When David Bowie announces the apocalypse

Contrary to what its romantic title suggests – from the ascent to the fall -, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders fom Mars is not a rock opera, a form popularized by the Who with tommy in 1969. It has often been called a concept album, which it isn’t, unless the listener makes the effort to connect the songs together. Of Lady Stardust in Ziggy Stardustthey nevertheless provide the illusion, if not of a continuity, at least of an astral theme since they are added Starman, Star, Moonage Daydream (“Lunar Reverie”) and The Spiders from Mars. This group put in abyme is not an innovation, if one thinks of the work to which that of David Bowie will be compared for its cultural importance, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), the Beatles.

David Bowie: “It was towards the end of the year 1970 that the idea of ​​a rock figure larger than life imposed itself on me”

In Moonage Daydream, The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust (Flammarion, 2005), Bowie recalls the context in which his character was born: “It was towards the end of the year 1970 that the idea of ​​a rock figure larger than life imposed itself on me (…) Everything was rather dull. And the most serious music seemed to come down to Crosby, Stills and Nash or James Taylor. » A hasty judgment to say the least since the moment quoted is also that ofAfter The Gold Rush, a Neil Young album who will have influenced his Hunky Dory, or of Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon’s first solo album. Whose reverberating piano bursts and primal cries resound in Five Yearsthe opening song Ziggy Stardust.

In fact, it was mainly the appearance of this music at the beginning of the decade that would afflict Bowie: “It was a time when rock seemed to have strayed into some kind of denim hell. On the street, it was all long hair, beards, necklaces straight out of the sixties and, oh, my God, bell bottoms were still in style. (…). In reality, nothing remained of the idealistic flame of the sixties; it was just a question of putting on airs. » He does not lack to affirm this, since “to put on airs” is precisely what his first detractors will reproach him for.

Chameleon stereotype

Before Ziggy Stardust, Bowie has already fueled the stereotype of the chameleon with which he will forever be associated, always with a hint of opportunism. In four years, it evolved from a pastiche of British vaudeville and singer Anthony Newley (his debut album, David Bowie, in 1967) to a psychedelic folk-rock under the influence of Bob Dylan and Syd Barrett (the second, in 1969), before hardening the sound with The Man Who Sold The World (November 1970). This tortured and quasi-gothic disc, with the saturated guitar of Mick Ronson and lyrics dealing with insanity, is a cousin of the beginnings of Black Sabbath.

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