Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie first successful persona, and opened up the possibilities of exploring other characters and musical styles as the 1970s progressed.
The Ziggy period was one of Bowie’s most prolific, and saw him undertake tours, record the Rise And Fall album, its follow-up Aladdin Sane, the covers collection Pinups, several standalone singles, b-sides and unreleased recordings, collaborate with other acts including Mott The Hoople and Lou Reed, and also work on the unrealised Ziggy Stardust musical.
Bowie played the part of Ziggy so convincingly – on and off the stage – that for a time he felt his own identity slipping away, and feared for his sanity. He conducted interviews and public appearances in character, and found that his personality was becoming increasingly immersed and merged with Ziggy.
I fell for Ziggy too. It was quite easy to become obsessed night and day with the character. I became Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie went totally out the window. Everybody was convincing me that I was a Messiah, especially on that first American tour. I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy. I could have been Hitler in England. Wouldn’t have been hard. Concerts alone got so enormously frightening that even the papers were saying, ‘This ain’t rock music, this is bloody Hitler! Something must be done!’ And they were right. It was awesome. Actually, I wonder … I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler. I’d be an excellent dictator. Very eccentric and quite mad.
12 February 1976
The Aladdin Sane album saw Bowie broaden his sights to America, and also getting down and dirty with sleazy sex and illicit drugs. Despite a wish to extricate himself from his creations, Bowie found it increasingly difficult to shake off the Ziggy persona.
That fucker would not leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to sour. And it soured so quickly you wouldn’t believe it. And it took me an awfully long time to level out. My whole personality was affected. Again I brought that upon myself.
I can’t say I’m sorry when I look back, because it provoked such an extraordinary set of circumstances in my life. I thought I might as well take Ziggy to interviews as well. Why leave him on stage? Looking back it was completely absurd.
It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity. I can’t deny that the experience affected me in a very exaggerated and marked manner. I think I put myself very dangerously near the line. Not in physical sense but definitively in mental sense. I played mental games with myself to such an extent that I’m very relieved and happy to be back in Europe and feeling very well… but, then, you see I was always the lucky one.
Melody Maker, 29 October 1977
Bowie’s last throw of the glam rock dice came with 1974’s Diamond Dogs, which saw a return to crumbling dystopia and themes of alienation. That album coincided with a rapid escalation of Bowie’s cocaine and amphetamine addiction, and on the cover he was still depicted with the red mullet Ziggy haircut. Yet by the following year’s Young Americans he was finally free of Ziggy, with a new image and soulful sound.
Bowie continued to perform selected songs from The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars live. The song ‘Ziggy Stardust’ was only performed in 1972, 1973, 1978 and 1990, but was resurrected for a handful of shows in 2000, and became the last song of his encores during his final shows in 2002-2004.
The red public telephone box in which Bowie was photographed on the album’s back cover was later replaced by a more modern blue one. It is believed that the original was acquired by an American fan in the late 1970s. However, in April 1997 the blue box was replaced with a newer red ‘K series’ one, in recognition of the importance of the Ziggy Stardust album to the area.
Heddon Street, which was used as the location of the cover photo shoot, is now pedestrianised and is a bustling food quarter. On 27 March 2012 a brown plaque was unveiled to commemorate the album’s 40th anniversary, outside the former location of the K. West business at number 23.
It was the first brown plaque installed by the Crown Estate, and one of very few in the country to commemorate fictional characters. The plaque was unveiled by Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp.
Ziggy was the ultimate messianic rock star, and with him David Bowie successfully blurred the lines not just between boys and girls, but himself and his creation. Ziggy come to save us – and I bought him hook, eyeliner and haircut. It seems right that it should be the job of a fan boy and I am very honoured.
Also present at the unveiling were Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey, Ken Scott, and Terry Pastor.
In January 2010 the cover of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was one of ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of ‘Classic Album Cover’ postage stamps. The others in the series were for the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, Led Zeppelin IV, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, the Clash’s London Calling, New Order’s Power, Corruption And Lies, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell, Blur’s Parklife, and Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head.
In 2017, the year after David Bowie’s death, the Ziggy Stardust album was chosen for preservation in the US National Recording Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” by the Library of Congress.