Pop culture can be as forbidding as it is inviting, particularly in areas that invite geeky obsession: The more devotion a genre or series or subculture inspires, the easier it is for the uninitiated to feel like they’re on the outside looking in. But geeks aren’t born; they’re made. And sometimes it only takes the right starting point to bring newbies into various intimidatingly vast obsessions. Gateways To Geekery is our regular attempt to help those who want to be enthralled, but aren’t sure where to start. Want advice? Suggest future Gateways To Geekery topics by emailing email@example.com.
Geek obsession: Glam rock
Possible gateway: David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Why: At this point, David Bowie’s glam-drenched alter ego Ziggy Stardust is just one of many personas Bowie tried on and discarded over the years. But for a while, his attention-grabbing costumes and then-outrageous admissions of bisexuality defined glam rock. Musically and visually, Bowie took a lot of cues from Marc Bolan and his band T. Rex, which combined propulsive music, aching sentiment, and spaced-out nonsense to brilliant effect. But Bowie was always brilliant at playing a part, and he transcended his inspirations by throwing himself into the role of the über-glam Ziggy on this 1972 concept album about, more or less, a messianic alien rock star living in the shadow of a looming apocalypse. He sings with such heartfelt conviction on an album that ranges from the doomsday cityscape of “Five Years” to the classic-rock radio staple “Suffragette City” to the intimate drag-queen portrait “Lady Stardust” that there’s little chance of not taking him seriously, even though he’s a grown man prancing around in the guise of an androgynous extraterrestrial. A crack band led by guitarist Mick Ronson helps as well. Bowie abandoned glam after it was converted back into bubblegum by acts like Slade and Sweet, but Ziggy Stardust remains completely transporting, like a dispatch from a possible future that never came to be.
Next steps: Roxy Music’s self-titled debut, T. Rex’s The Slider, Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets.
Where not to start: David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane features an iconic cover and some of Bowie’s best songs from the period (“Drive-In Saturday,” “Panic In Detroit,” “The Jean Genie”) but it doesn’t hold together as an album nearly as well, and it features a fair number of bum sidetracks that make it definitely one to pick up later on.