In the compelling debate of what album Phish will play for Halloween, many ideas and theories have been posed as to which records would create an ideal musical costumes. After perusing many of the potential albums, there is really only one choice for me – David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. Encompassing themes of hope and love within a plot of rock and roll idolatry in an apocalyptic society, Ziggy Stardust is often hailed as the seminal concept album of the 1970s.
The History Behind Ziggy
Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie’s alien savior, who brought a musical message of salvation via rock and roll, but eventually fell from grace due to the perils of rock and roll decadence. In Bowie’s own words:
Ziggy was my Martian messiah who twanged a guitar. He was a simplistic character. I saw him as very simple… Someone who was dropped down here, got brought down to our way of thinking and ended up destroying himself (1976). Ziggy Stardust…was very much Japanese Theatre meets American science fiction (1978).
Far more than a fictional character, Ziggy Stardust gave Bowie an alter ego, one which began to take over his reality. Beginning in 1972, Bowie began introducing himself at concerts as Ziggy Stardust and his band as The Spiders From Mars. Appearing in full costume and character, Bowie was Ziggy Stardust, and as his theatrical performances continued, he over-indulged in his on-stage character.
It was quite easy to become obsessed night and day with the character. I became Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie went totally out the window. Everybody was convincing me that I was a Messiah, especially on that first American tour (late-1972). I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy (1972)
Before long, Ziggy came off the stage, permeating Bowie’s everyday life. Appearing publicly in costume, the line between Bowie and Ziggy Stardust became dangerously blurred.
I thought I might as well take Ziggy to interviews as well. Why leave him on stage? Looking back it was completely absurd. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity. I can’t deny that the experience affected me in a very exaggerated and marked manner. I think I put myself very dangerously near the line. Not in physical sense but definitively in mental sense. I played mental games with myself to such an extent that I’m very relieved and happy to be back in Europe and feeling very well (1977).
In two separate interviews in the early ’90s, Bowie reflected on his period of mental instability as he battled – and basked in – his alter-ego. Ziggy had literally become an escape from himself and his every-day life; a place to hide from David Bowie.
I enjoyed the character so much and it was so much easier for me to live within that character that, along with the help of some chemical substances at the time, it became easier and easier for me to blur the lines between reality and the blessed creature that I created – my doppelganger. I wasn’t getting rid of him at all – in fact I was joining forces with him (1990).
There was a theory that one creates a doppelganger and then imbues that with all your faults and guilts and fears and then eventually you destroy him, hopefully destroying all your guilt, fear and paranoia. And I often feel that I was doing that unwittingly, creating an alternative ego that would take on everything that I was insecure about. Ziggy served my purpose because I found it easier to function through him, although I probably put myself on a path of pure psychological damage by doing what I did. But it felt like it was going to be easier living through an alternative self. Of course the major problem was that I was blurring the lines between sanity and an insane figure, and finally did break the lines down in the mid-Seventies where I really couldn’t perceive the difference between the stage persona and myself (1993).
Looking further into Bowie’s analysis of this era, one can see parallels to the rock-idolatry and excesses that contributed to Trey’s downfall. After working his whole life to become a rock star, once Ziggy/Bowie/Trey attained his goal – well – what next? As Bowie describes Ziggy’s fate, he could easily be talking about Trey.
It was his own personality being unable to cope with the circumstances he found himself in which is being an almighty prophet-like superstar rocker. He found he didn’t know what to do once he got it. It’s an archetype really – the definitive rock n roll star. It often happens (1974).
Always cast outside of the rock and roll mainstream, Trey’s former demise followed a not-so-uncommon path. As was Ziggy’s fate, the decadence surrounding his rock and roll super-stardom brought him down; the fame, the parties, the ego, the glamour, the sex, and ultimately, the drugs. Like Ziggy’s finale, “Rock and Roll Suicide,” dark habits threatened the very survival of certain Phish members, forcing them to “break up the band,” following the fate of The Spiders From Mars. Bowie’s personal relationship to Ziggy Stardust mirrors Trey’s battle with his own rock and roll stardom and inner conflicts that brought each man to the brink.
Ziggy Stardust– The Album
For the elaborate theatrics and space-aged costumes alone, Ziggy Stardust would make a superb spectacle for the Halloween set. But beyond the glamorous show this album could provide, the music and lyrics of Bowie’s record fit perfectly with Phish’s place in time. The dreamy psychedelia of Ziggy Stardust seems made for Phish to play, incorporating all band members (and a few horns) in forming a tapestry of Bowie’s early ’70s sound. And the copious fade-outs on almost every track is an essential detail of the record, leaving the door wide open for Phish to improvise out of almost any song. With musical coherence, symbolic relevance, poignant lyrics, Ziggy Stardust is the perfect choice for Phish this year.
1. “Five Years”
We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got
The album starts off with Ziggy singing a melancholy dirge for humanity, stating there are only five years left before the apocalypse. Due to a lack of natural resources, the world is on the verge of perishing. In Bowie’s explanation of the song:
Ziggy was in a rock n roll band and the kids no longer want rock n roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s advisors tell him to collect news and sing it, cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news (Rolling Stone, 1973).
The obvious Phishy reference in this song lies in the title “Five Years,” alluding to the past half-decade we lived without Phish in our lives. But now, like Ziggy and The Spiders, the band is back to save us from a degrading society with their universal musical messages.
2. “Soul Love”
This wistful song details various forms of love and their interrelation, including the highest form – “Soul Love.” Suggesting an overt spirituality, there are religious undertones to this song, asserting that “Soul Love” is embodied by every human, a central theme in Ziggy’s extra-terrestrial message. The beauty of the universe lies within everyone, there is still hope.
