ziggy stardust and the spiders from buckinghamshire

Today, a blue plaque was unveiled in Heddon Street, London, to mark the spot where David Bowie posed for the cover of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I was too young to be caught up in the mania which followed, and in quite the wrong place anyway (it would be another year before I’d even come to this country), but I yearn – horribly – to have been a teenager in the age of Glitter. I think there’s a story in there somewhere. It keeps knocking at my door and I keep trying to ignore it so I can write the current novel, all the while amassing a pile of photographs, books and magazines about Bowie and that era.

I did however, have my own Ziggy moment. It came ten years too late of course, and by that time I was a teenager myself. Someone at school introduced me to Bowie, and the hyperbole and melodrama of that particular album meshed perfectly with the hyperbole and melodrama of being sixteen. Knowing Bowie – knowing that album – was a touchstone for who you really were. Backstage during a school production, I sang the opening lines to Moonage Daydream (‘I’m an alligator! I’m a Mama-papa coming for you!’), and a boy told me, ‘Brilliant! I love ELO.’ Instead of questioning my own musical skills I took it as a sign, and resolved not to get off with him at the after-show party.

There were a lot of us at it. One friend confided to me that, when she failed to get tickets to a Tears for Fears concert, she’d comforted herself by listening to Rock and Roll Suicide. (We were sixteen.) I recall being at a party, and a girl throwing herself into her boyfriend’s arms while singing the gorgeously hysterical crescendo from Five Years (‘Your face! Your race! The way that you talk! I kiss you! You’re beautiful! I want you to walk…’). She’s a writer now, too; maybe it’s something about that album.

My relationship with Ziggy took place, for the most part, during the long night-time hours in which my parents assumed I was asleep. I’d put the album on my record player and lie awake listening to it, worrying about how things were going to turn out: Nicaragua, my A Levels, Thatcher’s government and whether I’d ever get a boyfriend. The album provided an appropriate sound-track to the scenarios I imagined, in which I was cast as the tragic heroine, or the plucky little survivor.  Dozy, I’d turn it over, drifting into sleep as the second side began, lulled by it (‘I could fall asleep at night as a Rock n’ Roll star…’). Each morning I’d wake up to the needle drumming its soft click-click, click-click round the glossy ring at the centre of the L.P.

And now, forty years after Ziggy fell to earth, there’s a blue plaque to mark the spot, and a bit of me that still thinks: if we can sparkle, he may land tonight.

ziggy stardust and the spiders from buckinghamshire

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