“Sexual revolution” is a term that’s been used since the early 20th century; generally it refers to a period of sexual liberation that occurred in Western Culture from the early 1960s to late 1980s. David Bowie first started cutting records in 1964, with his first notable single being 1969’s “Space Oddity.” It’s worth noting as an aside that this song was inspired not by America’s mission to the moon, as is the common misconception, but from David’s experience watching the 1968 Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Space Oddity” marked the beginning of David’s success, though he would not get to where things are hollow (fame) until the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1972. Arguably, it was also during this tour that Bowie’s contributions to the sexual revolution peaked.

By the beginning of 1970, Space Oddity had sold 138,656 copies in the UK, and David Bowie was finally beginning to enter the public eye in a meaningful way. This lined up well with his union to Angela Barnett (Angie Bowie) on March 19 of that same year. At its outset their marriage was quite blissful, but hardly conventional. Both Bowies claimed to be bisexual, and the couple were very vocal about this fact along with the open nature of their marriage. David is quoted by Bob Grace as being particularly evangelical about their lifestyle, explaining to him, “This is my wife, she gets boys for me, and I get girls for her – and we’re all very happy!”

Bowie’s bold claim to bisexuality is partly characterized through his 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World, the cover of which features David in a Mr. Fish Dress lounging languidly on a velvet-covered sofa, and even more so by his masterpiece from 1971: Hunky Dory. On this album, we hear David speak of the “Homo superior” in “Oh! You Pretty Things.” This is very much how he views his generation; not Homo sapiens bound by the conventions of gender or sexuality, but a group that transcends these confines in an explosion of glam and glitter. For a time Bowie was transfixed by this concept, often philosophising with friends about “the pretty things,” discussing quite seriously the ch-ch-ch-changes that would result from the actions of the coming generation.

Whether David experienced a genuine awakening during this period or simply desired more publicity, the expression of his next revelation in an interview with Melody Maker would become incredibly important. “I’m gay – and always haven been.” This was David’s proclamation, made just five years after homosexuality was decriminalized in Great Britain in 1967 (incidentally, the arrests for “gross indecency” tripled from 1967-1970. Funny that.). In a few short years, David sheepishly distanced himself from this assertion. Sincerity aside, at a time when so many of his contemporaries still felt as though they had to remain closeted, Bowie’s act was courageous. With this interview, Bowie said to frightened and confused inhabitants of a nation unfriendly to homosexuality and devoid of sex education, “you aren’t alone, others feel this way too.”

This monumental message was emphasized on January 29, 1972 when David premiered his most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust. Playing to one of his largest audiences to date, notably present in the crowd were Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor, David became the living personification of the “homo superior” that he had prophesized in Hunky Dory. On June 6, 1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released and with it the song that would make Bowie a superstar.

Entering the UK charts at #49 on June 24, “Starman” slowly ascended to #41 by July 5. On July 6, however, David and the Spiders performed “Starman” on Top of the Pops, and as guitarist Mick Ronson approached David’s microphone to sing the chorus David draped his arm across Mick’s shoulders. A simple action, but coupled with David’s come-hither eyes gazing seductively into the camera, the message was loud and clear. This was David’s Melody Maker interview brought to life and then some. The next day, Starman jumped to #10. On September 22 David played his first American show as Ziggy Stardust. On July 3, 1973, Bowie killed Ziggy and David moved on. His influence on the perceptions of sexuality, however, remained.

Bowie’s was not a message of free love like that of the ‘60s, but one of being free to be “really you and really me,” to love whoever you wanted however you wanted, and know that it’s okay. Bowie’s famous Top of the Pops performance is perhaps his most powerful conveyance of this message, and arguably the peak of his contribution to the sexual revolution.

By: Harrison Cruikshank

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