Ziggy Stardust Is Born On 'Off The Record: David Bowie'

Music journalist Jordan Runtagh dives deep into every detail of David Bowie’s life, lovers, psychology, and creative process in his podcast Off the Record: David Bowie. In this episode, he focuses on the making of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album, from Bowie’s introduction to Andy Warhol, to orchestrator Mick Ronson quickly finishing arrangements on the toilet minutes before recording, to their history-making performance on Britain’s Top of the Pops. Thanks to Jordan’s expert storytelling, vivid detail, and evocative language, it’s easy to picture the “hip and beautiful version of hell” that was iconic nightclub Max’s Kansas City, where Bowie met Iggy Pop for the first time; the onstage antics of The Stooges and Alice Cooper; the “bomb of bad taste” that was Andy Warhol’s performance piece Pork; and the enraptured stares of kids all over the UK watching Ziggy Stardust point directly at them on TV, saying, “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you.”

When the band started recording the Ziggy Stardust album in 1971, there wasn’t so much a plot as a loose collection of songs that just sounded good together. But the studio wanted a single, so Bowie “wrote one to order,” creating “Starman,” a “perfect pop song” that carries elements of T. Rex, the Supremes, and even Judy Garland. With that, the narrative fell into place: “A visionary poet named Ziggy attempts to save earth from destruction, only to be deified and ultimately destroyed by ego and rock ‘n roll excess,” Jordan sums up. It was “a comment on rock as an art form and simultaneously perfected the art form.” And it rolled up all of Bowie’s passions into one, from A Clockwork Orange to T.S. Eliot to Little Richard to The Quartermass Experiment, a BBC sci-fi show he watched as a kid. 

It also provides a peek into his headspace at the time: His longing for fame and his fear of its effects on his sanity. He’d watched rock stars crash and burn before, and it was a time where a lot of frontmen were leaving their bands, including Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson; Lou Reed had left The Velvet Underground to live in self-imposed exile with his parents, working as a typist for $40 a week. It was a tricky gig, fame and fortune – but David wanted it. The first Ziggy tour was far from glamorous – Jordan describes them “hauling their own gear and peeing in pub kitchen sinks” – until July 1971, when they appeared on Top of the Pops. When they arrived at BBC Studios, their glam jumpsuits and spiky hair got them mistaken for extras on the sci-fi series Doctor Who. But they would change lives with their performance that night. Hear the entire fascinating story on this episode of Off the Record: David Bowie.

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