By Madeline Bocaro
Long, long ago, in adolescence far, far away, Ziggy was our savior. He rescued my only friend Lisa and I – two American kids with very British taste in music – from teenage boredom and launched us through outer space to his very own planet, somewhere beyond Pluto. The U.S. TV show In Concert featured the final Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars concert at England’s Hammersmith Odeon. It was the first time we saw Ziggy in action (we only had hundreds of magazine photos and posters). The stage was dark, the focus was soft, and the camerawork shaky and evasive. Ziggy was shrouded in mystery. He was definitely from the cosmos; androgynous, surreal, seductive, with porcelain skin and unearthly mismatched eyes with a foreign, piercing stare. It was impossible to discern if he was for real, or if this was the most impeccable performance ever. We had found our ultimate icon, and there he was announcing his final performance. Our devastation mounted.
We never got to see him live. When Ziggy descended on-stage (in a silver gyroscope borrowed from the Rockettes) at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, I was alone in my room watching the clock, forbidden by mom to attend. Yet I knew that he was on stage with “Moonage Daydream” reverberating throughout the stratosphere. I swear that I heard it faintly from twenty miles away.
Although we were into Bowie for a year already, his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust was most fascinating. His final appearance as Ziggy was when Lisa and I saw him in quasi-kabuki drag on the TV show Midnight Special in 1974 (filmed at the Marquee club in London) when we were in our highly impressionable pre-teens. We were instantly transformed. We had no concept of “camp” – except for summer camp – or about gay culture. Our innocent perception of gender was instantly perverted. We didn’t know any other way to take this but at face value, and we took it – SERIOUSLY! It was the most impressive sight we had ever seen, in all of our mere fifteen years on earth. Something cracked my world open that night.
When I watch the Floor Show now it is truly hilarious and just as colourful, but back then it was utterly intriguing and so damned IMPORTANT. This glowing, fleeting kaleidoscopic instant in history was gone in a flash, with no hope of ever being seen again (in pre-VCR days). I didn’t blink once in the entire 90 minutes! We thought this must be the highest form of art or theater, or whatever alien genre it was. What did the mere boys at school know about art or beauty?
On TV that night, Bowie had an angel beside him dressed all in white – from platinum hair to white platform boots. The way he played guitar sounded so sweet it made me cry. Mick Ronson the icon, the ROCK in Glam rock was later to become a dear friend to me, but this was yet inconceivable. For now, he was the most sublime being who ever lived.
Mom sat there watching with me, exhaustively apathetic. How could she so blatantly ignore this astounding spectacle?! Her grimace of disdain at my idolatry of such ‘trash’ was classic. In fact, this was my rebellion to all the corny old-fashioned music that she listened to.
History books depict details of ancient eras and civilizations, which fascinate later generations. People wish they could have lived in Dickensian England or during the Renaissance, the Gay 90’s or Picasso’s blue period. We were fixated on the histrionics of the Ziggy period. We had lived in those times but merely as children. We were forever combing the earth for fossils and artifacts (our history books were music magazines) that could piece the whole story together. England seemed a distant foreign land to us. When Ziggy landed in America we were not yet allowed to attend concerts. Forbidden fruit begat an insatiable hunger for the truth, which was obscured in momentary flickerings of the TV screen. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was our favourite real-life fairy tale. Just as an excited child would ask for his favourite part of a story to be told again and again (“Tell me the part about when they threw the witch into the oven!!!!) I’d love to repeatedly hear the part about how Bowie got the macho Spiders (Mick, Woody and Trevor) to dress in Glam drag! Mick Ronson looked like George Washington or a pilgrim on-stage at the Hammersmith Odeon with his glittery knickers and leotards, buckled platform shoes and silver hair, yet it somehow worked. He was beautiful, and he rocked!
Alone in the darkness of night so quiet that one could hear rumblings on a distant planet, with mom and dad tucked away asleep upstairs, the intergalactic sounds of Ziggy Stardust blasted through the blackness and static of my stone suburban life. I would imagine there was an amplifier on each planet, beaming this sonic fantasy toward all the farthest reaching points of the galaxy. The emotional wailing of Ronson’s stellar guitar reverberated in crashing sound waves and wrenched my heart, while Ziggy sang of earth’s impending demise. I felt as though everyone in the universe could hear it (I surely played it LOUDLY enough!) I wished everyone could hear it the way I did, and feel all the glory – yet I was still happy to be among the minority of passionate kids in America to be aware of the Ziggy phenomenon. As the planets vibrated and the room mutated into a rocket ship, I’d drift and moonage daydream of the starman who would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds”. Who can say that Bowie wasn’t really singing to us? Lisa and I felt like those kids in the song;
“I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey that’s far out – so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on Channel 2
Look out your window, I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don’t tell your papa or he’ll get us locked up in fright”
That’s how we’d discovered Ziggy – flickering upon TV signals beamed in from Mars late at night – when I phoned Lisa and we both knew that this was special and not of this world. We had a secret, which we were dying to share but nobody would listen. We could strongly relate to a fictional British rock star from space, but our parents and friends were beyond reach. They foolishly ignored our warnings that the earth would destruct in ‘Five Years’. And we didn’t care. We wanted to die before we reached the old age of twenty anyway!
