Lady Stardust

April 22, 2010


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.”


Velvet Goldmine

April 16, 2010

Velvet Goldmine.

Those unfamiliar with Bowie (if you’re reading this blog, that likely disqualifies you) might assume that “Velvet Goldmine,” which Todd Haynes used as the title for his glam fantasia, was an essential track on Ziggy Stardust. But it’s an outtake from the Ziggy sessions, finally sneaked out as a B-side a few years later.

“Velvet Goldmine,” originally called “He’s a Goldmine,” had been slated for Ziggy‘s second side until Bowie recorded a new batch of songs in January 1972 to shore up the record. Rather than cutting an obvious dud (cough, “It Ain’t Easy”), Bowie gave “Velvet Goldmine” the chop. He said “the lyrics are a little bit too provocative” during a radio interview in February 1972. Really? “Sweet Head,” the other great Ziggy outtake, likely wasn’t fit for public consumption at the time, but “Goldmine,” while salacious enough (“you got the width of my tongue,” “I had to ravish your capsule, suck you dry”), isn’t much worse than, say, “Suffragette City.” Some writers have wondered whether Bowie felt the song was too openly gay: if so, that’s also odd since Bowie soon announced his homosexuality to Melody Maker and released an undeniably gay single (“John, I’m Only Dancing”) a few months later.

Bowie may have axed “Goldmine” because he thought it sounded a bit retrograde compared to the other Ziggy tracks. (And the thumping, eight-to-the-bar piano in the chorus does give it a music-hall feel, reminiscent of Hunky Dory tracks like “Oh! You Pretty Things.”) Still, “Goldmine”‘s got a moody, minor-key chorus; Ronson’s guitar smeared over the verses and culminating in a solo that sounds as if it was recorded underwater; a saucy Bowie vocal over a knotty verse (i.e., the sudden 3/4 bar on “close to my breast”); a wonderfully bizarre outro with massed whistles, hums, laughs and moans; and a lyric filled with lines like “I’ll be your king volcano.” One of the best tracks from the Ziggy period—cutting it was a blunder.

Recorded 11 November 1971. Released in September 1975 as a B-side to a “Space Oddity” single repackage (which would be Bowie’s first UK #1). Bowie later said the mix was rushed out without his approval. Included on various Ziggy Stardust CD reissues.

Top: Roxy Music, 1972.