David Bowie: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (1972)

This is it. With just five years to go before earth dies, a spaceship lands and out comes a bisexual alien bearing a message of peace and love… and sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Earthlings rejoice, rock out, and then tear him apart as he self-destructs.

By becoming Ziggy, Bowie has finally become Bowie.

This is one of the few Bowie albums I actually own on CD, so I’ve been listening to it a quite a bit the last few weeks. As I mentioned previously, this was the other side of the Bowie tape I played relentlessly in high school. Vintage Vinyl on Davis had a phenomenal Ziggy t-shirt hanging in the window back then, one of the most glorious and garish things I’d ever seen. I’d share a picture, but Google isn’t helping me find one.

Luckily, I’m pretty sure I have the shirt sitting in the closet at home. I rarely wore it, but held on to it nonetheless.

Anyway, Wikipedia says that the release of “Ziggy…” was heralded by an apparently landmark performance of “Starman” on Top Of The Pops. It was so shocking at the time that it generated controversy that propelled sales of the album. It’s incredibly tame by today’s standards, but I think Bowie’s look combined with the casually sexy way he’ll put his arm around Mick Ronson probably just did not compute with most people back then — except for probably a lot of kids who had felt like outcasts because of their sexuality, but now had an icon to follow.

Here it is: David Bowie – Starman (Top Of The Pops, 1972) HQ

All of the songs on this album are fantastic, and they exemplify all of the best aspects of Glam Rock. There’s wild romanticism — possibly even camp — yet also severe, severe rocking. “Hang On To Yourself” borders on punk (and, live, goes totally punk), and Trevor Bolder’s bass line is like a locomotive. And Mick Ronson — holy crap. I have a whole new appreciation for him as a guitarist; soaring, tasty lead lines and fantastic, throaty tone.

And, unlike a lot of Glam that followed, the androgyny on display was sincere. Bowie was openly declaring himself gay, yet also married and a father. He wasn’t just adding a little mascara and glitter to his stage routine; he created a complete bisexual identity that mixed fashion, art, and theater into a unique stage persona.

I’d venture to say that this is when the ’70s actually begin.