I sold my Les Paul recently, to a very nice chap called Doug Wiggins. It turns out that we share a good deal in common musically, specifically David Bowie and Mick Ronson. Doug urged me to listen to “Play Don’t Worry” again, Ronson’s second solo album. I love “Slaughter on 10th avenue” but I really couldn’t get my head round PDW at the time. As it happens, Doug is spot on, it’s a cracking album, worth the price of admission for “Angel number 9” alone, but it’s delights are many, not to mention a fabulous version of “White Light/White Heat”, the Velvet Underground classic. The backing track to “WL/WH” is apparently a “Pin Ups” outtake and Bowie has covered it numerous times. Thee Light Brigade tried to mash Bowie’s noughties version and Ronno’s together for our take on it.
Ronson’s voice is somewhat Bowie-esque at times, and perhaps his singing style influenced Bowie, and certainly David’s vocal style changed somewhat on the release of my beloved “The Man Who Sold the World”, the first album they collaborated on.
At this point we have to mention Lou Reed. As I’ve said previously, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s influence on music and culture simply can’t be overstated. And David’s manager Ken Pitt securing an acetate of the Velvet’s first album on a trip to New York in December 1966 was Rock’n’Roll’s equivalent of science splitting the atom. The effect was seismic and changed music history.
There’s some poetic justice in Bowie resuscitating Lou’s career by producing “Transformer” in 1972, with a good deal of help from Mick Ronson, without whom……and let’s not forget, Bowie also produced Raw Power in 1972 and got Iggy his Mainman deal. Surely Raw Power and Transformer are two of the best albums ever made?
I think Bowie loved Lou Reed’s sleaze and the whole Warhol trash/glamour aesthetic, tho’ Bowie said at the end of the Sixties in London, there were a group of people he ran with that were even more degenerate than the Warhol crowd, and also more glamorous dress-wise. Just as I feel when I read a biography, John Lennon told Bowie when he met someone he liked, he became that person, and sucked in all of that person’s character, and their influences. Bowie describes doing the same, and the two people who were on his Ziggy radar were Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Ziggy was a very English hybrid of the two, with all the other influences Bowie had also absorbed: see Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan. David also had an innate understanding of a lot of different music genres. And when “2001: A Space Odyssey” came along, followed not long thereafter by “A Clockwork Orange”, Kubrick inspired Bowie to proclaim, “We are the future, now!”. His future vision, he said, was Kubrick’s fault! And in 2002 he said Ziggy’s look was a “uniform for an army that didn’t exist……”
And speaking of future vision……
I’m not entirely sure what drew me back to Jobriath, but I think it was watching “Morning Starship” on Youtube, surely one of the best piano ballads ever, let alone it was written and performed by a man who probably really was an alien! And again Doug observed that Jobriath sounds like Ronno, especially on stuff like “Empty Bed”, so that also pushed me in his direction again.
I got hold of a vinyl rip of the first Jobriath album, and although some of the audio quality reminds me sonically of a 70’s porn sound track, it’s a fabulous album, the proverbial “lost classic”. And it’s odd that both Jobriath and Ronno were classically trained, both play the piano wonderfully, and their orchestral arrangement moving and grandiose.
Jobriath’s attitude is very camp like other Ziggy clones, but you’re compelled somehow to like Jobriath, and to believe him. It’s the vibe of the record, it’s magical. And he’s out there, on that ledge with Ziggy, watching the cruisers below, trying not to fall off! Surely the real Ziggy would have done something as out there as living in a pyramid on the roof of the Chelsea hotel, and dying of a big disease, with a small name? The man who fell to Earth, really. And how amazing that Jobriath sings about “God save the Queen in Liverpool”? Well perhaps that’s just an obvious camp nod and wink to the Beatles , but it’s like he’s foretelling the future, but got the location wrong! And surely “A Little Richard goes a long, long way” is one of the funniest lyrics in Rock’n’Roll?
Mark Robins and I watched Jobriath on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975, the clip of “Rock of Ages”, with that plastic bubble on his head and his backing band throwing shapes like a second division New York Dolls. Very funny, but it still rocked and it’s stayed in my memory all these years……
And returning to Bowie, thanks to “The Next Day” David’s star is in ascendance once again, and the Bowie retro at the Victoria and Albert museum last summer has brough forth a wealth of radio shows, many about Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy is never far from my ear, it’s been a source of delight since it’s release in the Summer of ’72. But just like Brian Wilson, enough is never enough for me, I need more Ziggy, the out takes, the studio dialog, whatever……
And a couple of years ago, I figured another album from my youth gave me a glimpse of that possibility, and that album was “Axe Victim” by Be Bop Deluxe. Wonderful guitar music, with Bill Nelson’s Hendrix – style flourishes and poetic lyrical images, sci-fi infused and gender confused, just like Bowie’s otherworld. Bill Nelson’s voice has a coarseness and English-ness that’s similar to Bowie’s sometimes, and both can sound very pure. And I believe Bill’s explanation of his influences being very similar to David’s. But what “Axe Victim” adds up to is an alternate Ziggy for the most part, if you read the lyrics and listen carefully: Rocket Cathedrals is Hang on to your self, as is Love is swift arrows. Jet Silver and the Dolls ( c’mon Bill, I’m a genius too ) is total All the young Dudes, I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. And I must stress, its plagiarism doesn’t spoil it’s loveliness.
Play Don’t Worry is such a good album, but even if you can’t dig it all, the wah wah guitar solo on Angel number 9 is up there with White Room and Voodoo Chile. I love Ronno, I can’t see Ziggy without him, and when I think of his guitar playing compared to fellow guitar hero Bill Nelson’s, well frankly Bill is technically a better guitarist than Ronno, but Mick is mostly feel, which moves me so much more. Bill is a fabulous guitarist tho’, and in Ziggy’s kingdom he is the Little Prince. I saw Be Bop Deluxe at Colchester tech, when the Maid In Heaven single was a hit, in Autumn 1976. They were supported by the Doctors of Madness, a freak out in a clone age nightmare! The Doctors had glow in the dark dots on their eyelids, so when the black light came on, and the main lights were low, their eyes glowed like Werewolves……
The Doctors of Madness were very much left field. They wore Ziggy-esque make up and a pre Punk style. Their songs were mostly about junkies ( the Lou Reed/VU influence, surely garnered from Bowie ) and death and faded glamour. They simply couldn’t have happened without Bowie clearing the way, breaking the ice and opening people’s minds.
A great philosopher should have once said: “It’s David Bowie’s world, we’re all just living in it”
And speaking of the Velvets influence, filtered through Bowie…..