Monday, September 28, 2009

Ziggy Stardust and the Gender Benders

Let me start with some pictures.

These pretty faces belong to David Bowie, in his character known as Ziggy Stardust.

The things I could write about David Bowie, even confined to the topic of rock and roll fashion, could probably sink a ship. He is a majestic and brilliant star in rock music and popular culture. He is one of my all time favorite artists.

That being said, I am here to write about this Ziggy Stardust character, a conceptual creation borne from Bowie's thoughts and ambitions. He first appeared in 1972 with the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Here we met Ziggy, an alien in human form from outer space, who was sent to Earth to attain rock and roll glory and teach humans about love and hope before the approaching apocalypse. Mr. Stardust is promiscuous, wild and full of drugs -- which lead to his tragic demise.

Bowie, who had attained modest success with his (fucking great) single "Space Oddity" in 1969, took an opportunity to musically and physically reinvent himself at the dawn of the 1970s.

Bowie made Ziggy into a splashy, colorful and oddly feminine character. His hair was a fiery red mullet, his face was made angular with extravagant neon makeup, his clothes bizarre and skin tight.

This trend in rock music became popular as "glam rock," a campy and flamboyant sense of humor never before seen in rock and roll. Some say that these glitter kids were distinguishing against the earthy hippy movement that had come to an end with the 1960s.

In the UK and America, Bowie, along with musical acts like Queen, New York Dolls (below), Gary Glitter, T. Rex and visual artist Andy Warhol became provocateurs of the ultra sexed and delightfully scandalous scene. Androgyny became vogue -- Ziggy was a sex symbol to all, Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick boyish styling was devilish and captivating.

Bending gender was offensive and obscene to much of the general public, so naturally playing up the taboo sexuality was
part of the fun for the artists. Bowie infamously told
British media is 1972 that was was bisexual, which resulted in an uproar for the straight-laced masses. (Bowie admitted, perhaps 20 years later, that he was a
closet heterosexual and was more caught up in the fascination of bisexuality at the time.)
Ziggy Stardust and his male contemporaries reveled in transgender fashions: glitter, sequins, platform boots and feminine attire that often left little to the imagination (see left). Live performances were animated, hard-rocking, danceable and often times quite vulgar.

Ziggy and the gender benders also drew upon science fiction, futuristic, space age themes in their style of dress as well as in their musical material. In Bowie's case, his character literally fell to earth from outer space and often referenced his alien status in songs like "Starman" and "Moonage Daydream," to name a few.

Today, glam rock fashion still shines on. While the look isn't as in vogue as it once was, there is still a place for silver pants, platforms and bright orange eyeshadow. On the streets of big cities or the basement parties of small towns, girls and boys and aliens are still toying with the androgyny and fabulousness Ziggy and others made so scandalously chic back in the '70s.
Current scenesters embracing the glam rock look are many electro pop musicians and most famously, pop puff du jour Lady Gaga(right). While she is in no way a rock and roller, the Lady seems to channel Ziggy's other-worldly fashion sense with the same fearlessness.
Notable glam rockers keeping the spirit alive are Juliette Lewis and the band The Darkness, once thought to be revivers of glam rock in the 2000s with their 2003 album Permission to Land and their huge hit single I Believe in a Thing Called Love. The instantly classic music video hits upon almost every benchmark in the glam rock Bible, if there ever was such a thing.

The music of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust era is fantastic and memorable, but my dear readers, trust me -- Bowie is nothing if not a chameleon and a genius. Listen to as much of his diverse music as you can. He's a magical talent.

I'll leave you with two videos. The first is my favorite Bowie song from his Ziggy Stardust days, maybe even one of my most favorite songs in general: Rock 'n Roll Suicide, with a video of clips of Mr. Stardust at his best.

The second is a newsreel I found online chronicling the Ziggy madness in England in 1973. The sound quality is poor, but it's a fantastic glimpse at what this massive glam fashion phenomena was really like.

p.s. I'd most definitely be one of those screaming, crying girls if I had been there.

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