A tribute to David Bowie’s alter-ego Ziggy Stardust was unveiled in Heddon St, just off Regent St in London’s West End today.
It took a while for Bowie to enter my life. For many he was the misfit’s hero – a guy who made it okay to be different – like a slightly more feminine Lady Gaga. He was there for all the “fat skinny people”, and all the “tall short people” suggesting inclusiveness.
Bowie’s image was extraordinary, yet passed me by. Unlike Spandau Ballet‘s Gary Kemp, who unveiled the plaque today, I was too young in the ’70s to be aware of him. I was still skipping about the playground in long socks and short trousers when Bowie was striding around as Ziggy Stardust in er, long socks and short trousers.
Later, as I entered my teens Bowie was attired in a sharp suit inviting his audience to “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” to a backdrop of a nuclear explosion and the sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Stratocaster. It must have been strange for long term fans to see him dressed so “straight”.
What an odd character! What a freak! And Bowie’s pretty odd looking too…
Gary Kemp spoke eloquently as he unveiled the plaque. “I bought him hook, eyeliner and haircut” he said of Bowie. “Ziggy is one of London’s great fictional characters. Even his costume was stitched from cloth bought at Liberty’s.”
Of Bowie, he said that he was “Currently nurturing his well earned enigma in New York”.
He acknowledged Spiders Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey and gave a nod to the late Mick Ronson who “rode shotgun throughout the entire album…”
Also acknowledged was Freddi Buretti “who designed the costume and created the greatest look in rock music”.
Both Spiders seemed genuinely touched and pleased at all the attention, signing autographs and chatting to fans.
I asked Woody how he felt… “Strange!” he said “but good”!! “Who would have thought it all those years ago”
Trevor Bolder’s reaction was similar: “Who thought when we recorded this 40 years ago we’d be here today – I’m amazed” he said…
Gary Kemp later talked about the impact that Ziggy had on him…
“The plaque is where the furriers K. West sign would have been” he said. “It was raining and no-one wanted to go out but David grabbed a Les Paul and stood outside and Brian Ward took what is one of the most iconic pictures in rock.”
“Seeing David was my eureka moment. Ziggy put Bowie on a bigger stage as a piece of concept art delivered through pop culture. This idea of a messianic rock star coming to save the world appealed at the time of the cold war.”
“The androgyny was a tool to outrage my parents. Ziggy was about blurring the line between boy and girl. I didn’t know about my sexuality when I was thirteen. Ziggy allowed us to go to his concerts and play that out.”
I asked Gary about the influence that Ziggy had on Spandau. He mentioned the Blitz club of New Romanticism fame and continued “Ziggy – that look was a great influence on music – The punk haircut was just Bowie kids old enough to sell records. When Spandau got together the dressing up box of pop culture was very important to us. The costumes made a difference – without them I may not have bought certain records. “
I also asked Gary about the idea that Ziggy was one of London’s great fictional characters and, as he said in his unveiling speech, Gary felt this to be true “He was up there with Clockwork’s Alex, with Dorian Gray, The Artful Dodger, Gormenghast’s Steerpike – he wasn’t really Bowie” he said.
Ziggy is also up there with Sherlock Holmes: he becomes only the second fictional character to have a plaque dedicated to them. Sherlock Holmes’s is of course at 221b Baker St.
Record #26 – David Bowie – Moonage Daydream
Acknowledgement and thanks to David Cox at Outside
A 40th Anniversary remastered version of Ziggy Stardust is released on June 5th.
The book Moonage Daydream by David Bowie and Mick Rock captures the Ziggy period beautifully.