We were drawn to Bowie’s music by its fantastic, futuristic nature with its own landscape and inhabitants – like Marc Bolan’s mythological songs, but in outer space! Bowie was both storyteller and main character, with his double tracked up-front British accented vocals. In headphones it sounded as if he were right there with us in our room. We read the lengthy lyric sheets to “Cygnet Committee”, “Width of a Circle” and “Quicksand” deeming them pure genius. Although incomprehensible to our young minds, they inspired wild imaginings. We thought this was the highest form of intellect, allied with supreme decadence and a bit of flamboyance. It all seemed so cryptic and alluring.
Lisa and I began to water-colour our hair red and green, wear glitter on our faces and wore home-made Glam outfits and platform boots to school. Nobody was doing this at the time. Now you can buy all kinds of crazy hair colours and mass-produced rock n’ roll clothes, but this was the early 70’s – the drab age of denim. All the kids in school had never seen the likes of Glam Rock, in fact they were the opposite – messy, sloppy, hairy, pimply Grateful Deadheads. Lisa and I would save our lunch money each day to buy records and magazines. We were both rail-thin to begin with, and we got thinner by skipping lunch! We began to resemble our idol with our skinny bodies, anemic complexions and colour-streaked hair. Our teacher came back to class after a six-month illness emaciated and pale, and we told her how fabulous she looked! We gave ourselves shag haircuts since there was nothing other than old ladies’ hair salons at the time, which refused to give us the Ziggy cut – layered on top and long on the bottom. They would say, “That’s two different haircuts” and we’d reply, ”Is there a law against that?” Why wouldn’t they just do it for us? Years later, while Suzi Ronson (Mick Ronson’s wife, and creator of the Ziggy cut) was cutting my hair, I told her that story. She said that the Ziggy cut was actually a combination of three different haircuts that David had shown her in magazines.
At the time, we had no idea that Bowie admired Marc Bolan of T. Rex, and had written “Lady Stardust” for Marc (we grew to love Bolan too) – or that the name Ziggy Stardust was derived from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Iggy Pop. We devoured every article about the Ziggy phenomenon that we could find. The UK papers had the best coverage but were scarce in the states, so we relied on the US monthlies, Circus and Creem. We heard that green Martian cocktails were served at the record release party. American journalists were flown to London to see Ziggy live. It seemed that money was flying in the air around David Bowie. In fact, this was only partly true. David and the band had small allowances themselves – the money was all spent on the big hype; the costumes by Kansai, the limos, the wining and dining of industry people, etc…
Ziggy was always exposed in brief instants. His stage shows were dimly lit, and photographers banned. The more fleeting the images, the more we craved to see. It became an addiction – an obsession. It doesn’t take much to enrapture a fifteen year old, and this was over the top. The hype worked beautifully. Less is more.
We were fascinated by all the people involved with Ziggy’s star-making machine. Manager Tony Defries perpetuated the myth by shrouding Bowie in mystery, supporting him and his entourage of Andy Warhol’s freaky New York friends so lavishly. Little did Bowie know the financial impact that this would have until decades later, due to the licensing of his music to the controlling Defries and RCA.
When Warhol’s play Pork was in the UK, the cast went to see Bowie perform at a small club in 1971 (when David was just a pretty long-haired hippie). Shortly after, Bowie publicly announced his bisexuality. The Warhol stars at once fell in love with David, his fabulous wife Angie and the beautiful Mick Ronson. A year later they became Ziggy’s entourage, employed at his management office, Mainman. Tony Zanetta was crowned President and acted as Bowie’s assistant. Photographer Leee Black Childers jumped on the bandwagon as tour manager, also capturing the gorgeous, elusive images on film. Cherry Vanilla was the secretary/PR Agent/ groupie. Tony Visconti was the producer. Bowie’s wife Angie inspired and encouraged the outrageous costuming, makeup and hairstyles, executed by Ziggy’s wardrobe mistress Sue Frost and Ronson’s future wife, Suzi Fussey. Ziggy Stardust would not have existed without these people.
