Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Murray Cook: David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
I first became aware of this masterpiece in 1973 when I was in year 7 at school. I had been a Beatles nut for a few years by then. And a fan of a lot of the ’60s and early ’70s stuff I heard on the radio and at friend’s houses. But then I heard ‘Starman’ by this guy called David Bowie on the radio. It was delicate but shiny and had a crunch in the electric guitars. And he was singing about aliens visiting earth. It sounded like the song itself came from space. I saw a picture of Bowie in GoSet and he looked like he was the alien in the song. For a kid in a NSW country town in the early ’70s he may as well have come from space. I was hooked.
My friend, Glen Bennett had the album containing that song, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars. In the best deal I have ever made before or since, I convinced my friend to swap his Ziggy Stardust for my copy of Slade Alive!. Slade Alive! was a great record but Ziggy was life changing.
I stared at the mysterious creature on the cover as the needle slowly dropped into the groove. The lopsided 6/8 drum pattern of ‘Five Years’ seemed to slink out of the speakers. This wasn’t the usual hit-’em-hard opening track we were used to. And the lyrics were about the world only having five years left before Armageddon. Dark stuff for a 13 year old in the early ’70s.
Then came the pretty folk of ‘Soul Love’ into the musical crunch and seemingly non-sequitur lyrics of ‘Moonage Daydream’ (Bowie was using the cut-up method of random lyric writing by then). ‘Starman’ followed then the side one closer ‘It Ain’t Easy’. Only five songs, all perfectly formed.
Rushing to turn the record over to side 2. The lovely but sad sounding ‘Lady Stardust’. Then Side 2 really hit its straps: ‘Star’; ‘Hang Onto Yourself’; the majestic ‘Ziggy Stardust’ with Bowie’s right hand man Mick Ronson (arguably the greatest guitarist of the ’70s) providing the shimmering arpeggios. No time to take a breath into ‘Suffragette City’ until we fall into a heap with ‘Rock’n’Roll’ Suicide. It was new and gleaming sleek like a sports car. It was powerful yet delicate.
He had made great records before (e.g. Hunky Dory) but in those pre-internet days, if it wasn’t on the radio it didn’t exist. Ziggy heralded a new star, David Bowie. I still loved my ’60s heroes, The Beatles, The Stones et al, and still do. But this was music for kids who were teens in the ’70s. This was our music; brash and audacious. It was glam but not like Gary Glitter or Slade. It was more considered; deeper. And his androgynous image sowed the seeds for kids of that era to become a little more tolerant of the “weird” or the outsiders. Or it validated us if we were the “weird” or the outsider.
Of course, the world learned what a genius Bowie was as his career continued through its myriad twists and turns. I followed him through it all. He made many brilliant records after this. He may have even made better records. But, for me, nothing will match the thrill of discovering this magical work of art.
Thank you, Ziggy. Love you always.
Murray Cook’s latest project The Soul Movers (with Lizzie Mack) recently released new single ‘Shake It Loose’ (below). You can catch them at Sydney’s Paddo RSL on December 22.