It’s pit stain hot as it tends to be in Los Angeles on any given day, but as faded and fabled rocker Ziggy Sawdust pulls up to the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset just past Doheny and gets out of his 1987 MG convertible, his lanky stature blocks the sun. Coincidence? Or is the sun as afraid of this gangly, obtrusive, recluse as we are? He shuts the door as his rusty little car puffs exhaust like it’s an exact personification of Ziggy himself; he tells me later in the interview his “day car” is in the shop. He has the disheveled look of a man who was born on a bender, a man who’d drink gasoline if he couldn’t afford booze. His eyes are bright blue with distinct gray webs piercing through like the Copenhagen Chaw that fills his mouth thought it could escape through his iris. He walks with an unearned arrogant swagger and wears leather pants so tight his little rocker screams for air. This is the look of a could-be rocker; a would-have-been rocker; a just missed it kind of guy.
He puts himself in the category of “should-have-been U2” band; Shook Up! He says he is better then “almost-was Def Leppard” band; Anvil! And he says he’s inspired more bands with his 1970 debut album “Ruby Cats,” then XTC inspired in their whole career. He balks at the topic of David Bowie and wretches at the similarities between their stage creations. He cites foul play all the way. His graying mane of confused locks is offset with a red velvet headband. He walks over to me with a stuck snarl that spits at God and seems to say “Yea, I’m Ziggy Sawdust, now fuck off!” We head towards the back of the Hamlet and I let Sawdust chose the table. He dramatically pans the restaurant as if to avoid glances from his never-were and never-wanted-to-be fans, and sits at a table right in front of a wall sized poster of “Jailhouse Rock”- era Elvis Presley prancing about on his tip-top-tippy toes. The first thing he says in his Cockney accent is “Ya know I met Elvis once, daft prick he was, didn’t see what all tha’ fuss was ‘bout.”
The elusive Ziggy Sawdust, thank you for sitting down with me today. Before we dive into it full force I feel obliged to say I’m a fan; a part of your cult following. There is little written about your early life, and I’m sure the public as well as myself would love to hear about your origins.
Origins huh? Well I wasn’t bitten by a spider with Hep C or shot to earth in a crusty comet from Pluto; nothing that unique.
I was born in the rookery, aka the East End basically outside Middlesex, a nice place for prostitutes and criminals and a goldmine for Jane’s and John’s and the sorts. It definitely wasn’t the posh breeding ground for London’s elite, and I was under no presumptions as such. We was poor. There wasn’t even a shitter in my flat; I’d have to go to the communal down the hall where I learned about the ins and outs of intercourse on account of their being no god damned door on the stall. I’d stand there as some old bugger would shove his rusty knob into the quivering gash of some young twist. Seriously I’d be holding me bowels as I’d watch his ballbag slap back and forth on her diseased fanny, and all the while think, “well this is life.” That was the only upbringing I needed to figure out life had dealt me raw and I needed to use my talents to escape the filth I’d been birthed in.
Tell us a bit more about your formative years. Were there any influences or encounters at an early age that may have shaped who you’ve become?
Ahh I see, how subtle mate, you don’t want to hear about my upbringing in the Mid - you want to hear about good ol’ Davey and his life 15km south in peaceful Brixton. They all do; that’s what they want to hear. I suppose I’ll indulge you.
David Bowie and I met under artistic circumstances, both taking piano lessons from the same barmy arsehole. His lessons were directly after mine and we’d encounter each other on the regular. Yea, me and Bowie was a passing relationship, fueled by interest in the arts, and circumstance, and thievery. I’d share my drawings with him, drawings that eventually inspired both my and his future stage act and he’d play riffs for me on the pocket guitar he carried about like it was a golden nut sack. We had an understanding and an appreciation for a quarter of an hour every week.
As far as what I’ve read you two haven’t spoken in nearly twenty years, what are your feelings towards him?
He’s alright mate - just the sod responsible for me being in the gutter while he sucks sashimi off the indigenous nipples of black super models. A right twat for his thievery and a genius at the same time…if only I’d known our friendship was a ruse that would last me miserable life. Next question.
There has been hearsay, myth, and blatant lies floating around about the origins of your name ever since you emerged with accusations towards Bowie. What’s the real story?
