Ziggy Stardust - His Rise and Fall & The Art of the Stage Persona
If asked about the stage persona in modern music, one of the first examples that may likely come to mind is David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust. Perhaps the most iconic alter ego of music of the last decades, Ziggy ingrained himself into Bowie's identity for the rest of his life. Although only living for three years, appearing in one album, and making limited live appearances, Ziggy changed the scene of rock music during his time.
This week, his eponymous album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is celebrating its birthday. To celebrate the album's forty seventh year, we wanted to take a closer look at the persona of Ziggy Stardust, and analyse that which made him such an iconic alter ego.
Who was Ziggy Stardust?
Ziggy Stardust was born of the brilliant mind of rock n' roll chameleon David Bowie. If you have
been following us for a while, you may know that I am a huge fan of Bowie's work (to the extent that I have a tattoo in his honour,) and Ziggy's eponymous album is perhaps my personal favourite album of all time.
Although only loosely told, his album follows the story of Ziggy. He is an alien, sent here five years before the Earth's inevitable destruction, as the opening track showcases. He is met with the turmoil of man who has to come to accept his limited time left. Ziggy is a musician, and knows that that is the way to calm the world, for he is told as such by a titular Starman. Over the course of the record, Ziggy is successful as a rock musician, playing for devoted audiences. However, he becomes raveled in the treacherous rock n' roll lifestyle, and eventually, like many rock stars, burns out, ending in his death in the heart wrenching closing track Rock n' Roll Suicide.
This is the fictional story of the character. However, he performed these songs as well, on stage as Bowie took on his character in a live setting.
Ziggy took Bowie to an alien appearance, to which his gaunt features at the time leant, with a snow white tan and intricate makeup. His costumes and hair were exaggerated, and Ziggy boasted as visually impressive a presentation as his album described.
Over the course of Bowie's career, Ziggy would be his biggest character, and the one that fans and unaffiliated music listeners alike would come to know well. Although he did not remain on Bowie's mind for long, he lived on with fans for now generations.
The Stage Persona
If anyone could be crowned the ruler of the stage persona, no one could have a stronger claim than Bowie. Throughout his career, in addition to Ziggy, Bowie was host to an assortment of characters such as Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, the Thin White Duke, and "Button Eyes" in his final days.
Bowie was able to accomplish all of these characters seamlessly. It is a difficult task for a musician to embody a single character with such simplicity yet substance as Bowie was capable of.
This aspect of live performance is deeply underused, in my opinion. The stage persona allows a musician the opportunity to portray aspects of their own personality that they might not often release. It allows them to channel their art through a dynamic character, rather than laying themselves bare. Artists such as Prince and George Clinton were also able to portray their characters with a similar level of finesse.
In modern music, the stage persona has become one with the musician's identity. Rather than adopting a character on the stage, their identity becomes the persona. Take a modern artist like Kanye West. West's name, although his legal name, is itself a brand. The Kanye West identity that is shown to the world is a portrayal. Many modern artists take this approach, it separates their personal life from their musical, but it keeps their life and brand in cohesion.
There are however modern performers taking on personas. Donald Glover is known musically as Childish Gambino, and takes on a distinct character under that name.
Ziggy Stardust is perhaps the most iconic stage persona in modern music. He, among Bowie's other characters, were one of the most powerful modern examples of portraying a character through music and live performance. His alien persona electrified the glam rock scene of the 1970s, and stood the test of time as one of rock's greatest characters. Be sure to listen to his album over the weekend, as it celebrates its 47th birthday.
Stay tuned later this evening for a big announcement from a member of the Populus Music family as we get back into the groove of our regular schedule!