Phish would absolutely destroy this scorching song that has often been cited as the strongest track on the album. Recounting times they played the song live, Trevor Bolder, a member of The Spiders From Mars observed:
It really used to get the kids going. That would start the kids off. Every night you knew that “Moonage Daydream” was going to be the one that really lifted them. (1976)
This song introduces Ziggy Stardust – the Space Invader / Alien Messiah – who offers rock n roll salvation from earth’s imminent disaster outlined in “Five Years,” and a object for society’s religious worship evident in “Soul Love.” Its searing guitar lines and syncopated keyboard patterns lift off into wild sheets of sound, and could provide Phish with a serious launchpad for improvisation. In some ways congruent with Phish’s place as worshipped rock and roll superheros, “Moonage Daydream” details the seduction of rock stardom. If the first two slower tracks don’t get people going, “Moonage Daydream certainly would.
There’s a Starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a Starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
The only single off Ziggy Stardust, “Starman” tells the story of Ziggy’s origins as an “infinite being,” and details his message that hope and love can save the world before earth comes to an end. This, as Bowie explained “was the song that Ziggy wrote which inspired people to follow him…but he continued and then he was crushed by his own ego” (1974). Phish are the “Starmen” of our generation, enlightening us; showing us a different way of living amidst a war-torn, segmented world. Grandiose? Sure. Far fetched? Not so much.
5. “Lady Stardust”
Bowie’s personal tale of rock and roll androgyny kicks off the B-side of the album. But for Phish, and specifically for Trey, the power of this ballad lies in the lyrics.
And he was alright, the band was altogether
Yes he was alright, the song went on forever
Yes he was awful nice
Really quite out of sight
And he sang all night long
Seemingly written for this exact occasion in Phish’s career, these lyrics would bring shivers to every fan in the desert when Trey (or Page) sang them.
This song details the Ziggy’s dreams of super-stardom with a more upbeat song. In the chorus, Bowie sang:
I could make a transformation as a rock n roll star
So inviting – so enticing to play the part
I could play the wild mutation as a rock n roll star
Fame and stardom allured both Bowie and Phish, dreaming of success while not compromising their art. In Phish’s modern era, however, “Star” would be a reflection on the band’s past inspiration as they fought for the big time – a glimpse back to the years of the early ’90s and the musical hunger that defined them.
7. “Hang On To Yourself”
Well come on, come on, we’ve really got a good thing going
Well come on, well come on, if you think we’re gonna make it
You better hang on to yourself
This song chronicles the height of fame for Ziggy Stardust with a rocking feel and melodic hooks. But as his popularity grew, so did his indulgences – hence the song’s title. Loosely parallel to the years of 2000-2004, this was the era that Phish barely hung on to themselves, battling the very temptations and indulgences as Bowie’s fictional rock-god. “Hang On To Yourself” leads naturally into the infectious album’s infectious title-track.
7. “Ziggy Stardust”
A classic song in the annals of rock history, Ziggy’s title track would be the song that any Phish fan is be guaranteed to know. And hearing Trey destroy the song’s signature guitar riff would be worth the price of admission on its own. The song, itself, details the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust – a symbol of the ultimate rock god – as told by one of his band members.
Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band
Alluding to several of rock’s fallen idols, “Ziggy Stardust” explains the character’s fate as an idolized rock star and, subsequently, a rock and roll tragedy. In the end they had to break up the band – sound familiar?
8.” Suffragette City”
One of Bowie’s favorite originals, this is the most rocking track on the album by a long shot. This song – like “Drowned,” “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Rock and Roll” – would be a heavy favorite for Phish to keep in their permanent rotation. Chronicling Ziggy’s decadent over-indulgence, many fans theorize that this song should have came before “Ziggy Stardust,” as it sets up the star’s fall from glory. “Suffragette City” would also see a guest appearance from a horn section.
9. “Rock N Roll Suicide”
This acoustic piece narrates the fate of Ziggy Stardust, and his final demise. Despite its somber ending, Bowie’s wife saw an uplifting message of unity in the song’s final chorus :
Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Oh gimme your hands
When looked at as a holistic piece of art, strewn with congruences and parallels to Phish’s career as rock superstars, Ziggy Stardust emerges as an ideal fit for the band’s Halloween set. Imagine Trey dressed as Ziggy, and Mike, Page and Fish as The Spiders From Mars?! This album could take Phish’s musical costume to a whole new level. Strewn with symbolism, artistry, and musical theatrics, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars presents not only one of the most engaging musical choices for Festival 8, but one that holds plenty of significance as well.
(References – Rolling Stone, Blender, Pop Matters, The Ziggy Stardust Companion)
Jam of the Day:
“Reba” 10.18.94 II SBD
A soaring “Reba” from Nashville, TN in a year that redefined the song.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
7.6.2000 Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto, ON < Megaupload
Here we have Phish’s second visit to the beautiful Molson Amphitheatre, right on Toronto’s waterfront. Standout versions of “Reba” and “YEM bookend the 90-mintue opening set. The second frame opens with a delicate jam bridging “Limb” and “2001,” and closes with the feel-good combo of “Hood,” “Loving Cup.”
I: Reba, Dogs Stole Things, Taste, Dog Faced Boy, Heavy Things > The Moma Dance, First Tube, I Didn’t Know, The Inlaw Josie Wales, Prince Caspian > Golgi Apparatus, You Enjoy Myself
II: Limb By Limb* > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Bug, Piper > Driver, Harry Hood, Loving Cup
E: The Squirming Coil
Source: UnknownTags: 2009, Culture, Festivals, Halloween