How David Bowie Became the ‘Starman’
Watching the clip today, in our jaded video-saturated world, it’s still simple to see why Bowie spilled a nation’s beans on toast. The most shocking detail isn’t his hair – it’s that beatific smile, especially when he waggles his finger at the camera for that “you-hoo-hoo.” He loves being this guy. Everybody’s welcome here: the man with the blue guitar, his Spiders, the befuddled-looking dancing boy in the sweater vest, the Asian fangirl in the pink prom dress, the elderly lady with the white Bea Arthur beehive getting down in the corner. All are accepted. Bowie wasn’t up against heavyweights – the rest of the show included Gary Glitter, Sweet and the Partridge Family – but he faced the best pop had to offer in 1972 and turned them all into background scenery.
Bowie hit the road and toured like a madman, spreading the glitter gospel in a rock scene full of interchangeable flannel-and-denim sincerity pimps. English kids responded with a fervor that must have stunned even him – they started dressing up, acting out, walking the Ziggy walk. One night in Newcastle, when the bouncers pushed the kids around a little too much for his liking, he announced, “There are two stars in rock & roll – me and the audience. And if those stewards don’t stop … the stars are going to make this place into a matchbox.” When Mick Ronson played a solo, Bowie dropped to his knees and simulated oral sex on his guitar. For some reason, this made an impression on people. He dressed the part full-time, offstage and on. “I like to keep my group well dressed, not like some other people I could mention,” he declared. “I’m out to bloody well entertain, not just get up onstage and knock out a few songs.”
By the time the tour reached London on July 3, 1973, for one big climax at the Hammersmith Odeon, Ziggy’s audience was an even more out-of-control rock & roll beast than he was. Documentary director D.A. Pennebaker was on hand to film the final performance. “It was so different, more vibrant than anything in the States. I was astonished at how he had the whole goddamn audience singing back-up for him. I thought: ‘How’d he arrange that? Did he have instructional Saturdays where everybody came and rehearsed? What was this?'”
What nobody could have predicted was that Bowie was already planning to bury Ziggy. Onstage in London, he surprised everyone – including the long-suffering boys in his band – with the announcement, “Not only is this the last show of the tour, it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.” The crowd wailed, “Noooo!” It was a theatrical twist worthy of a master, and the “Bowie Quits” headlines that followed proved it was a publicity coup. The star who killed the Sixties was already killing the Seventies. Bowie wasn’t retiring, of course, just slaying his alter ego with a wham bam, thank you ma’am. It was the first time he’d broken his audience’s heart – but hardly the last. He had other roles to play and other hearts to break.David Bowie’s iconic style left a mark on generations of fans. Watch his style transformation here.
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