David Bowie’s classic 1972 concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars will be getting the 40th anniversary box set treatment this summer, getting reissued on CD and a vinyl/DVD package.
In a Feb 1974 issue of Rolling Stone Bowie explained the Ziggy plot-line to author William Burroughs:
Burroughs: Could you explain this Ziggy Stardust image of yours? From what I can see it has to do with the world being on the eve of destruction within five years.
Bowie: The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ‘cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. ‘All the young dudes’ is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.
Burroughs: Where did this Ziggy idea come from, and this five-year idea? Of course, exhaustion of natural resources will not develop the end of the world. It will result in the collapse of civilization. And it will cut down the population by about three-quarters.
Bowie: Exactly. This does not cause the end of the world for Ziggy. The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I’ve made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage.
Burroughs: Yes, a black hole on stage would be an incredible expense. And it would be a continuing performance, first eating up Shaftesbury Avenue.
Bowie: Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes ‘Starman’, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch on to it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don’t have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie the Infinite Fox.
Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song ‘Rock ‘n’ roll suicide’. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible. It is a science fiction fantasy of today and this is what literally blew my head off when I read Nova Express, which was written in 1961. Maybe we are the Rodgers and Hammerstein of the seventies, Bill!
“Ah yes, the old transubstantiation con,” you can almost hear WSB mutter…
The label claims to have some “previously unheard” material from the Ziggy era in store for fans, but considering the sheer amount of bootlegged Bowie recordings that have slipped out over the decades into my collection alone, I can’t imagine what this might be. Also, no word on if the new release will include the little-known 5.1 surround remix of Ziggy Stardust done by Ken Pitt and Paul Hicks at Abbey Road Studios in 2003 and only released as an SACD. To my ears, Ziggy Stardust always sounded really weak and tinny. Compare Bowie’s vocals on the album to any other record of his and his voice sounds shrill and lacking the deep-throated nuances he’s obviously capable of, almost as if he’s straining his vocal cords throughout. The 2003 remix sounded muscular and bold, with the bottom added back into the mix, Mick Ronson’s guitar sounding much, much hairier that it ever has previously and the vocals sweetened nicely with more depth. It actually sounds like a different album and I’d rank it far, far, superior to the original vinyl or subsequent CD releases. It’s THE version to own, hands down, let’s just hope that it get included in this new box set.
Below, David Bowie performs “Starman” on TOTP in 1972, the very moment when the greater British public became very aware of who he was. His grinning confidence here is palpable. The guy knew he was going to be a big, big star and he acted like one.
Thank you Paul Gallagher!