Ziggy Stardust Turns 40

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The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust turned 40 this June. To celebrate, EMI released a remastered version of the original album. Rolling Stone is streaming it. And the National has written an informative piece about the birth of Ziggy Stardust, his demise, and his far-reaching influence. If you crave even more information, visit 5years.com. Digging around the internet for Ziggy info, I found 5years.com and it has become my favorite source. It is packed with information and well organized. 

I wish I had a story like Bob Boilen’s to share. In remembering Ziggy, he recalls the first time he heard the album and reveals the little trick he used to listen to it at the record store he worked at. By the time I was old enough to appreciate a record like Ziggy Stardust, Sony’s Walkman had just revolutionized how my friends and I would listen to music (and when) and VCRs changed how we watched TV (and when).

While MTV was also launched around then, it was PBS that introduced me to Ziggy Stardust. They showed the Ziggy Stardust movie during one of their fundraising drives. I taped it and that tape kept me company throughout high school and college and even several years after that. I am sure an allegory can be drawn about how much darker and grainier and redder the picture got through the years. Critics have cited the poor quality of the original footage. 

His name alone was enough to draw me into watching. “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” sounded to me like it was going to be a campy 70s sci-fi sexploitation film like Barbarella. Obviously, I was disappointed. What kept me watching was the make up and the costumes and the drama unfolding in his songs — the title song, “Ziggy Stardust”, and ones like “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud”, “All the Young Dudes”, “Moonage Daydream”, and of course “Space Oddity” (the song I tried to learn to play while my peers were all fingering “Stairway to Heaven” on their fretboards. 

But as curious a sight as he was in his short shorts and high boots, it wasn’t Ziggy who had the greatest impact on me aesthetically. That person would for come a few year’s later after Aladdin Sane — Halloween Jack (Bowie’s incarnation on his Diamond Dogs  album.  

A distant cry from the “Modern Love”-Bowie of my generation, Halloween Jack symbolized a dire post-Apocalyptic future. However, even though Halloween Jack’s world is gritty and unclean, the same themes of dehumanization and alienation in Diamond Dogs are shared with the New Wave songs that painted a bleak, antiseptic, automated future world. 

I’m looking forward to celebrating Diamond Dogs’ 40th birthday in a few years. Happily, the sad little worlds with their sad little societies that have been foretold by Jack and Ziggy remain fiction. 

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