On February 10, 1972, a relatively minor rocker named David Bowie debuts the spaceman character Ziggy Stardust during a concert at Greater London's Toby Jug pub. It's one of those events that virtually nobody witnessed—but many wish they had.
More than just a rock musician in a costume costume, Bowie effortlessly inhabited the identity of an androgynous Martian rock star come to Earth in its dying days. And while the significance of Ziggy’s earthly debut became clear only in hindsight, there was at least one man who knew exactly where it would lead: David Bowie himself.
“I’m going to be huge,” is what David Bowie told Melody Maker less than three weeks earlier and still six months prior to the release of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. “And it’s quite frightening in a way, because I know that when I reach my peak and it’s time for me to be brought down, it will be with a bump.”
Bowie has credited two men with serving as his inspiration for creating Ziggy Stardust. One was the man he met and spoke with after his first Velvet Underground concert and took to be Lou Reed—but who was, in fact, Reed’s replacement in the pioneering experimental glam-rock band.
The other inspiration was Vince Taylor, an obscure figure to Americans, but a figure well-known in late-'60s London as a former pop star very publicly losing his mind. “He fired his band and went on stage one night in a white sheet. He told the audience to rejoice, that he was Jesus. They put him away.”
From this mix, Bowie created the persona and groundbreaking album that offered “a finger up the nose of pop sincerity…a boot in the collective sagging denim behind of hippie singer-songwhiners” and made his career. As one of the roughly 60 young Londoners in the audience that night at the Toby Jug now recalled, “Bowie had brought theatre to a humble pub gig… I couldn’t blink for fear of missing something—nothing would ever be the same again.”