I'm of an age where documentaries about musicians and groups from the 70's are appealing, regardless of whether I am, or was, a fan. In the case of Pink Floyd and the making of Wish You Were Here, for example, I am most definitely a fan. Mott the Hoople, on the other hand, not so much. I knew some of their songs (All the Young Dudes probably being the best-known) but never owned any records (unless you count the presence of the said Dudes on a compilation album obtained by dutifully collecting coupons from Sounds magazine over several weeks; I think it was the original Sounds Like a Good Album to Us but can't find any track listings on the Web – only for SLAGATU Vol. II, which I also collected for, and had forgotten the tracks until researching for this post. I can't play it any more since discarding the turntable. This is a bit of a loss and a matter of some regret. And also a way-too-long diversion. Oops.)
To avoid further diversions on the way to the point, I'll say nothing of the Simon & Garfunkel documentary about the making of Bridge OverTroubled Water, which in any case was shown on BBC1 not BBC4 so doesn't count anyway. Anyhoo, the most recent one was the story of David Bowie and his temporary alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. We were told how Bowie struggled for success until he came up with the bright idea of inventing a rock star. Who happened to be an alien.
It seems his first plan was to get someone else to play the part and mime to his singing. Eventually he decided to adopt the persona himself and the rest is history: hit album (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars), sell-out tours and the like. If I've seen the iconic clip of Bowie draping his arm round Mick Ronson's shoulder while they played Starman on Top of the Pops once, I've seen it a thousand times. Well, more than five anyway.
The pretence went further. When Bowie went to the States to perform as Ziggy he was relatively unknown. His manager nevertheless adopted the tactic of demanding that the record company (RCA) cough up for all the trappings of celebrity – top-class hotels, limos and not one but two bodyguards. So now not only were they inviting the audiences to come see someone acting the part of a rock star, but they were also making out that the guy pretending to be a rock star on stage was himself a rock star off stage when in fact he wasn't. Or not yet. Or at least he was becoming one. Or…confused? Whatever. It seemingly worked.
At the time of writing you can still get the programme on BBC iPlayer. But if you don't get to see it I'm sure Google can send you to many a Web page telling the story.
I am still not a Bowie fan as such. I like some tracks but find others deadly dull. But I can appreciate the man's talent and ability to do the whole reinventing your image thing long before we'd heard of Madonna. What really struck me, though, was the sheer audacity of just deciding to pretend to be something he wasn't – yet – knowing that everyone knew it was a pretence. Nobody honestly believed that Ziggy and the band came from Mars. (OK, OK, no doubt some did, given the drug culture he was mingling with – and which sucked him into addiction until the late 70's.) It was an agreement to be deceived.
Bowie doesn't have the monopoly in on-stage personas, of course. One only has to think of that nice Mr Alice Cooper, for example. Now there's a guy who's been playing the same character on stage for 40-odd years. People say that in real life he's as nice as pie. In fact, he's a Bible-believing Christian and clearly has no problem squaring that with a show based around horror and violence – albeit one he dubs “Vaudeville”. The point is, the audience clearly buys in to the pretence, the fantasy.
Reality beyond reality
My mind wanders to films like The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor and, more recently, Inception. All built on the premise that there's more to reality than we thought; that there's reality (or realities) within, or beyond, what we experience day to day. These stories, like stage fantasies, must appeal to something universal in us. Or, at least, in me.
Two things come to mind.
The first is that, actually, there is indeed a reality beyond what we see day to day. This world isn't all there is. This life isn't all there is. There are forces beyond the visible. Forces for good and forces for evil. Forces that control us, one way or another. But this is no Hollywood script or a conspiracy theory. It's the spiritual reality of life as revealed in the Bible. That's why me and Alice Cooper believe we owe our lives to Jesus Christ. Unlike Alice I have failed to become a rock star (thus far), but then again God hasn't enabled Alice to be an IT manager. Get over it, Alice.
The second thing is that I'm considering “doing a Ziggy”. Not, regretfully, on stage, though. (I don't quite share Mr Bowie's taste in clothes – although I am thinking about spiky red hair.) No, it's more in the arena of words on the page. On, in fact, this blog.
To date, I have not scored notable success with the microphone or guitar. But my wordy things seem to work quite well, sometimes. I still want to write about faith, truth, teapots, Paddington Bear and the like. But, as they say, maybe I should stretch myself artistically, try a new wordsmithing direction – writing stuff that isn't actually true. Adopting, if you will, a persona.
Cue fanfare. And watch out for Ziggy.