Recently, I approached Matt Bauer about writing a “Songwriter’s Point of View” piece, and to my great surprise and delight he gladly delivered. And, buddy does he deliver. However, what really didn’t come as a surprise was his choice — David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Now, I can’t say that I didn’t know because Matt told me it would be a Bowie album in his email reply, but he didn’t say which album. And, when he told me this, again I wasn’t surprised because I thought Matt’s songwriting reflects Bowie’s in the sense that it’s highly imaginative. But, whereas Bowie’s work is theatrical, Matt’s is haunting and humble staying close to his Kentucky roots.
So, it is in his concise exploration of one of rock’s most epic and cinematic concept albums, he gives us a songwriter’s perspective of Ziggy Stardust.
When I was asked to write about one of my favorite albums, I was pretty sure it would be a David Bowie record. It could have been just about any one of them up until, say, Lodger. I thought about writing about Low or Heores or Hunky Dory or The Man Who Sold the World. It’s stunning how many ridiculously good albums he’s made. In the end I decided on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
It’s basically a modest collection of love songs and little observations on life. Ha! No! It’s a crazy ambitious concept album about a space alien who comes to earth and rises to rock stardom just after earth’s inhabitants have found out they only have five years left to live.
I really love the scope and ambition of the album. Tackling a crazy and unexpected subject, sustaining a story arc through an entire album, describing the making of a star and the destruction of a world in ten songs – I love it when writers really go all in like that.
And as epic and over the top the story of this album is, it’s told with real specificity and often with vivid and intimate moments. An anchorman breaking down delivering the news on T.V., a mother kneeling at her son’s grave, a woman smiling and drinking a milkshake as she still hasn’t heard the news of earth’s coming end, a cross dressing singer taking the stage to laughter only to win over the entire room, Ziggy’s band turning on him and smashing his hands. The album has the sweep and scenery more like a movie or a great television series than a rock album.
Maybe all of this wouldn’t work as well as it does without Bowie’s skill as a singer and actor. His voice and delivery bring real humanity and emotion to such a fantastical story. But as a writer there’s so much to love in words of these songs. They’re crazy and beautiful and not really like anything else.