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A Catalogue of
Hardrock promotional flyer
by Harvey Molloy
Dad never wanted us to go to the concert.
Still, we ordered the tickets weeks in advance and he agreed to drive us to Manchester.
At the Hard Rock, theres a long queue of people waiting to get into the concert hall. Guys in black velvet top hats, silver stars on their faces; girls in dirty sheepskin coats, blue eye-shadow and maxi skirts. Some look as old as thirty.
Dads nervous about us having to wait in the queue. Hes smoking more Capstans than usual. Theres a cop outside one of the entrances, so dad goes and has a word with him. The cop comes over and leads us to the front of the spangled trousered, waistcoat wearing queue and into the concert. Dad sets a time to meet us as he's decided to wait outside.
I am eleven years old.
I saw the advert for the concert in the Saturday edition of The Manchester Evening News. After I was thrashed by dad for stealing penknives from the village newsagent, I had decided to reform and had taken up a paper round after school. The round took over an hour and a half to finish as I had to climb a particularly steep hill, but I enjoyed the time alone.
At the end of the round there were often a few papers left because the newsagent always put in a few extras in case any papers got damaged. That night there was an edition of The Evening News left.
I flicked through the concerts at the back of the paper. Bowie was going to be playing Manchester at a new venue "built especially for rock concerts" called The Hard Rock. And he was playing on the third of September, just a few weeks before my birthday! Could I persuade my parents to take me to Manchester to see the concert?
That night, he appears without costume or disguise, in simple attire: faded, straight blue jeans and a white t-shirt. No dress, no painted face, no bangles, bracelets or platform boots -- just regular clothes.
My brother, Paul, reckons Bowies in mufti because this is the debut concert for the Hard Rock. "The crowd here looks more serious, so maybe he wants to play it down."
"Perhaps," I reply.
Although Pauls a year and a half older than me and also a Bowie fan, I had bought Starman on my own initiative immediately after hearing it on the radio. Its my first record and Mum doesnt like it; she thinks the phrase "Let the children use it" is about drugs. For her, Bowies a freak, a queen, who cant even sing. Tonight, though, he appears to be playing it straight.
There are plenty of reasons why I should be disappointed that Bowie isnt in his Ziggy costume: the ubiquitous posters of Bowie in the record and t-shirt shops all displaying a flamboyant sense of arrogant rockhood; the endless questions Ill have to answer from certain school friends who, while not Bowie fans, will ask out of interest, only to be dismayed at my reply; a growing awareness that will become pronounced in adolescence, that the image of the star and the reality of the star's performance rarely coincide; above all else, a childish failure to separate the Ziggy personae from David Bowie, performer, actor, rock star. Yet I feel strangely comforted, even exhilarated. This is new, different, shocking -- tonight Bowie is giving up costumes and make-up!
Twenty-five years later I discover that on that night the costumes were still at the cleaners.
Delph, near the town of Oldham, is hardly the most exciting village in England. Nearby Uppermill has a market on Thursdays and The Parochial, a youth club teenagers can go to on Friday nights. Im too young to get into The Parochial and to pass the long hours I have to be content with the local library or with following the river's course alone after finishing the paper round.
To alleviate the boredom, my brother and his friends take to cider drinking and vandalism. One night they smash up an old wooden bridge so they can light a small fire to warm themselves as they play football. The local council decide that we need a youth club and a disused shed behind the primary school is renovated for our use.
Before the youth club was built, my brothers friends and I would walk around the streets of the village, singing every song from Ziggy. Once the club is opened we have a place to go, to talk, to listen to music. Yet the youth club highlights differences among the village kids. If youre a Bowie fan, youre liable to be branded a 'poof'. The die-hard supporters wear cheap silver bangles to school which doesnt go down well with the skinheads who are into Slade and Mungo Jerry. Yet music is never as divisive as football and despite these differences a mutual truce, if not respect, between the Bowie fans, the hippies into progressive rock and Emerson Lake and Palmer, and the skins remains. Nobody beats you up for listening to Ziggy. Something in the music is calling to us. We have nothing but we feel like we own the world.
The memory of the encore will be lost. I will not remember what Bowie played at the end of the special matinee performance when he returned to the stage.
At the core of the Ziggy experience: loss of memory, memory of loss. I can allow the loss to pass over me, so that the loss itself is accounted as part of the taking place of the event; or I can pose the absent encore as a synecdoche for the irrecoverable totality of the concert. What structures this analepsis is the relation of my failure to remember to a sense of lack -- the forgotten encore as already an already incomplete, misremembered event or the encore as a lost object which can never be recovered.
Reaction: either I accept what has been forgotten and move on, or I attempt to catalogue every minutia of the concert in the hope of producing a fully reconstructed whole.
If I accept what I have forgotten, then the significance of the concert is not diminished by the gaps and inaccuracies of my account of the songs, costumes and performance as long as I speculate on the concerts affective power or force. Remembrance here is the awakening of the affective force of a constellation of event-memories (village + youth club + concert + star); an awakening which takes place in the present and which engages with the past as a reservoir of affective forces. Remembrance as a form or art of becoming. The Ziggy experience does not happen just 'in the 70s' -- as if the 70s were a dead past of which only images and traces remain -- but is here, now, in the becoming of the remembrances.
