Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

Well David Bowie died the other day and everyone and their brother has posted about him ad infinitum.  I suppose that's to be expected and to be truthful I'm pretty happy to see that so many people had good things to say about him, and that everyone seemed to see that the guy was a genius, even if they didn't like parts of his career (like me).  To me, Bowie will always be the guy from the 70's that constantly was changing and pushing the envelope of Rock Music and essentially challenging us to keep up with him for as long as we could.  He was cool with it if you didn't want to keep up anymore.  Someone would take your place.

Now I find it odd that despite not really caring for his later music (and by later I mean pretty much my entire adult life), his newer music hasn't detracted from his legacy to me.  Hell, with some bands if I hear a bad album or two in a row I'm done and don't even listen to their older stuff that I liked before.  I don't know why that is, and I'm sure it's an issue with me and not them.  It's something I never faulted Bowie for, though.  He didn't need to prove anything to me, because he is a titan just for the 70's music I grew up on.

Bowie really was a titan, too.  He was like our cool yardstick.  If you weren't into Bowie, we weren't into you.  I said somewhere the other day that when I was growing up it seemed to me that you were either into Bowie and new, cool things or you were into Ted Nugent and beating people up.  That probably over simplifies things but that's certainly how I feel looking back at it, and I think I felt that way back then.

I'm not kidding when I say he was like a litmus test for us, and the album that you needed to know was Ziggy Stardust.  You needed to know a lot more than the fact that Moonage Daydream was on it, too.  You needed to know the whole album.  You needed to know it like the back of your hand, too.  It was okay to flub some lyrics here and there because who really knows what Bowie was on about half the time anyway, but you needed to know that record.  We could be friends without it, but we were tight if you knew it.

One of my favorite memories of high school is driving around in my friend's old Ford and I can't remember where we met these girls, but they didn't go to our school and they agreed to go hang out with us and drive around and do whatever stupid crap it was that we were going to get into that night. I was in the back with one girl and the other girl was up front with my friend.  I think my normal job was manning paraphernalia and handling the tunes as copilot but since this girl was up front she got to pick the music and I told her, "You can just play the radio or pick any tape outta here," and I handed her the tape box that held something like 36 cassettes.  I was the one that kept my friend's tapes organized and I remember her saying that she didn't know many people that kept everything alphabetical and then by release date (right about then i wished she was in the back with me!).  I told her it just made copiloting easier for me and that my friend just messed them up and left them lying around outside the box and I had to clean it up every time I got in the car.

Anyway, who cares, ya know?

So this girl says, "Wow! You have a lot of Bowie tapes!  Can I play Ziggy Stardust?"

"Uhhhh....yes.  Yes you can!"

So we put it in and the four of us drove around and smoked a bit of Happy and the four of us sang every single word to every single song to the best of our ability.  We may have messed up some lyrics but all that singing and smoking fogged up the windows (it was winter) and we were fucking cool as hell.  We sang Five Years.  A little to ourselves at first, but then when we all could tell that we all knew it, we built up some confidence and let it out a little.  I rolled another.  We sang Soul Love. These girls knew all the words to Soul Love?  Then Moonage Daydream and Starman.  We just aimlessly drove around, singing "It ain't EASY," and it was just weird and cool.

The auto-reverse kicked in and we sang Lady Stardust.  We sang Star and Hang on to Yourself  and it was good.  We practically cheered when we sang Ziggy Stardust and the girls sang the "Hey, man!" parts of Suffragette City and we sang, "Oh! Leave it alone!" and it went like that throughout the song. We sang, "The smell of that chick just puts my smile out of place" together and then went back to our "parts."  It was really something.

We finished with Rock N' Roll Suicide and it was the second coolest time I ever heard that song. We sang it kind of quietly because it was the end of the record (actually tape in this case).  When it was over the girl in front just turned off the stereo and we just talked for awhile until someone absent mindedly turned on the radio.  I don't remember where we went after that, I know we didn't actually make out with these two, which I'm sure was the goal when we started out, but we just hung out and had a really good time.

I never saw those girls again and I don't remember their names.  I wonder if they remember that night.  I wonder if my friend does?  Probably not, and that's okay.  Most people don't remember stuff like that, I guess.  I remember because I thought it was really worth remembering, and I still think so. When I heard Bowie had died it was the first thing I thought of.  I thought, "Thanks, Dave.  That memory is a really good one.  Looking back, I can't think of any single album that meant more to me when I was seventeen than Ziggy Stardust and I still love this record like it's a part of me.

My copy of this was a gift from my wife, who wasn't one of those girls from that night.  She probably doesn't remember giving me this particular record, but she did, and I'll never part with it because I think it's one of my favorite gifts ever.  Partly because I like that she bought something that she knew means a lot to me, but also because she likes Bowie, too.  We don't like that many of the same things musically but we like Bowie.  If I would have a Top Ten list of records I know that Exile on Main St. and Ziggy Stardust would be on it for sure, but I don't know about the rest.


  1. I first got into Bowie in 1974 with the "David Live" LP. I'd heard some songs on the radio and was intrigued enough to purchase this double album. Got home, put it on the turntable and was BLOWN away! (BTW, it has a GREAT version of "Width Of A Circle"). At that time (besides "Ya-Yas")...it was the BEST live album I'd ever heard. That thing ROCKED. Sooo, of course, that sent me on a musical journey for Bowie things. AND, I was NOT disappointed until he moved into the '80s (well, I SHOULD mention that he RUINED Iggy's "Raw Power" lp with his production...I had a copy of that that LP before Bowie got involved, and it would have sent Iggy into superstar status...it was THAT good! But, once Bowie got his hands involved, the finished product sounded like shit...SUCH a shame). Then I even loved the Berlin trio with Eno)but, he kinda lost me with "Let's Dance" and then again with "DITS" with Jagger. After that, I lost interest. Perhaps he was evolving and I wasn't...but that's OK with me. A man's GOT to know his limitations, and I know mine.

    GREAT high school story, BTW. At first, I thought it was another moment of "Oops, I got the lyrics wrong again" 'cause I used to think he was singing "this mellow black chick just put my spine outta place" instead of your interpretation. Then, I went to some lyrics pages, and the "standard version seems to be "this mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place." I think all of the interpretations would be OK with Bowie, though. We're all probably wrong and only HE knew what he was singing. :-)

  2. Bowie has sometimes lost me in his musical journey but I'll hold him dear for his help of getting Mott The Hoople rediscovered on All The Young Dude and helping Stevie Ray Vaughan. He'll be missed.

  3. Hey, thanks for stopping by, guys! CR, I don't think that lyric has anything to do with "mellow thighed chicks." I know that's what the lyrics sites say, but I think we were closer, but you're right - Bowie wouldn't care!

    Crabby, you're right. He helped Lou Reed reach the masses, too. I'm glad I grew up with him being around.

  4. Thanks R S Crabb and 2000 Man for reminding me of all of those people Bowie helped. I'd completely forgotten about that. He even remained friends with Iggy after the Raw Power disaster and helped Iggy come back as a solo artist. I, too, am glad I grew up with him being around, 2K Man. :-)

  5. Hey 2 -- This is a really nice write-up that I missed the first time around. I always get sucked in by other people's high-school nostalgia. You need to come back and write some more stuff like this.
    I was never that big a Bowie fan, but I cranked-up "Suffragette City" in the store awhile back and scared people away, and it was fuckin' GREAT. I'm sure Bowie would have approved.
    Keep rockin', and write some more, willya?

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.