Though this project failed, and Bowie went on to record Hunky Dory, it did pave the way for what would become Ziggy: a persona for him to play and live his life as. Though Bowie seemed to come out of nowhere in the early 70s as an androgynous young harbinger of rock and roll to come, those ten years he spent working to find the perfect formula for fame had made him reflective.
The entire album vaguely tells the story of Ziggy Stardust, the human manifestation of an alien being who attempts to present humanity with a message of hope in their last five years of its existence. The album was intended to serve as the soundtrack and musical basis for a stage show.
Let’s take a look at each track, and what they represent.
- Five Years – The opening track details that Earth will end in five years, due to some unspecified disaster, thought to be the lack of natural resources, and mankind will cease to exist. Bowie said the title came from a dream he had, where his deceased father told him that he only had five years to live.
- Soul Love – This song shows that there are many different types of love out in the universe, from stone love (love for the departed), new love (romantic love), and soul love (religious love), and how Ziggy begins to form from this love.
- Moonage Daydream – We, as listeners, are first introduced to Ziggy in this song in a daydream.
- Starman – Here, the alien being contacts the youth of Earth through radio, and promises them salvation.
- It Ain’t Easy – This song is actually a cover, and was originally intended to have been on Hunky Dory. Many have argued as to why Bowie included it on this album, as it doesn’t really fit the theme. However, it could very well relate to how it’s not easy striving and struggling to live the rock and roll dream.
- Lady Stardust – This song introduced the concept of sexual ambiguity to the character of Ziggy himself, and how he really inhabited both genders, to connect with the youth of the world.
- Star – Ziggy, really beginning to live his life as a rock star, realizes that he could live forever like this, if he was allowed to do so.
- Hang Onto Yourself – Ziggy and his band, The Spiders From Mars, begin to really rock and show the world who they really are.
- Ziggy Stardust – This song, as told from the point of view of a band member, tells of the rise and inevitable fall of Ziggy himself.
- Suffragette City – This song talks about the perils of rock stardom. Some argue it may have made more sense to be placed before the track “Ziggy Stardust,” as it would lead into the theme of Ziggy’s downfall.
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide – Ziggy, who embraces the life of a rock and roll star too much, is eventually consumed by the love of his fans while playing on stage, hence his rock and roll suicide.
As mentioned earlier, Bowie had originally intended the album to be the soundtrack for a stage show. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2001, Bowie expanded on the story a bit more.
It is announced that the world would end in five years, due to the lack of natural resources. The youth of the world have access to things they thought they wanted, but do not understand. They are left on their own, to fend for themselves, because the older folks have lost touch with reality.
Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band but the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, because there are no news shows anymore. So Ziggy does, and that’s where the song Five Years comes into play.
The end really begins when the Infinites arrive. The infinites as cosmic black-hole jumpers. Ziggy is told, in a moonage daydream by the Infinites, to write about the coming of a starman. This is the first news of hope that the people have heard in a very long time, so they latch onto it. The starmen that he winds up talking about are the Infinites.
Ziggy has hyped up these spaceman who will be coming down to save the world, but unfortunately, the honestly don’t care. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by jumping through black holes. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe, observing and then moving on.
But by now, Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself, and thinks he is a prophet of the future starmen. He builds himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the Infinites arrive, they are in their original state of anti-matter. So, they begin to take bits of Ziggy himself to make themselves real. They literally tear him to pieces on stage during Ziggy’s rock ‘n’ roll suicide. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage, the Infinites manifest themselves and the story ends.
It’s a pretty heavy story for a rock and roll album by a 25 year old kid, don’t you think? It’s deeper than one might expect on its surface, but it’s immensely satisfying to hear how much thought actually went into it.
Not only do I love the album on its own, but it also has a pretty deep, personal meaning to me. Back during the summer of 2009, I went through a pretty nasty break up that left me pretty deeply depressed. Sure, my friends and family were there for me, forcing me out of the house to get away for a few hours at a time, but inevitability, I would wind up back at home, alone at night with my thoughts. I didn’t do much by lay there and stare up at the ceiling every night, wondering where it all went wrong.
In an effort to curb my encroaching darkness, I would listen to music on random on my iPod, long into the night. By the 3rd or 4th night, Moonage Daydream came on. For the first time in a while, my ears perked up. I had forgotten how much I loved that song, and quickly scrolled through my click wheel to listen to the entire album. And then I listened again. And then again after that.
I seriously must have listened to the album at LEAST 100 times during that time period, again and again, because for some reason, it just spoke to me.
The fundamental difference was that, altogether Ziggy became accustomed to the life he was leading, which eventually lead him to be literally consumed by it, I did not want that to happen to me. The music actually made me go out more, live my life, and do the things that I wanted to do, and not be a slave to the emotional turmoil I was feeling.
And of course, I got better. Much better. I was out of my depression, I was happy, and I was able to live my life again. And all it took was the death of a fictitious rock star! While the album talks about Ziggy’s rise and fall, to me, it will always be about my rise from the ashes of depression.
Despite all that, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars still remains one of my favorite records of all time. I know I’m not alone, either. It’s consistently voted in the top 20 on many lists of the top rock and roll albums. It even continues to influence musicians today, such as the hilarious song from Flight of the Conchords.
So, if you have 40 minutes sometime this week, kick back and listen to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (at “maximum volume”, of course) to appreciate Bowie’s masterpiece. You won’t regret it. Trust me.