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Divine Symmetry I 23 I Gyllene Tider’s “Ah, Ziggy Stardust (Var Blev Du Av?) (1981)

The only time I ever visited Sweden was after spending a few days in Finland in the mid-80s. The Finnish language is nothing at all like English, but Swedish kinda is. It’s not English. I can’t read or speak or understand spoken Swedish, but there are quite a few shared words, or words that share the same roots, and that stands out more after spending time immersed in a language that has none of the above. I was reminded of that while listening to this Swedish ode to early-70s rock, and Bowie in particular. It’s a fun song, in the style of the time, and you don’t need a translation to pick out some (but not all) of the Bowie references.

Of course, there’s “Ziggy Stardust,” which is part of the refrain (Bowie himself never included the full name “Ziggy Stardust” in the lyrics of any of the songs on Ziggy Stardust). I picked up a reference to “Five Years” and, near the end, “wham, bam, thank you m’am,” which is of course the payoff line in “Suffragette City.” So those are references to three songs not simply from early-70s Bowie, but specifically from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the “Spiders from Mars.

OK, I gave in, looked up the lyrics and used Google Translate and sure enough found other Bowie references. Most overtly is a line that translates as, “And John, I just dance but I dance like hell;” which is a reference to “John, I’m Only Dancing.” The rest of the title translates into, “where did you go?” Or “what became of you?” So, its, “Ziggy Stardust, what became of you?” The song doesn’t just sound like and reference rock music from the early 70s but is really about exactly that. So the other Bowie references are less direct but invoke the mood:

– “It was rock, it was roll, it was plastic and plateau.” This line conjures up an image of platform shoes and brightly colored, but disposable outfits. Also, more distantly, Bowie’s “plastic soul,” though for Bowie, that came after the period this song directly addresses.

– “Hey man! The mascara it ran.” “Hey man!” Is another line from “Suffragette City,” and the mascara reference is simply about the glam look.

– “We were “children of the revolution.” This seems to obliquely nod towards a few Bowie lines— “children of the summer’s end,” from “Memory of a Free Festival,” and, “We never got it off on that revolution stuff” from “All the Young Dudes.” The line demonstrates an understanding of what Bowie was trying to get at. In both original Bowie lines, he was suggesting that his generation was a few years younger, came after and wanted to move past their older brothers back at home with their Beatles and their Stones. They had literally been children during the “revolution,” which is to say the 60s. The passage of time blurs the age difference — it’s easy to think of Bowie as a contemporary of, say, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, both of whom are still performing years after Bowie’s death. But in the early 70s Bowie was kind of saying that those guys were yesterday’s news. In any case, this song suggests that the children of the revolution were ready for something new, and Ziggy was that, but its from the perspective of someone lamenting that now Ziggy, too was in the rear-view mirror. Really quite clever.

I like this song. I don’t think you have to be too concerned with understanding the lyrics or all the references to like it. Though it is new to me, I’m going to rank it right up there among the songs about Bowie.

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The Divine Symmetry series compares Bowie songs to other songs with some sort of similarity, intentional or otherwise. The term is borrowed from Bowie’s song, “Quicksand.”

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