David Bowie released his seminal album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars 50 years ago, on 16 June 1972. It was an artsy and ambitious rock album which captured the time’s sense of being on the cusp of new technological and cultural frontiers.
In the early 1970s, the US Apollo programme was, briefly, making men visiting the moon seem like a routine event. The possibilities of computer power were beginning to unfold, and the countercultural youth revolt was challenging prevailing values and norms. Bowie’s fictional alter ego encapsulated all these groundbreaking developments: an androgynous rockstar from outer space with, in the words of the album’s title song, “a god-given ass”. Bowie-Ziggy wore heavy makeup, dyed his hair red, and dressed in clothes inspired by Japanese kabuki theatre.
But coupled with its playful fascination for space technology, the Ziggy Stardust album also described a dread of the Pandora’s box that might be opened as a result. Its opening track, “Five Years”, warned listeners that “Earth was really dying”. During the Cold War, the prospect of man-made armageddon through nuclear war was never far away. And by the early 1970s, fears of an ecological crisis and overpopulation were starting to take on similar apocalyptic proportions.
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