Right, well, that’s a real simple and clear-cut case, mate. I was born Ziggy Martin Tommelson February 8th, 1947 just outside of Middlesex, as I stated before. I came screaming out of my mothers gash a slimy rock n’ roller from the start.
As a result of my mother’s indecent excursions with the opiates and my fathers pre-occupation with creating shit for shit men in his woodshed behind the shack we lived in, I wasn’t born in a hospital. I came sliding out onto his workbench, right into a fresh pile of sawdust to make for a soft landing and the like…guess we was out of blankets that day. I looked like a midget sandman, as I rolled around sticky afterbirth clinging wood chips to my naked body. The neighbors reported the screams I echoed were so evanescent, they wanted to get my little claws to sign a record deal right then and there. My parents stifled me though; they didn’t see my God-given talents and resorted to calling me “Sawdust,” as a result of the pile I was born in and the importance they placed upon my being, which is to say quite obviously, not much.
Growing up I couldn’t help but be obsessed with the nickname. It was shrouded in animosity and contempt because I was another lousy mouth to feed. It ate at me for years, but eventually grew to define me. If my parents saw me as sawdust, I would show the world that powdered wood was the mutt’s nuts. From that realization on the 13th year of my existence and forevermore, I went by Ziggy Sawdust. I would create characters and the like in my notebook of what I aspired to, and I’d sign them all glam and proper in my newly penned name. That bugger Bowie would sit amazed….little sparkles going off in his starman eyes as I’d create my new persona, and it was a right cock-up that I ever shared it with him. If I had known all these years later I would be the one fagging for him, then things would have gone differently, you can rely.
Tell us more about why you believe Bowie stole your image and just when the inception of this idea happened.
I just told ya, he’s a prat, stole it from me in our piano lessons. Are you daft mate? Anyway he is a smeg - no he’s less than a smeg. I showed him Sawdust in privacy, I thought he was one to be trusted, but instead he stole me from me right under my own nose. Is it a coincidence Ziggy Stardust is so close to Ziggy Sawdust, a man from Uranus sent back to help earth during it’s last few days of existence? Christ the names are nearly fucking identical….so Stardust is from another planet and dressed a bit more fruity pebbles than myself - he’s a thief. Uranus is fitting for me though, since it’s a commentary on the stinking hole I was hatched from. I haven’t seen ma and Pawdust in nearly 20 years and it’s been better than the 20 before. I don’t want you to get all analytical on me and start scrutinizing my past though. They’ve done that before; they’ve all done that before, and that would be the end of this here sit down.
Ziggy Sawdust- Spaceman
Amongst the cult group of fans you have, you are known for your outrageous stage shows. There is a striking resemblance to Bowie’s stage shows in them. How do you explain this?
I see you’ve done exactly no research at all into my personal history mate….I appreciate you taking the time to waste mine. You’re just another Bowie historian looking to crush the myth and the man behind his successes.
Well how is this for striking resemblance? I debuted my stage show Ziggy Sawdust and the Termites from Uranus on January 9th, 1972 at the Tabernacle in London. That is almost a whole month to the day before Bowie pranced out on stage at the Toby Jug Pub in Tolworth appearing like a gothic lesbian hooker. Do the studying professor - look it up on microfiche at the Rock n’ Roll library, consult a paper or two. I was getting write-ups about my extravagant stage show days before his was blowing up across the nation.
As for specific similarities in our act, just look at the facts. I gave actual oral sex to my lead guitarist Ron Braxton on stage during our first show. What did Bowie do? He simulated oral sex with a guitar….save it for the cheap seats mate, go home if you ain’t got the yarbles. I stripped down nude and wrestled stacked females on stage; Bowie just put on some knickers and pretend-fought like one of those large asian wrestlers with their pants shoved in their crack. I threw wood into a chipper and blasted the audience with the dust my name was created from. Bowie spattered glitter around like a tired Johnson during sloppy seconds. You be the judge.
Tell us about your latest record “The Man Who Shaved the World,” - is this meant to mock Bowie, or is this a serious album?
