Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 6)
For this pasty-faced adolescent in the UK, David Bowie's appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1972 was a bit of a life-changer. And what an appearance it was; I'd certainly never seen or heard anything like it. I had no idea what hazy cosmic jive was, but the minute he sang of it, whatever it was, I wanted a piece of it. Amid the New Seekers and Donny Osmond-strewn pop landscape, it felt a bit like an alien had landed in the living room to save us all. Nothing would be the same again.
The next day, I went into town, marched into WH Smith's record department and plonked down two pounds and nineteen pence for a copy of The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars, the album from whence Starman came. It was the first album I ever bought, and listening to it today still thrills me to no end.
It's funny, this is the only record I remember everyone in our house being in agreement on. My sister fell for it hard, and quickly took to pasting pictures of the Starman himself over every square inch of her bedroom walls. Amusingly enough, a glance or two at our old family photo albums from the 70s suggests that she may have even been looking to him for makeup and hair-colouring tips, but we'll not go into that, just in case she decides to offer up retaliatory photographic evidence of my one-time predilection for gaily colored platform-soled footwear.
My dad loved Ziggy, too, and I'd often catch him listening to it on his headphones. He'd usually have his eyes closed, but every now and then he'd look over, raise his eyebrows and point at the gooseflesh on his forearms during one of the many spine-tingling moments on the album, as if to let me know that he really was getting it. It tickles me now, to think of this man whose listening habits had previously revolved around Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass and easy listening icons like Bert Kaempfert and James Last, sitting in his recliner, all blissed-out in his own private moonage daydream. Brilliant.
Even my mum was in on the act. She had little time for most of the music I'd listen to, but for some reason, something about the Ziggy Stardust record tickled her ear. She always used to say - "I like something I can 'la-la-la' to", which was her way of saying that she was only interested in easily digestible, and easily hummable, melodies. As a result, her musical diet was generally very white-bread, leaning towards cabaret-style acts like Englebert Humperdink, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and maybe even a little Neil Diamond (if she was in an edgier mood). I think the closest she got to anything remotely exotic was a little daffy Euro-pap from a continental crooner like Sasha Distel (don't ask), so the fact that Ziggy grabbed her, says something. I don't know what it says, exactly, but in retrospect, I love the fact that she looked past the glam space alien schtick and simply enjoyed the noise that Bowie was making. I suppose that Starman, with its catchy "La-la-la-la..." refrain, literally fit her musical requirements, while for me, an impressionable young teen recently armed with his first guitar, it marked the arrival of a whole slew of new ones.