Marc Bolan’s image transformation as a rock ‘n’ roll star, and his chart success and teen idol status, galvanised David Bowie into attempting his own reinvention.
Both musicians were at the forefront of the UK’s glam rock movement, a short-lived trend which saw artistic and experimental acts such as Bowie and Roxy Music rubbing shoulders with lesser talents including Gary Glitter, Mud and the Sweet.
What Roxy Music, for example, and I were trying to do was to broaden rock’s vocabulary. We were trying to include certain visual aspects in our music, grown out of the fine arts and real theatrical And cinematographic leanings – in brief, all which was on the exterior of rock. As far as I was concerned, I introduced elements of Dada, and an enormous amount of elements borrowed from Japanese culture. I think we took ourselves for avant-garde explorers, the representatives of an embryonic form of post-modernism. The other type of glam rock was directly borrowed from the rock tradition, the weird clothes and all that. To be quite honest, I think we were very elitist. I can’t speak for Roxy Music but, as far as I’m concerned, I was a real snob. More than the Spiders in any case [laughing] … in any case, I believe there were these two kinds of glam, one high and the other… situated lower. I think we were more in the first category [laughing] … we saw ourselves as greater than the others whom I won’t name but that you know very well.
Folk & Rock Magazine, December 1998
Bowie’s concepts of a messianic rock ‘n’ roll star did not emerge fully formed. According to Bowie biographer Christopher Sandford: “A girlfriend called Linda Kreal recalls ‘David scrawling notes on a cocktail napkin about a crazy rock star named Iggy or Ziggy.'”
Bowie’s own reinvention began in January 1972, when he decided to lose the long, wavy hair he had sported on the covers of The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory. Angie Bowie had been a customer at the Evelyn Paget salon on Beckenham High Street, where Suzi Fussey – the future wife of Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson – worked as a hairdresser.
Angie and David lived at Haddon Hall in Beckenham, and Fussey offered to come over to cut her hair. When she arrived, the couple were discussing whether David should crop his hair.
There wasn’t much furniture: a couch, a couple of chairs, a long, low coffee table, tons of album covers all over the place, and a guitar in the corner. David and Angie were sitting in the middle of a bay window discussing the merits of cutting his hair short – he had this long, blond, wavy hair at the time. They asked me my opinion.
I said, ‘No one has short hair’ – because nobody did. ‘You would be the first.’
He walked over to show me a photo in a magazine. It was of a model for fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto with short, red, spiky hair. He said, ‘Can you do that?’ As I said yes, I was thinking, ‘That’s a little weird – it’s a woman’s hairstyle. And how am I going to actually do it?’ Inside, however, I was excited – this was a chance to be very creative. David was rock-star thin with white skin, a long neck, a great face – if I could pull it off, it would look fantastic.
It took me about a half an hour to cut, and when I finished, his hair didn’t stand up. It kind of flopped. I looked at David, and he was panicking, and I wasn’t feeling too bright. I said, ‘Listen, David, the second we tint your hair, the colour will change the texture and it will stand up.’ I prayed I was right.
I found the colour, Schwarzkopf Red Hot Red with 30 volume peroxide to give it a bit of lift. There was no ‘product’ in those days to help me make it stand up, so I used Gard, an anti-dandruff treatment that I kept for the old girls at the salon – it set hair like stone.
The second David saw himself in the mirror with that short, red, spiky hair, all doubts disappeared. Angie and I looked at him in awe, he looked so good. A huge wave of relief washed over me: I’d done it! I hadn’t known it was going to work until I felt the texture changing in my hands as I was drying it, and it stood up. He looked amazing. I started gathering my things together to leave, and Angie said, ‘Oh, how much do we owe you?’ I think I said, ‘£2, please.’
In fact, Fussey did not dye Bowie’s hair red until two months later. The colour was unveiled at a show at the Town Hall in Birmingham on 17 March – Fussey initially used a light red dye, with the top set in place with Guard setting lotion.
Soon, however, Bowie wished to have a deeper shade. They found the correct tone a few days later, after Bowie showed Fussey magazine containing a photograph of model Marie Helvin, wearing clothes by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto. On stage, Bowie often used red lights to further enhance the effect.