It’s a good album. This is not a ruse ya twat. If Bowie can chase my career and create a life of candy corn for me as he swims in mars bars then I can surely answer back. “The Man Who Shaved the World” was an album I created while I was on the road literally shaving the world.
I wanted to do my part and give back to the world that rejected me; prove to them I’m not the selfish man they pegged me for. So I went to the worlds greatest third-world countries like Israel, and Africa, and that place with the leader who’s name sounds like dong, and I did my relief work. These people are poor - what’s one thing they can’t afford besides food and shelter? It’s fuckin’ steel blades, razors mate. So I went to these places and I shaved the Yahuda’s beards; I shaved the scraggly beards on those dark saronged forest folk; I shaved the thin hairs on the rice lovers chins….I shaved the worlds beards. Cleanliness is unparalleled and I was trying to do my part. You know the #1 breeding ground for insects, bacteria, and mites? It’s long, scraggly, stringy bloody beards and it’s a serious problem. So this album coincides with my journey with songs like: The Width of a Mustache, Growing Hair Blues, Naked Face Rock, and my personal favorite She Shook Me Bald. These are rock ballads about literally saving the world from it’s own putrid, diseased hair.
David Bowie recounts that you two did interact in the early 60’s but denies anything beyond an acquaintance. When was the last time you two encountered one another and what’s the full story?
Fuck, it’s been some years now. He avoids me like I’m a rat during that one plague. What’s it, Bubonic? Whatever, if I’m the damned rat, mate, then he’s the flea clinging to my hairs and spreading the disease.
That’s right, we was creative acquaintances sharing childhood dreams with one another. I never said we was friends or best mates - just that we knew each other and he stole and manifested my livelihood. Last time I saw the Thin White Crook was at my local church, Our Lady of Sorrow, when I was home for the holidays in December of 1980. He was there raising charity for some small organization or something; he wasn’t shaving beards though, that’s for sure, just raising money by appearing somewhere. A half assed ploy, if ya ask me.
After the sermon, Bowie hung around to speak with his local fans. I waited in line to confront the prick after all these years of trying to track him down, and when I got up to the front, he looked me up and down said “Nice getup, now here’s a true fan,” and then he preceded to ask me who he should make his John Hancock out to. I told him “It’s me, it’s fucking Ziggy, ya bloody faker, take your Hancock out and let’s measure.” So I whipped out my flaccid meat and placed it on the table. And he looked me up and down…I saw the recollection and fear in his eyes…and as his security locked arms and started to drag me away, I managed to blow a load of sawdust in his squinting eyes. There was little more seen of Ziggy Stardust after that incident. He went on to create other characters, and of course we all know the fame of his later career, but it appeared I had won. Though, people continued to look at me as a copy rather than the original. And I got a lot of shit for taking my pecker out in the Lords House, but nothing else got through to the dense celebrity he’d become. Everyone thought I was the fake…. they thought I was Andy Warhol, when I was really the fucking soup can.
What’s next for Ziggy Sawdust? And do you still have hope for you and your career? Why not try a different image at this point in the game?
Are you for real, ya suit? Are you really asking me this?
At this point in the interview Mr. Stardust becomes enraged and gets in my face. He lumbers over the table and stumbles towards me as if to swing. Instead, he swipes up his rocks glass, takes a small sip, and launches his Canadian Club at my face, cubes and all. He puts on that famous snarl, kicks over his chair, and storms out of the restaurant, but not before doing two things. On his way out he throws his empty glass at my back and shouts across the restaurant: “We are all copies of something…you’re just a writer, you’ll never be Hemingway.”
And I suppose he is right; I’ll never be Hemingway, and he’ll never be David Bowie - the most we can hope is that we are the most original versions of those we are overshadowed by. There’s one thing you can say about Mr. Sawdust; he is an angry rocker with unproven talents who may or may not be the inspiration for David Bowie’s, Ziggy Stardust. At the very least, he is a colorful character that skirts around the spectrum of pop culture. He so violently skirts around the skirt that is pop culture that we should all charge him with statutory rape for licking all of our innocence raw. Yet there’s something intriguing and dreadfully positive about a man who won’t quit. Perhaps he plays with all of our morbid curiosities, as we wonder just who in our lives we’ve encountered and inspired to greatness.