by Decca Aitkenhead / The Independent
22nd December 1996
A quarter of a century after Ziggy Stardust burst out of Bromley in thigh-high tassled boots and eyeliner, the identity of the real life model for David Bowie’s alter ego has been confirmed. Inspiration for the galactic stage persona has been variously attributed to many of the Seventies’ most glittering rock names, but Ziggy Stardust was based on a failed American musician who enjoyed brief success doing Elvis impressions in France before going mad.
David Bowie tells Alan Yentob, director of programmes for the BBC, about the “C-list rock star” Vince Taylor in an hour-long interview to mark the singer’s 50th birthday to be shown on 4 January. Looking not much older than in his last interview with Yentob, made in 1975, he describes a man who was even more bizarre than the character he inspired.
“I met him a few times in the mid-Sixties, and I went to a few parties with him. He was out of his gourd. Totally flipped. The guy was not playing with a full deck at all. He used to carry maps of Europe around with him, and I remember him opening a map outside Charing Cross tube station, putting it on the pavement and kneeling down with a magnifying glass. He pointed out all the sites where UFOs were going to land.”
Vince Taylor was, by then, already a failed musician. Born in west London in 1939, his family moved to California, where success as a black-clad young rock star eluded him. During the time Bowie knew him, Taylor was just another oddball figure on the Tottenham Court Road club scene, distinguished chiefly by deep preoccupations with aliens and Jesus Christ.
By the time Bowie was scandalising Britain with Ziggy Stardust, Taylor had moved to France, capitalising on improbable success doing Elvis impressions.But while Bowie progressed through a series of alter egos, Taylor was making his way through a succession of European psychiatric clinics and prisons. It all went wrong one night in France, said Bowie:
“He came out on stage in white robes and said he was Jesus Christ. It was the end of Vince – his career and everything else.” Taylor died in Lausanne five years ago, aged 52, after working in a Swiss factory.
Opinion as to the inspiration behind Bowie’s 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, has been divided; Mick Ronson, guitarist on the album, who died in 1993, credited Iggy Pop. “Micksaid Bowie was looking for a rock star name beginning with Z – just like a plumber looks for a name beginning with A, to be at the front of the phone book,” said Christopher Sandford, Bowie’s latest biographer. “He met Iggy in 1971 and put a Z in front.”
Lou Reed and the late T-Rex star Marc Bolan have also been cited as influences. Another Bowie biographer, Peter Gillman, claimed the name was a composite of Iggy Pop and a US performer called The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. He is sceptical about Bowie’s announcement. “Look at how the lyrics describe him. `Loaded’, `Well hung’, `God given ass’. He was talking about himself.”