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Starman Over The Rainbow - My Review of David Bowie at the Rainbow Theatre, London, in 1972

Original Article "Starman Over The Rainbow" Copyright © 1972 Alexander Stuart; Photographs Copyright © 1972 Mick Rock.

Original Article "Starman Over The Rainbow" Copyright © 1972 Alexander Stuart; Photographs Copyright © 1972 Mick Rock.

In honor of my birthday week - and the release of David Bowie's wonderful new song and video, Where Are We Now? - I am reproducing here one of the earliest pieces of professional writing of my career, Starman Over The Rainbow, a review of David Bowie's legendary Ziggy Stardust show on Saturday, August 19, 1972 at London's Rainbow Theatre - a show that introduced multi-media theater and mime to rock music, not to mention challenging the sexual, cultural and musical stereotypes of the day.

I was seventeen at the time that I wrote this review. I had recently been invited by editor Robin Bean to write professionally (while still at the British equivalent of high school, Bexley Grammar School) for Films and Filming magazine. 

I became friendly with Peter Buckley, the editor of Plays and Players, the sister theatre magazine in the London-based "Seven Arts Group" (not to be confused with the major American corporation), and I managed to persuade him that David Bowie, despite being a flamboyant and relatively newly-minted (or perhaps reminted) rock musician, warranted a review in a serious theatre magazine.

I was a huge Bowie fan, following the release only a couple of months before the show of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - definitely the album of the summer, and one of those records that makes you rethink what is possible with rock music.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Bowie had already scored a major hit in Britain in 1969 (the year of the Apollo moon landing; the BBC even used the song in their coverage of the Apollo 11 mission) with Space Oddity, a haunting song that captured the excitement about space of the time and contained the unforgettable line, "Ground Control to Major Tom."

He had then developed in multiple ways as an artist, but somewhat off the mainstream radar. I saw him at a local free concert at a park in Bromley (Bowie attended Bromley Technical College and organized the concert; I grew up not too many miles away in Bexley) in 1969 - the same concert immortalized in his beautiful song, Memory of a Free Festival.

By 1972, he had reinvented himself as bisexual/androgynous/transsexual - whatever you wished to call it - and sang songs in which the "she" might be a "he," or vice versa. Songs which anticipated Lou Reed's perhaps more explicit, Walk On The Wild Side, of October 1972 - a record David Bowie produced, and which was as exciting and provocative as Bowie's own songs.

It's hard to overstate just how radical and liberating Bowie's heavily manipulated pan-sexuality was (and it owed a huge debt to the wondrous Marc Bolan of T. Rex), but the filmed interviews outside the Rainbow at the bottom of this post - and the fact that I wore pink satin pants and platform boots to the gig - capture something of the rebellious, gender- and genre-bending nature of Bowie's music and appeal.

The music also focused again, as Space Oddity had, on an imagined, dystopian, science-fiction world, in which characters - Lady Stardust, the Starman (played in the show by genius mime artist, Lindsay Kemp) - seemed at times both the subjects of Bowie's songs, and at others, his alter-ego/s, floating in their Moonage Daydream.

That the songs were magnificent can be measured by how the immensely powerful Rock'n'Roll Suicide (with which the album of Ziggy Stardust ends) was transformed into a gentle, moving, Portuguese ballad by the inimitable Seu Jorge (along with a slew of other Bowie songs) for Wes Anderson's unique and magical film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

Starman Over The Rainbow

My review (published in the November 1972 edition of Plays and Players) of Bowie's much-anticipated show at London's historic Rainbow Theatre is a little gushy at times - not helped by the fact that I refer to Bowie throughout as "David," as if he is my closest pal (we did meet once, but very briefly) - but I think fully communicates the thrill I felt at being present at this remarkable event. And remember, I was seventeen!

(I was not alone: Mick Jagger, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper were all watching, and even dancing in the aisles.)

I mention Judy Garland way too much, largely because somehow I had to justify that this rock review belonged in a theatre magazine - but Bowie did manage to reference both her and the theatre by working a line from Somewhere Over The Rainbow into his song, Starman.

It's pretty amazing to me that I didn't write that the newly-blazing Roxy Music (they had just released their first single, Virginia Plain, and it was getting a lot of radio play) was one of the support acts - but possibly I did and it was cut from the piece. In any case, it's interesting to think that Brian Eno (who was then Roxy Music's keyboard player) would go on to work with Bowie on some of his most groundbreaking albums, including Heroes and Low.

I hope you enjoy the piece (I hope you can read it from the photographs!), and I would especially like to thank our good friend Hamish Renfrew, who very kindly tracked down this issue of Plays and Players and gave it to me, because I had remarked that I would love to see it again. Hamish is a great guy and an ace pilot - he once flew my wife, Charong, our friend, Spike Denton, and me from Miami Beach to Jekyll Island, Georgia, for lunch, and he let Charong and me each try taking off in our little Cessna...with Hamish very much beside us at the controls!

As for my close friend, David Bowie, I don't think he is - as I predict at the end of my review - floating alone in space, any more than the rest of us. He seems to be doing quite well, and I greatly look forward to his coming album, The Next Day.

You may also enjoy these filmed interviews with fans (including Elton John), David Bowie at the Rainbow Theatre, London, shot outside the Rainbow in August 1972.


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