This affirmative reaction is the opposite of nostalgic mourning which is characterised by looking backwards. It happened once but has now gone, our only access is through various memorabilia, artefacts and objects from an irretrievable past: bootlegs, concert footage, scarves, autographed posters, signs. Looking backwards reduces the Ziggy experience to memorabilia to be collected and traded. Yet while these reactions are different, they are the two opposing poles of the axis of remembrance: each one inseparable from the other. The difference is in the structure of desire of each reaction to what has been lost.
The shadow of the end falls upon me.
He sings, and the world becomes a catalogue of lost objects. What pleasure comes from imagining the end not only of ourselves but of the entire world! I had wondered before about whether our generation would be the last, whether the world would end in our lives. As a young child, I heard the story of Noah's Ark and my mother told me that if it rained continuously for two weeks then that was the coming of the second flood. It rained once for 13 days and I was scared. What would the end be like? Would it be final or would some people survive to live without cities, schools, laws and constraints?
give me your hands
When he sings the finale, I feel like Im watching Jesus. He leans over the crowd at the end of the stage, his outstretched hands taunting the front row audience who would give anything to touch him.
Sublime, unobtainable, out of reach. I know that I will never speak to him; I know that he will witness the trivial fact of my existence. No flaming dove can cross the gulf between us; no Eucharist can allow the congregation to touch the saviour.
Who is he, in the end, without his costumes, his make-up, the identity and signature he has invented for himself? Perhaps no-one. Yet hes also indispensable; larger than life, the one teaching us that by watching a performance you make it happen. For one moment, the gap between us closes and I know that the audience too is wonderful; were the wonderful ones who make it happen. Then it passes and were all nothing, our need for revenge staged in his theatrical suicide. Ziggy's death a ritual sacrifice to the faceless god of our own anonymity.
Bowie's matinee is the premier performance at the Manchester Hard Rock, an arena built exclusively for staging rock performances.
I had imagined a kind of enclosed football stadium or a large gymnasium of aircraft hangar proportions. To my surprise, I enter a small carpeted amphitheatre. We are seated in a middle row, halfway between the stage and the outer rows. There are no seats -- each row is a large carpeted step that circles the stage. I wonder what would happen if the audience rises to its feet and surges towards the front. Would I be crushed by a stampede of Bowie fans rushing to get a close glimpse of their star?
But theres no dancing that summer evening. The audience is quiet and still, attentive, as if charmed, to every word and gesture he delivers from the occasionally rotating stage. Only when the band breaks into a maniacally delivered Hang Onto Yourself does a long-haired, pot-bellied man, wearing scruffy jeans and a soiled t-shirt, begin to shake in a controlled fit. For one moment our eyes turn away from the stage towards him as we admire his rapture.
The opening act is an unknown band called Iguana.
My brother and I have never heard of them. Who are they and where are they from? All I know is that an Iguana is a large, South American lizard. What kind of music will a band with a name like that play?
I settle down on the blue carpeted stair and listen attentively to their opening number. Heres the music of second-rate progressive rock -- of garbled lyrics and throbbing Deep Purplesque guitar rifts, of gods and goblins, of screaming chrome women and space machine pilots.
Im also surprised, in my naivete, by their indifference to dress, dance or displays of enthusiasm for their own work. They have the singular distinction of being one of the few bands in Britain capable of performing an entire set without moving their bodies.
They are superficial; they are loud. We fidget on the stair as Iguana play; we fidget on the stair as we wait for the man himself. The set ends with a splatter of soft applause as we hurry them off the stage. And we never hear of Iguana again.
For most of the concert, our attention is solely fixed on Bowie.
Mick Ronson is, for us, merely an appendage to the Bowie apparatus. Only once during the concert do they stand together as equals in their own light. During Width of a Circle they turn to face each other and begin a mock duel with their guitars; two knights training for combat with unwieldy broadswords. As they half dance, half duel, they form a pair: two aspects of the same electric god. Then the visitation ends, the pairing dissolves, and Ronson leaves the spotlight of our devoted stares.
When Bowie and Ronson face each other, I am teleported out of my mundane life into a vibrant, electric world by a song not of stars, idols, suicides and worldly fame but of a darker, primal dream of the first age of the world. The audience falls into darkness and I stand alone in a rapturous between: neither in the audience, nor apart from it; neither separate from my body nor aware of it. Im away, gone, passed beyond -- but only for ten minutes. When the song ends I return to wonder about what Ive heard.
When the band performs Lady Stardust, the Ziggy persona sings of watching a performer who is not Ziggy but who bears his most improbable surname. The space between Lady Stardust and Ziggy Stardust mirrors the actors relation to his own fame. For Bowies relation to Ziggy is the same as David Jones relation to David Bowie. The fame always belongs to another, comes from another and not even the sacrifice of the mask can close this space. There is always a tear where the gap remains visible. And if you see this space, then the surface of the performance and its staging is made transparent. For to become star-like and to be star-charmed is to gaze in a mirror of your own collective invention: whatever you create looks back at you from a distance and makes its own demand.
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---This page last modified: 10 Dec 2018---