The Album List #28: David Bowie “The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”


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David Bowie is one of the great loves of my life.

I adored him when I was young and “Modern Love” was a hit, with its sixties inspired harmonies and bright pop. I loved him even more when I discovered “Heroes” as a teenager, and Low  in college. There is a beauty in “Space Oddity”‘s story and futuristic melody that inspires me, as the fury and flailing of “I’m Afraid Of Americans” thirty years later. Few people can claim to have had a career even close to Bowie’s.  To pick an album out of this massive collection of brilliance was nearly impossible, but since leaving Bowie off the list was inexplicable to me, I had to buckle down and ask my self a serious question- “Which Bowie song can’t you live without? Take that one.”

So I did.

It’s simply that “Starman” is a perfectly crafted pop song, with fantastic lyrics that create a mini mind movie. Gentle, elegant, with very skilful strings and gorgeous piano, it is simply flawless. I cannot believe I spent a good part of my life not knowing this song existed.

But “Starman” works even better within the framework of Bowie’s conceptual art. As the story told on Ziggy unfolds, it becomes clear that you are not dealing with just some hodgepodge sci-fi nonsense. Nein. You are dealing with storytelling on par with Bradbury, only more sentimental.

It was all about imagination, alienation, acceptance, rock and roll, things I loved and struggled with all through my life. When you hear an album for the first time as a teenager, they stick with you.  The music you hear between thirteen and twenty-two is the music that infests your soul, eats away at your brain. If you’re lucky, part of those years will have a great scene and some inspired bands. If not, you are so screwed. And if you’re really, really lucky, you both have a scene and the chance to find the roots of the music. I got my hands on Ziggy Stardust at fifteen and I have never let go.

The horrific predictions of the title character have not come to pass, naturally, but it still hits deep in 2011. When I hear the apocalyptic warning of “Five Years”, for instance, I think of the climate change activists who are being ignored, as dire warnings proceed to be dismissed by the powers that be for political convenience.  The album is surprisingly prescient in that sense. The faults of the messenger means that people ignore the message. That’s enough to make one stop a minute.

But the topicality wouldn’t matter if the songs weren’t there, and they are. The fantastic Mick Ronson guitars on “Suffragette City” ( easily the second greatest Bowie song ever, meaning this album has my one-two punch and deserves this mention); the magical “Moonage Daydream”; the punkish thump of “Hang On to Yourself”; the Ron Davies cover “It Ain’t Easy” that canter along at a quick clip; the hesitant piano of “Lady Stardust”; the sparse percussion  of “Soul Love”; the rambunctious boogie woogie piano of “Star”- the songs are amazing through and through. It’s one of the most consistently excellent albums ever recorded.

The album ends with another Bowie classic, the world-weary “Rock and Roll Suicide”, which slowly builds into epic discord and a preachers fiery scream, as Ronson’s guitar fades into one last chord. It’s the perfect end for a perfect album.

I have never, ever left Bowie, even now, as I felt he never left me. There has been a Bowie album for every mood. If I should ever get married, you will hear “Heroes” played at some point, as it is one of the most honest songs ever written about love. I simply cannot live without David Bowie in my life.

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2 thoughts on “The Album List #28: David Bowie “The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”

  1. I was 15 when Ziggy Stardust was released and I can tell you that the excitement over that album at that time was like nothing I’d seen before. The only thing that comes close in my mind was the release of Dark Side of the Moon the following year. (Yeah.. I know you are rolling your eyes at me) Anyway, I was 15, and I heard Ziggy everywhere I went. In bedrooms, in cars, at parties, it was all anybody listened to. After all these years, I still feel like I’m 15 again, riding around in my boyfriend’s car smoking a joint whenever I hear Ziggy. You can’t see me right now but the smile on my face is huge!

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