A Transformation in Rock and Roll

By Alexandra Fileccia

“Moonage Daydream,” the third track on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), tells the story of an alien-messiah who shows potential in saving the human race, or so the theories say. All of the songs on Ziggy contribute to the overall concept of the album: Alien life forms serve as the only hope for Earth and the human race to survive.

At the end of the Space Race in 1971, David Bowie gave alien birth to the song “Moonage Daydream.” With its far-out lyrics and space-like production techniques, Bowie takes his listeners to another planet, which fits the generation of spacy coke freaks through the 70s, like Bowie himself. Bowie transcended the precedents of rock and roll with his glam rock appearance and obsession with space exploration. In a way, Bowie who started as an outsider to the genre, created a musical niche where he could finally belong.

Enter Bowie’s alter ego: Ziggy Stardust, the album’s main character. As a human in contact with aliens, Ziggy seems the most likely to save to world—a sort of angel on Earth. Throughout the album he transforms into a rock star. This Ziggy persona gave a new face to rock and roll. It challenged the way white artists played black music, and in a way, made rock and roll sound even more foreign—from another world. “Moonage Daydream” shamelessly and consciously exists as white music; he doesn’t even try to sound black, as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones famously did.

As Bowie’s early alter ego (he later plays the role of Aladdin Sane among others), Ziggy Stardust fuses “the sci-fi futurism of writers like William Burroughs and JG Ballard with a hard-rock sound and a transsexual campery borrowed from Lou Reed,” says Sean O’Hagan in his Guardian review of the book Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust. Bowie playing the role of the album’s character created a new way to experience and think about rock and roll. He did not have his own style (previous and future albums sound totally different, some even play with different genres); in fact, putting on a show and acting as his made-up character became his style. “And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign,” says Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his review of the album on allmusic.com. Bowie laces his lyrics with vocal theatrics in the style of Ziggy Stardust.

The opening lyrics strike right at the beginning of “Moonage Daydream” after a few powerful guitar strums and drum hits. Bowie confidently declares, “I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you.” On the word “you” he trails off with an exaggerated vibrato, which simulates a falling feel. “I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you.” Under this line, an acoustic guitar holds rhythm while the bass grooves along. The combination of acoustic and electric guitar in this song, in addition to Bowie eclectic voice, creates a modernized folkie feel. However, the way he shouts the next lyric and the bizarre image it creates, “Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird/And I’m busting up my brains for the words,” stays true to Bowie’s over-the-top stage persona, completely opposite of the folkie aesthetic.

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