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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

David Bowie


Glam rock as mythmaking, subversive performance art.

The decadent-alien-rock-star concept behind David Bowie’s fifth album was revolutionary, but the subversion was in the music: nasty but glamorous (“Moonage Daydream,” “Suffragette City”), theatrical but intimate (“Five Years”), primordial punk (“Hang On to Yourself”), and cabaret for an audience who would’ve never deigned (“Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide”). Bowie talks about himself in the third person but is so arrogant his fans kill him for it (“Ziggy Stardust”), so deluded he thinks rock ’n’ roll can save the world but so brave he’s willing to die trying (“Star”). The artifice brings him down, but it also sets him free.

The album helped loosen binaries around gender, sexuality, performance, and identity. But it also helped broaden the vocabulary of mainstream rock more generally, drawing on concepts from the underground. Calling him flighty or inauthentic missed the point: Like Andy Warhol, Bowie treated his art in part as a synthesis of his interests. For all the ways it was radical at the time, Ziggy Stardust also pointed to a referential, hyperlinked future we’re all familiar with—curation as creation.

“This was his song about Jimi Hendrix. First time he saw Jimi Hendrix in London, everybody hating on Jimi, but he was so open he could admit it and make a hit out of that man.”


on “Ziggy Stardust”