America was not going well for Ziggy and the Spiders. The major cities took them to heart. They performed sell out concerts at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and Santa Monica (broadcast by a local radio station, it became one of the era’s most desired bootlegs). Yet Middle-America proved harder to break. Concerts were poorly attended.
Shows at Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City were cancelled because of poor ticket sales. At St Louis there were 180 people in an 11,000 capacity hall – calling them down to the front David delighted fans with an intimate chatty performance. Seattle saw only 400 and Phoenix 200. In Phoenix David played ‘Drive in Saturday’ for the first time. This was his follow-up single for Mott the Hoople. He had already presented them with ‘All the Young Dudes’, giving them a huge hit.
He wrote ‘The Jean Genie’ on the tour bus while listening to the guys messing with an old Muddy Waters riff on acoustic guitars. (As a youth David was in a band named after a Muddy Water’s song ‘The Mannish Boys’). Jean Genie was recorded in New York, mixed in Nashville and represents a peaceful prelude in what was rapidly turning into a shit storm.
David was a notorious womaniser, often with the blessing and connivance of his wife, Angie. She would brag he proposed with the words: Can you handle the fact I don’t love you?
In New York he took up with Cyrinda Foxe, a Marilyn Monroe look alike. Angie, feeling vulnerable, copied Cyrinda’s hair and make-up. Vying for his attention, she became even more outrageous. One night David found her skinny dipping in the hotel pool with one of his security men. After speaking to his manager Tony Defreis, the man was sacked and Angie unceremoniously packed off to New York.
Mainman was haemorrhaging money it did not have. Defries believed to be a star you had to act like one. The whole entourage was lodged in The Beverley Hills Hotel ordering everything on room service. David, having no money at all, even had to buy cigarettes on account, while Defries bankrolled his empire with lavish RCA advances against David’s future earnings.
Returning to the UK for Christmas, David immediately began finishing off Aladdin Sane (or Ziggy in America) augmenting the tracks already recorded in New York. There was an argument when Woody refused to play David’s preferred Bo Diddly rhythm on Panic in Detroit; forcing David to overdub congas to get the sound he wanted.
Aladdin Sane topped the charts in Britain and reached number 17 in America. Buoyed by success David resumed his US tour. This time he played to packed houses; mainly by ensuring he only visited places with a strong fan base. During a concert at Radio City Music Hall, he dramatically collapsed from exhaustion in front of a star studded audience.
The Spiders became resentful when they found out the new pianist was getting musician union rates of $800 per week while they only got £50. Woody led a ‘no-pay; no play’ revolt. Considering himself and the band a team, David felt betrayed. Ruffled feathers were smoothed with an offer of a ten-fold wage increase, but the lads’ cards were marked. Unknown to Woody and Trevor, Defries promised to make Ronno a star if he kept them in check.
Next stop was Japan, where Angie joined David, bringing their young son, perhaps to ensure peace. Japan took Ziggy to a whole new level with kabuki make-up and exotic costumes from Kansai Yamamoto. The only low point was Angie inflaming a riot that broke out during his Tokyo concert. She fled the country to avoid arrest.
David returned home the star he always wanted to be. He was mobbed everywhere he went. Fans, camped outside Haddon Hall, stole bits of the building as souvenirs. One night a girl broke in and appeared naked at a dinner party. Knowing his son was often alone in the house with his nanny, David feared anything could happen. It was sobering to realise the actuality of stardom was far removed from his long cherished dream.
The Aladdin Sane tour saw David and the Spiders playing bigger venues. Too late they realised the PA system and light show were simply not adequate. One night the rhythm guitarist fell off stage because it was so dark.
With David a star, the audience were no longer simply fans. He was a curiosity; a sensation and everyone wanted a piece. Night after night the stage was mobbed. People ripped up seats and there were fights during the concert. Some urinated off the balcony or had sex in the auditorium. One time David abandoned the stage until security restored order.
RCA refused more advances, meaning Mainman was broke. David had nothing to show for everything he achieved. Friend and long-time rival, Marc Bolan, having dumped his own management, was quick to label David a fool for letting Defries pull his strings.
At this point he had been working solidly for 18 months, often performing two shows a night. Estranged from the band, pale and underweight, he was withdrawn and exhausted. Usually David could rely on Angie, but the growing rift precluded even that. For the first time in years, he was alone.
One biography starts with a fan’s account outside Hammersmith Odeon’s stage door on the fateful night Ziggy died. Before the concert she claimed David rushed out, jagged and hysterical, and poured his heart out to her before his own security dragged him back inside.
I wasn’t there so I can’t say. But her account does not appear to square with the relaxed, jokey David filmed by D. A. Pennebaker for Ziggy Stardust: the Motion Picture.
David had a surprise announcement that night. Ronno knew what was coming, but Woody and Trevor knew nothing. Quietly David told the rhythm guitarist to hold back a minute because he wanted to say something. Walking to the microphone he began…
‘Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show we’ll ever do. Thank you.’
Trevor had just got married; reeling he turned to Ronno and said… ‘You know what this means, it means we’re out of a fucking job!’’
Looking abashed, Ronno was spared further embarrassment by the opening chords of ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. A fitting epitaph, if there ever was one.
With the concert over, in best Elvis tradition, the PA announced to the silent stunned audience… ‘David Bowie has left the building!’
Trevor and Woody were left to make their own way home.
As history shows, although David was to return in many guises, Ziggy never did.