|Originally Performed By||David Bowie|
|Original Album||Single (1972)|
It ends up in a different place for everyone, but it starts out the same. In the beginning, there’s a song. You hear it somehow, perhaps randomly stumbling across it, perhaps through a friend suggesting it, but the music infiltrates you and changes you forever. You’re not quite the same person that you were before. A mild case just leads to a few album and t-shirt purchases but the extreme version can change your vacation plans for the rest of your life.
On an album titled The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, “Starman” portrays the rise. It’s about that moment. Flipping through the radio, our protagonist hears Ziggy Stardust on the radio and doesn’t know what to make of it. Calling friends, it turns out that they also were blown away. Their parents might not approve of their new life plan, but the music is just that compelling and sometimes you just can’t say no to it.David Bowie, “Starman” - Top of the Pops, April 14, 1972
While Bowie differentiates between Ziggy Stardust and the alien Starman, if you ignore that convoluted interpretation and trust the tale, not the teller, the risk goes both ways. You have a singer throwing his music out there into the world with no idea if anyone will like it. You have people who see their lives infused with newfound meaning for its existence. The relationship between fans and bands can become complicated. We can get jaded. The band can get tired of trying to figure out how to balance what we want to hear with what they want to play. A few songs later in this cycle we have “Ziggy Stardust” where the band is complaining about their fanbase and the frustration between the two grows to the point where they effectively kill him. When we get there, maybe it’s best to go back to the “Starman” moment and remember why we we’re here in the first place.
While “Starman” fits the theme of the album and provides an important bridge between the end of the world story that starts the album to the focus on the band - it is Ziggy Stardust that helps us stop worrying about the end of the world, at least for a while - this song almost didn’t make the cut. At one point its spot on the album was taken by a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around.” Thankfully RCA intervened in this case, showing that record company executive meddling isn’t always evil.
Phish’s debut version contains backing vocals, strings on the chorus, and a 1993-esque mid song switch from Trey from acoustic to electric guitar. This is a case where analyzing feels wrong. The song gives advice that is worth trying. That moment of innocence where this new found music is impossible to resist can be hard to regain, but there’s a reward if you can. Lose it in the music and - if just for a few minutes - all of the children can forget their problems and just boogie.”Starman” 10/31/16 Las Vegas, NV
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