The Ziggy Stardust concept
David Bowie had been toying with the Ziggy Stardust character since at least February 1971. During a US trip to promote The Man Who Sold The World he spoke of basing an album on the fictional rock star.
The name Ziggy was chanced upon by Bowie during his travels.
The Ziggy bit came from a tailor’s that I passed on the train one day. It had that Iggy [Pop] connotation but it was a tailor’s shop, and I thought, Well, this whole thing is gonna be about clothes, so it was my own little joke calling him Ziggy. So Ziggy Stardust was a real compilation of things.
Q magazine, April 1990
If Ziggy was a tailor, it was a Taylor that proved even more influential. Vince Taylor was a British-born rock ‘n’ roll singer who had relocated to the US in the 1940s, and eventually found fame in Europe in 1961. Taylor became a casualty after an excess of speed and LSD, and his behaviour became increasingly erratic. In around 1966 Bowie became acquainted with Taylor in London, and both inspired and horrified the young musician with his actions.
He looked like a tall, gangly Gene Vincent in his black leather. He thought he was Presley-esque but he was much tougher looking than Presley. He had a very successful career in France – he was the French Presley – and he was very messed up, both psychologically and with drugs. At his last performance with his band in France, he dismissed the band, then went on stage dressed in white robes as Jesus Christ and said, I am the Resurrection, I am Jesus Christ, this whole thing. They nearly lynched him there and then. It was his last performance.
But he did in his own mind become the Messiah. And he came over to London, so we got him. He used to hang out on Tottenham Court Road and I got to know him then. And he had these strange plans showing where there was money buried, that he was going to get together; he was going to create this new Atlantis at one time. And he dragged out this map of the world, just outside Tottenham Court Road tube station – I’ll never forget this! – and he laid it on the pavement and we were both down here [Bowie gets down on his hands and knees, almost weeping with laughter] and he was showing me all this. It was so funny! I’m the kind of person who never says no, and so I’m going, OK! Mmmmm, oh yes… thinking, What am I doing down here? This is so embarrassing!
The guy was unbelievable. He had this six-day party once in some guy’s house, that just went on and on. Just the weirdest kind of creature.
And he always stayed in my mind as an example of what can happen in rock ’n’ roll. I’m not sure if I held him up as an idol or as something not to become. Bit of both, probably. There was something very tempting about his going completely off the edge. Especially at my age then, it seemed very appealing: Oh, I’d love to end up like that, totally nuts. Ha ha! And so he re-emerged in this Ziggy Stardust character.
Q magazine, April 1990
The final element of the name, Stardust, was taken from an eccentric 1960s psychobilly singer named Norman Carl Odam. Using the name the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, he was considered something of a novelty act, whose best-known song was the moderate 1968 hit Paralyzed.
But the last name, Stardust, came from another of my favourites, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, who was on Mercury Records along with me in the ‘Space Oddity’ days, and he sang things like ‘I Took A Trip In The Gemini Spacecraft’ [sic]. His big hit was ‘Paralysed’… well, I bought it! He was a kind of Wild Man Fischer character; he was on guitar and he had a one-legged trumpet player and in his biography he said, “Mah only regret is that mah father never lived to see me become a success.” I just liked the Ziggy Stardust bit because it was so silly.
Q magazine, April 1990
Although Odam’s recording career largely started and ended in 1968, Bowie remembered him as a key influence. In 2001, during a BowieNet online chat, he said: “When I first joined Mercury Records in the late 60s, he was one of the only other artists they had. And they gave me his entire catalogue, which at the time was three singles. I immediately fell in love with his music. Well actually, the IDEA of his music. As the music itself wasn’t too recognizable as being such.”
If Bowie felt he owed a debt, he repaid it in full in 2002 by recording ‘I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship’ for the 2002 album Heathen. That year the Legendary Stardust Cowboy was invited to perform at the Bowie-curated Meltdown Festival in London.
In a 1974 interview for Rolling Stone, Bowie explained the concept behind the Ziggy Stardust character and album.
The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of a lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock and roll band and the kids no longer want rock and roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news.
Rolling Stone, 28 February 1974