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Happy Birthday Ziggy Stardust (aged 40)

Tom Winnifrith
Thursday 7 June 2012

On the run into Warwick School in the late 1970s and 1980s I used to share a car in the mornings with Mark and Justin Adams from Bascote Heath. Their Dad would pick me up in Harbury and off we would shoot to the UK’s third oldest school. That was except when it snowed very heavily – Harbury being on top of a hill meant that we might get the day off and head over to Ufton to sled. That was rare. The big debate every day was what to listen to on the radio. Phil Adams, a kindly man, liked smoking and Radio 2 (Terry Wogan). We boys wanted fresh air and “Mike Read, Mike Read on the radio!” – Radio 1. The younger generation swore collectively that when we were adults we could be taken out and shot if we ever chose to listen to Radio 2.

These days I cannot listen to Radio 1. The music ranges from mind numbingly boring to just plain dire. And the presenters cannot speak English and seem to believe that humour has to involve farting or some sort of bodily excretion. And they talk about people who I do not know of and feel that I do not want to know about. If I ever listen to a National Radio station when driving it is either Radio 4 or …go ahead and shoot me… Radio 2. And so driving back from London late last night I switched over from Absolute as yet another dreary Coldplay song came on and found myself on Radio 2 where there was a programme on Ziggy Stardust, the album. Knock me down with a feather, it was released 40 years ago on June 6th 1972. I would have placed it a few years later but then in 1972 I was just 4.

I have written elsewhere about how as a teenager at Warwick School it was acknowledged that David Bowie (who turned 65 last year making me feel very old) was just the coolest man on this planet. Not being the coolest boy even in a small provincial town, I listened to Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and, of course, John Cougar Mellencamp. I was born in a small town. And I grew up in a small town, probably die in a small town and that’s where they will bury me … it seems a fair reflection of life in Warwick and Leamington Spa in 1984. But I did like Bowie too and bought Ziggy Stardust as a tape (younger readers please go to Wikipedia) to play on my Sony Walkman (younger readers please go to Wikipedia).

The programme on Radio 2 featured interviews with most of the Spiders plus Bowie’s publicist, hairdresser, a friend of his clothes designer, etc but also bursts from all of the songs on that album. This is an LP (younger readers please go to Wikipedia) on the back cover of which are the words “This album should be played as loud as possible.” And so as I sped along the M40 the volume went up, the window down and I found myself singing/shouting along to every number. I am not enough of a geek to be able to name every track on the album but I found that knew all the words. How many times must I have played that cassette? Ziggy may be 40 but it feels as fresh and energetic and imaginative as ever.

I am sure I could also sing along to every track on Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes or Springsteen’s The River but, forgiven for his wooden acting in the pretty tedious Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and for a few of his sub-par 1980s releases, Bowie’s music still gets me going in a way that the output of very few artists can.

June 6th is also the birthday of the mother of my daughter Olivia and of my father’s sister. So happy birthday Ziggy, Big Nose and Aunt Lucy.

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About Tom Winnifrith
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Tom Winnifrith is the editor of TomWinnifrith.com. When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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