Strangely enough, I’m now in touch with many of the people who created Ziggy Stardust. It’s as if I’ve gone through the looking glass and all the storybook (magazine) characters I’d read about and admired came to life. Suzi Ronson coloured my hair Ziggy red for years. Mick became my dear friend from 1975 (when I met him on tour with Mott The Hoople’s former frontman Ian Hunter) until his death in 1993. Mick was the sweetest guy in the world. He gave me impromptu guitar lessons on his actual Ziggy guitar – the famous unpainted Les Paul! I play entirely by ear and Mick encouraged that. He was against too much technicality, and in favor of emotion and impulse. Although he was classically trained and technically proficient, he favoured simplicity. He taught me to play “Starman” and for a moment, I was Ziggy unplugged! Mick and Ian are the funniest, greatest guys I’ve even known. Super rock gods, and really sweet dudes.
Ronson is finally getting the credit he deserved for fashioning, producing and arranging the Ziggy sound. Suzi showed me some of Mick’s legendary stage costumes. As I held these sacred items in my hands, still glowing and glittering, a great sadness came over me because Mick is no longer here, yet I felt his warmth and magic. I then realized how itchy the glittery material was, especially the knickers! No wonder he hated wearing those things!
Mick’s sister Maggi invited me to the Mick Ronson memorial concert ,which she organized in on April 29, 1994 – the 1-year anniversary of his death – at the sacred site of Ziggy’s last gig, Hammersmith Odeon. At the rehearsals I met the wonderful Spiders From Mars, Woody Woodmansey and Trevor Boulder. Ian Hunter spent many hours with us at the Knightsbridge hotel bar – remembering Mick with tears and laughter. Ian took Mick’s death really hard.
In 1989 Tony Zanetta consulted me for his Bowie biography Stardust. Zee dispelled an illusion; when Bowie wore an eye-patch and one earring – a pretty pirate look -it was really because he had conjunctivitis!
Tony Visconti, producer of all the early 70’s Bowie and T-Rex albums invited Ronson biographer Gilly (of Weird & Gilly) and I to his New York studio in 1995. Tony entertained us with fantastic stories, and also let us mix unreleased T-Rex tapes on his mixing board. What a thrill! He had several gold Bowie records on his wall. Tony told us that while Bowie and the Spiders were living at Haddon Hall, they’d agreed to take turns buying the groceries for the week. Tony would spend a hundred dollars for a week’s worth of food, and David and Angie would come back with a bottle of wine and some caviar bought with their week’s allowance.
Ziggy’s official photographer Mick Rock contacted me about my video collection. He’s a great guy, with loads of wild energy! Visiting his studio is like being in heaven itself, and his photos wrote the pages of history!
My dear friend, the late Leee Black Childers was a fascinating guy, and a national treasure. He was the Vice President of Mainman’s New York office, as well as tour photographer. Leee told fabulous stories of the days in Hollywood with Ziggy on tour. The band and entourage would be put up in the best hotels but they had empty pockets. To get money, Leee and the road crew would walk out to Hollywood Boulevard and offer tourists a fine lobster dinner for $50.00 cash, give the tourists their hotel room keys, and tell them to order room service. One of Leee’s jobs was to baby-sit the drug induced, out of control Iggy and the Stooges – then Mainman artists – in California after Bowie produced their Raw Power LP. Defries forbid the Stooges to play live, thinking they’d steal Bowie’s limelight. Leee learned to swim by repeatedly rescuing Iggy who would daily be found floating face down in the pool, stoned out of his mind.
Jayne (formerly Wayne) County is a fabulous punk rock singer who was also a star of Warhol’s Pork. David was fascinated him/her. Jayne was to record an album for Mainman, which was delayed indefinitely, yet she was kept on retainer (just like the poor Stooges) after signing a contract. Jayne was yet another Mainman hostage. I attended some of Jayne’s shows with Leee, and the sweet, wild and uninhibited Angie Bowie.
I often ran into the late Cyrinda Foxe in New York city. She’s the ultimate rock n’ roll cool chick. She’s in the “Jean Genie” video and is also ‘Lorraine’ in Bowie’s “Watch That Man”. Cyrinda was married to David Johansen when he was a New York Doll, and later to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. She was a major figure in the Ziggy clique – a girlfriend of David’s and Angie’s. A vivacious and extremely entertaining girl! Andy Warhol adored her, and I can see why. We had a nice brunch one morning and she talked about those days fondly. After one of Jayne’s gigs, I was showing Angie some photos. Cyrinda sat down with us and asked, “Oh can I see too?! There I was sitting between these important characters from the Ziggy days, feeling like I was sitting with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. And I finally connected with the fabulous Cherry Vanilla in New York city and at her home in California. I am honored to have met all these dear friends.
Ziggy absorbed all the energy of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Mott The Hoople, Mick Ronson, etc. That’s why he was so great. Bowie was the center of their universe at one time – a true icon. Many people gave Ziggy the gift of life. Bowie ceremoniously dumped the Spiders From Mars that night at the Hammersmith Odeon as if he were simply cleaning out his closet, but those records – especially Ziggy Stardust – will live on forever!