Lady Stardust

Song For Marc (He Was Alright).
Lady Stardust.
Lady Stardust (live, 1972).

Lady Stardust (remake, 1997).

Bowie was fascinated by his contemporaries—dropping their names, covering their songs, producing their records. He traced their steps, aped their movements; he sought to remake them in his own image, or at least dress them in his own clothes. So Bowie turned Lou Reed into a glam rock icon, while making Iggy Pop an ongoing rehabilitation project. (Whether Bowie’s mix of Raw Power was salvage or vandalism is still a weary topic of debate). Bowie sparked Mick Jagger and was a shadow on John Lennon.

Most of all, there was Marc Bolan, Bowie’s greatest creative rival and, for a time, inspiration. While in early 1972 Bowie was still relatively unknown, Bolan had become a pop star (four consecutive UK #1s in 14 months) and the Ziggy Stardust storyline is in part a weird parody of Bolan’s rise to fame. Bowie watched Bolan as through a one-way mirror, mimicking his voice on “Black Country Rock,” drafting variations on Bolan in songs. A commenter noted that “The Prettiest Star” was likely as much a homage to Bolan as it (allegedly) was to Angela Bowie. “Lady Stardust,” originally called “Song For Marc,” was more overt: at the Rainbow Theater in August 1972, Bowie sang “Lady Stardust” while Bolan’s face was projected on a screen behind him.

“Lady Stardust” has a taste of fatality and loss; the song seems like a faded remnant of a lost era, Bowie imagining the future as a blighted past. The verses begin in A major and descend into the relative minor, F-sharp, while the chorus also has minor chords in its middle bars. “Lady Stardust” himself, whether Bolan or Ziggy, is both an object of worship for the boys and girls in the stalls, and a subject of abuse. In turn, he curses his audience, singing death ballads and imprecations with a smile, then withers into a black memory while still on stage.

As Nicholas Pegg noted, the lyric seems written in an “American” voice, with all its “outta sites” and “awful nice”s (also, Bowie mutters “get some pussy now” at 2:53 on the Ziggy cut). Mick Ronson’s piano playing has the somber, relaxed tone of an after-hours cabaret performance, while Bowie sounds a bit like Elton John.

“Song For Marc” was taped ca. April 1971 and eventually appeared on the Ryko Ziggy Stardust CD reissue. The Ziggy “Lady Stardust” was recorded on 12 November 1971. Bowie cut two versions of the song for the BBC in 1972, the latter of which is on Bowie At the Beeb. In January 1997, Bowie taped a remake of “Lady Stardust” with bass and backing vocals by Gail Ann Dorsey; it’s on ChangesNowBowie.

Top: Keith Morris, “Marc Bolan arriving at JFK Airport, February 1972.”

9 Responses to Lady Stardust

  1. snoball says:

    Bowie mutters “get some pussy now” at 2:53 on the Ziggy cut

  2. snoball says:

    whoops, I meant to add:

    I always hear it as “oh come closely now” – an off mike instruction to the band to play softer on the outro.

  3. col1234 says:

    You may well be right–ever since I read that’s what Bowie was saying (many years ago) I can only hear it that way now. Filthy ears, mine.

  4. Maj says:

    One of my favourite songs on the album but I do like the Beeb version better. I never heard “pussy” there tho, but “closer” or something like that.
    I haven’t heard the original demo yet & it’s really lovely. Maybe it’ll be my favourite version of the song from now on…so thanks for putting the link here.

  5. ofer says:

    as this –

    clearly shows, no “pussy” to be heard here. he seems to be saying something in the realms of “look him closely now”, which really surprised me listening to the vocal track a few minutes ago. i know this entry is old, but since this is becoming a book – if this urban legend entered it, maybe it should be corrected in the second edition 🙂

  6. colincidence says:

    I only just thought about one of the lines literally. It was just a lovely woven string of words, but “I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey” – Is he singing of a gay crush?

    I love the way the lyrics toy with gender – and it’s worth noting that the song reached the Ziggy ‘concept album’ with long black hair and bright blue jeans all intact.

    • colincidence says:

      …it’s deeply obvious the song’s written with a fascination that borders attraction, but I only just considered this line could be very practical about homosexuality, only recently made legal, and still perhaps ‘socially illegal’.

      • col1234 says:

        more in the book on this, but yes, I agree. the “love I could not obey” line as a bit of Oscar Wilde in it (“the love that dare not speak its name”)

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