tell himself that someday he would go there, made Ziggy an alien.
Bowie based the clothes, hair, and makeup of Ziggy Stardust on the Malcom McDowell character in A Clockwork Orange, and on William Burroughs book Wild Boys. Angie introduced David to many unconventional people and ideas whose style and influence helped shape the various personae he soon adopted. Angie was the first to outfit David and his band the Spiders From Mars, designing and sewing all the costumes for his shows at the Roundhouse. The album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) is now considered one of the greatest albums of all time and his songs provide a critical note on matters like politics, drugs and sexual orientation. This flamboyant and tragic Stardust song signaled a new era in rock music.
Ziggy played guitar
Jamming good with Weird and Gilly
And the Spiders from Mars
He played it left hand
But made it too far
Became the special man
Then we were Ziggy’s band
Ziggy really sang
Screwed-up eyes and screwed-down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan
He could lick ‘em by smiling
He could leave ‘em to hang
They came on so loaded, man
Well-hung and snow-white tan
So where were the spiders
While the fly tried to break our bones?
With just the beer light to guide us
So we bitched about his fans
And should we crush his sweet hands?
Ziggy played for time
Jiving us that we were voodoo
The kids were just crass
He was the nazz
With God-given ass
He took it all too far
But, boy, could he play guitar
Making love with his ego
Ziggy sucked up into his mind, ah
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band
Ziggy played guitar