Thirty-five years ago, David Bowie decided to kill off Ziggy Stardust, his alter ego and his greatest glam-rock creation. This excerpt from Barney Hoskyns' 1998 book Glam! explains why.
"I didn't want to get sucked into that second-generation glam rock," Marc Bolan announced in June 1973, when T. Rex's glittering star was already on the wane. "My next thing won't be glam rock. I'm telling you that, babe. I don't want to be involved in any of that. I don't put down anyone who is involved in it, but once the vision takes over from the music they're in bad shape."
If Bolan was unhappy about being lumped in with the likes of Sweet and Gary Glitter, David Bowie was positively mortified by it. "It actually became a sense of embarrassment, iconically," he admitted many years later. To one of his most significant disciples, Suede's Brett Anderson, he claimed "we were very miffed that people who'd obviously never seen Metropolis and had never heard of Christopher Isherwood were actually becoming glam rockers."
This was at least partly why, on July 3, 1973, Bowie made the decision to kill off his great alter ego Ziggy Stardust, live on stage at London's Hammersmith Odeon. He had already created a brand-new persona, a mutated Ziggy called Aladdin Sane. This was the Bowie who'd found himself traveling vast distances as he toured North America, his mind teeming with cartoon visions of catastrophe. The resulting songs — "Panic in Detroit," "Drive-in Saturday" — turned America into a surreal polysexual playground, a nation of neon and Quaaludes. Aladdin Sane suggested a mind teetering on the edge of psychosis, writhing in the spolight of media attention. "This decadence thing is just a bloody joke," he said in May 1973. "I never thought Ziggy would become the most talked-about man in the world. I never thought it would become that unreal… I felt somewhat like a Dr. Frankenstein."
"Making love with his ego/Ziggy sucked up into his mind," Bowie had sung the year before, adding that "when the kids had killed the man" he had to break up the band. Watching D.A. Pennebaker's documentary of the Hammersmith Odeon show, the fatigue of the "cracked actor" is all too plain to see beneath his caked makeup and gauzy costumes. All the glamour in the world can't conceal Bowie's heavy sockets, jutting cheekbones, and bad teeth. When his wife Angie sticks her head round the door of his dressing room it's like eavesdropping on a ghost. Onstage, significantly, he sings the Jacques Brel song "My Death."
After a supercharged "Suffragette City" and version of the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," David Bowie declared melodramatically that "this is the last show we'll ever do." He then serenaded his bewildered worshippers with "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." Ziggy Stardust, leper messiah and pop martyr, had fallen to earth.
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