The Night David Bowie And Ziggy Stardust Changed The Music Industry Forever

By Andrew Nagy
10 February 2019
Express/Getty Images
Getty Images
Express/Getty Images
Along with the Spiders from Mars, Ziggy Stardust was a glimpse into the future of what an artist could be… and it all started in front of 60 people in a South London pub

The Toby Jug in Tolworth was by no means a normal pub – at least in terms of the bands that played there, if not bricks and mortar of the place itself. Led Zeppelin in 1969, Fleetwood Mac, Black Sabbath and others had cemented its name in the area, but then David Bowie debuted Ziggy Stardust there on February 10, 1972, and the music industry changed forever. Not bad for a little boozer just off the A3.

In 1972, bands – big bands – played in pubs and while the Toby Jug gig 47 years ago might not get the acclaim of the legendary Beatles’ shows at the Cavern or the notorious Sex Pistols’ gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in ’76, this was a watershed moment in music, birthing the artist as changeling force. It brought pure theatre to the industry and, even in the midst of glam-rock, it was shocking and fascinating and amazing.

Bowie had enjoyed some success by 1972. A couple of eponymous albums along with The Man Who Sold The World in 1970 and then Hunky Dory in ’71 saw chart success, but Ziggy Stardust – and subsequent album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars would cement his place in the industry.

He wasn't alone. Some bands of the time had ideas on a similarly grand scale, The Who’s Tommy probably being the closest, but none had created a living and breathing alter ego like Bowie did with Ziggy Stardust – with a backstory to match.

Fascinated by space travel and inspired by the British rocker Vince Taylor – who after too many years in the industry decided that he was a messianic figure sent from space – Bowie spent months creating Ziggy, whose name he took from a barbers he’d seen from a train window. The story being that the Earth had five years until its total destruction and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars had been sent to save the world.

 

But Bowie’s ‘plastic rock and roller’ was credible too, with a song writing arc that went beyond pure concept. This was an inspired look into the theatrics of music and would ultimately prove the inspiration for everyone from Marilyn Manson to Kanye West.

“He wanted to change the music industry,” explained bassist Trevor Bolder to Rolling Stone. “He thought it was boring.” Bowie would take the band to the ballet and theatre asking them to look at the lighting as opposed to the performances. “That was a revelation,” said drummer Mick Woodmansey. “We got into the practice of creating a show, rather than just making music.”

But Ziggy wasn’t easy for Bowie to maintain, and after a 12 months of touring – with fans actually starting to buy into the fact that Ziggy had, indeed, come to save the world, the lines began to blur.

“Ziggy wouldn't leave me alone,” Bowie would later reveal. “That was when it all started to go sour ... My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.”

In typically theatrical fashion, and just over a year to the day of the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, Bowie retired his creation live on stage – during the filming of D. A. Pennebaker’s  documentary film of the band.

“Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest,” said Bowie in a farewell speech onstage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. “Because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do.”

Despite fears that he had quit the music business for good, Bowie would return, of course, and with other characters too. But while Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke would have their moments, none would quite resonate like Ziggy Stardust.