In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM reviews in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like in our inaugural take on Dave Marsh’s 1972 review of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. A lot has changed in 50 years. Lap it up!
To say that David Bowie is one of the biggest and most impactful artists in the world is to say that water is wet. It’s a fact of life, like gravity or “Harry Styles has nice hair.” Bowie’s decades-long career of cultural fluidity, gender rebellion, and weird, wonderful songwriting will continue to provoke and inspire people far beyond our lifetimes—a legacy that was solidified by his fifth album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. The bizarro rock opera saw the artist emerge from a period of reexamination as a “bold, knowing, charismatic creature neither male nor female,” in the words of critic and noted Bowie stan Camille Paglia. Loaded with symbolism and featuring a look that landed somewhere between one of William S. Burroughs’ nightmares and those of an especially glamorous nan, it would become Bowie’s breakthrough album and the third-best-selling record of 1972, behind Harvest by Neil Young and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
This is all obvious—now. At the time, though, Bowie was still proving himself like any other bloke in spandex whose career could go to shit on a dime. And there were a lot of people who didn’t get the fuss around this person who looked like Lou Reed dragged backwards through a fancy dress shop, singing about the apocalypse and some people called “Weird” and “Gilly.” So when a then-22-year-old Dave Marsh—cofounder of CREEM and inventor of the term “punk rock,” among many other respectable achievements—was tasked with reviewing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, he was unconvinced. “David Bowie may become a star this year, or he may not,” Marsh wrote. “This may or may not make a difference in your life. But, for all the people who are assured it will, take it easy: it’s unlikely.”