Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

Wiggy for Ziggy

Several people have asked me when to expect the next songwriting book. Songs & Solos is due to be published early this September. Other news on my books: it looks like there could be a French edition of How To Write Songs On Guitar, and there are plans for a new expanded edition of Chord Master.

Anyone interested in guitar lessons or help with songwriting who lives near Oxford can contact me by registering on the site and then leaving a comment on the Guitar Lessons Oxford page. I am also considering offering long-distance advice and mentoring for aspiring songwriters. If anyone is interested let me know.

My own musical activity so far this year has been focused on opening some of my ‘classical’ scores and revising them – both in terms of the composition and playback. It takes time to get back in touch with the two software packages I use – Sibelius notation and the Vienna Symphonic Library, but after several weeks the familiarity is back. This is a prelude to doing some new composing. In late January I did sketch some piano music using octatonic scales.

The headline of this blog alludes to an unintentionally funny (and also depressing) press release I received concerning an exhibition shortly opening in Aylesbury looking at the history of a local rock venue which once hosted many leading live bands of the 1970s. It was there that David Bowie first unveiled his Ziggy Stardust character. This aspect is highlighted in the breathless prose of the press release which reaches new heights of absurd hyperbole. The key passage is this:

The birthplace of one of the UK’s most culturally significant icons, a section of Stardust’s satin sequined shirt, which was ripped-off by overzealous fans during the concert, will be on show at the exhibition. Vivian Symonds, one such fan who managed to come away with a piece of Bowie’s shirt, will be at the opening night of the exhibition. Ms Symonds is also available for interview. 

You couldn’t make it up. Is there an ‘icon’ that isn’t ‘culturally significant’? A perfect case study in fetishism medieval in its symbolism. An actual piece of the Holy One’s shirt! This struck me all the more because I have noticed in recent years how Ziggy-era Bowie in particular has become the focus of some drastically exaggerated projections of significance. An earlier press release that came to me fetishized the phone box that appears on the rear sleeve of the Ziggy Stardust album. There is also the constant and tedious recounting of the moment Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops miming to ‘Starman’. This has been placed on a level of social significance matching an outbreak of war or a coronation. Well, I was there in 1972 reading the NME and Melody Maker each week and can report that Ziggy was merely one of a number of ripples on the pond of British music at that time, and furthermore received a good deal of hostile coverage from rock critics who thought Bowie was being inauthentic and superficial.

The weakness of Ziggy worship is really the paper-thin content of Bowie’s creation. Ziggy was never a coherent or rounded character and was only an implied narrative over side 2 of a single LP. That’s very little to support such enormous claims. And yes I think it’s a good rock album and has stood the test of time – though the follow-up Aladdin Sane has a more muscular sound and an equally strong set of songs. If it means anything it is a demonstration that once upon a time if you wanted to be a rock’n’roll star the best thing you could do would be to sing about it (a trick Oasis replicated on their debut album with the song ‘Rock and Roll Star’).

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