Music, OldVenue

The importance of David Bowie

Trawling through your parents’ old dust-gathering vinyl collection can produce some remarkable finds. Tubular Bells, that old forgotten repetitive spine-tingling theme from The Exorcist was a rather popular “obscure” student record. Pet Sounds still reverberates across today’s melodic gems thanks to Brian Wilson’s genius.

Of course no vinyl collection would be complete without Dark Side of the MoonThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars has always presented just as much, if not more curiosity. Even now upon last week’s reissue of David Bowie’s seminal 1972 oeuvre it still has a mysterious power to intrigue, especially to someone born 20 years after its original release.

The concept tells the story of the eponymous character, an alien in human flesh who gives the disconnected youth a feeling of hope in the last five years of their existence. This is in many respects the genius of the idea, both in terms of connecting to an audience, as well as changing the face of pop music forever.

Bowie managed to attach himself to a completely disillusioned generation in Britain, already suffering under Ted Heath’s government with the three-day week, widespread strikes and blackouts. An eccentrically dressed man that looks halfway between an aerobics instructor and clairvoyant, by way of a feather duster-like red mullet, seemed frankly bizarre. But Ziggy challenged sexual stereotypes with his equivocal look, something that had never been seen before in popular music, firing the starting gun for stars like Boy George and Elton John.

“When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band.” Ziggy Stardust was never going to last though. Bowie drastically changed his classic sound to a more funk and soul influenced one on Young Americans and Station to Station, proving that reinvention can be truly successful, à la Dylan going electric. This was one of the biggest marks Bowie made on music, appealing in different shades and preserving what work he had made, whether it be Ziggy or the Thin White Duke and the Berlin Trilogy, made with another musical pioneer Brian Eno. It also set in motion the trait of reinvention that would be adopted by Madonna, Radiohead and (God forbid) Lady Gaga.

The character that has always stuck has been Ziggy, chiefly because he still resonates today. Disaffected youth and strikes? David Bowie created something in that character that worked on every level and stood the test of time, appealing even to the students of 2012. You see us dressed up at the LCR with that iconic thunderbolt on our faces; the poster view of K. West on our walls. “The kids were just crass, he was the nazz with God given ass.” Although he defined that era, there is timelessness to it.

Like the Beatles before him Bowie changed everything. If the former drew the outlines, the latter started to colour them in. That picture has been put in higher definition with the reissue of Ziggy Stardust so that a new generation can embrace the bizarre alien gym instructor thingy, while the older can reminisce over something that changed music and their lives, and epitomised a transforming society that is still to this day unremittingly progressing.


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May 2021
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