Ziggy Stardust and 2012
Preparing for the End of Days
by Kenna Burima
Illustration by Chris Zajko
The first time I heard David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in its entirety I was already in my mid-20s, lying on the dirty, carpeted floor of a friend’s apartment. By the time the final violin strains of “Rock 'N' Roll Suicide” faded away, I was hooked. I was pretty much hooked in the eighth bar of “Five Years”, but didn’t realize it until “Starman”.
I had stumbled onto something I couldn’t fathom, something I couldn’t understand but felt. Ziggy Stardust was something I couldn’t analyze away, like when I was told that the reason I cried every time I heard the opening chords to the prelude of Richard Wagners’ heartbreakingly beautiful opera Tristan und Isolde was because the it was based on the augmented fourth, augmented sixth, and augmented second above the root.(1)
Ziggy wouldn’t go away and the apocalyptic message embedded in the album didn’t hit until well after its entirety had embedded itself into my subconscious. By the time I was aware of the fact that the world was ending in 2012, every song I had tried to write was a rip off of “Starman”. Every piano part I tried to play was a reminiscence of Bowie’s exuberant piano chords of “Five Years” and every song opening started with a “Ziggy Stardust” guitar lead.
Then, in the span of two days, I ate some mushrooms, watched An Inconvenient Truth and started reading Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. It was the beginning of the end and, in truth, as the time moved past those first fateful days I began my struggle with 2012.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse
It wasn’t the studying of Ziggy Stardust that was interesting, at least in and of itself. It was where it led me… and then where it didn’t. I was completely convinced that if I poured over lyric sheets, analyzed chord progressions and song structures I would come upon the grand secret; the plan, the message that would tell me what to do, how to prepare and how to survive.
But Ziggy Stardust wasn’t the message or even the end. It was then means to the end. Ziggy Stardust was my door. I opened it and whole dark world of possibilities laid themselves out before me. It was the apocalypse in its many ludicrous manifestations. It had become apparent that if I was going to continue in my search for apocalyptic meaning, I was going to have to let go. If the world was going to end (and I can’t shake the feeling that it may end as we know it), then I had to be okay with that. Because I wasn’t moving back to the farm in Saskatchewan like my father said I should if shit should go down. No fucking way in hell.
We’ve been worrying about the end of the world since it started and we’ve documented our obsession with predicting its coming since at least 2800 B.C.(2) We study it fanatically from its Biblical beginnings to its Biblical proportions. There’s even a name for it: Eschatology, the theological and philosophical study of the end of the world.
In my lifetime alone I have lived through at least 93 apocalypses. There’s been a prophesized doomsday at least three times a year since I came into this world. 1980 was a popular year for Armageddon. The Jehovah's Witnesses predicted the end on October 2, 1984. In 1992, popular belief dictated that Halley's comet was the harbinger of doom. Eschatologists’ favourite prophet Nostradamus made multiple predictions and through various translations of his quatrains, scholars and kooks alike gravitated towards 1999 and Y2K.
But no planes fell from the sky December 31, 1999, and if we survived the ending of the millennium, I don’t see why we won’t continue to do so for millenniums more. Chances are we’re going to be fine, but I can’t ignore the niggling feeling that shit is going to go down in 2012.
But I Don’t Even Have My 72 Hours Worth of Water
Our Canadian government has laid out what the potential apocalyptic risks are for my area. According to the Government of Canada, a variety of events could have dire consequences if I’m not prepared; an avalanche, earthquake, flood, infectious disease outbreak, landslide, power outage, severe weather, tornado or wildfire can all happen in my community.(3)
Though not necessarily 2012-centric, these hazards are part of a larger doomsday picture when viewed through the lens of climate change. We have our very own doomsday brewing through global warming. Still, all of these potential hazards seem rather mild. In actual fact, they seem positively sedate in the face of (and in no particular order): a black hole, a cosmic dust cloud, a nuclear, chemical or biological war, the collision of the large planet Nibiru with Earth or any of the countless meteoroids plummeting towards earth, the eruption of a supervolcano (Yellowstone seems pretty close), geomagnetic reversal (often incorrectly referred to as a polar shift by proponents of this theory) which could be triggered by a massive solar flare(4), a hypernova (a sci-fi geek’s wet dream of a gamma ray burst or other devastating blast of cosmic radiation), the death of the sun, a zombie apocalypse, and possibly the most unsettling of the bunch: a sudden change in the physical constants governing the universe created by a vacuum metastability event.(5)
Little did I know that the apocalypses I could imagine were far more sedate than the ones I couldn’t even conceive. Quantum physically speaking, there is a possibility that we are living in a false vacuum.(6) For some reason the improbability of these inconceivable events are less of a concern to me than the ending of the Mayan calendar and a 26,000-year cycle. It brought down Atlantis. It could bring down us.
The Mayan Calendar and the Pretention of Pinchbeck
I was convinced that all I needed to prepare for the apocalypse would be found within The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I was sure that Bowie; a precocious 25-year-old at the time had channeled the album as a message. It was a warning of the coming end of days that was not meant for his screaming teenage fans of 1972, but rather for us, for 2012.
I almost loathe to admit how much Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl influenced my early conceptions, but there’s no denying that even now, I still gravitate to the theories put forth by the precious greasy-haired poster child for 2012. Through the frequent and academic use of psychoactive substances, Pinchbeck formulated his theory and entertainingly put it to paper that 2012 will bring about a global shift in consciousness rather than an apocalypse. This, and other mind-bending theories such as UFOs and alien abductions being humanity’s personal manifestation of all of its fears, wasn’t a far stretch for someone who consider themselves a purposeful psychedelic adventurer.
Still, Pinchbeck is infinitely cooler than cab driver George King and even French racecar driver Claude Rael. And do you know who’s cooler than all of them? Bowie.
In the 1975 February issue of Creem, writer Bruno Stein captured a possible coke-fueled tirade of Bowie’s regarding a global media conspiracy, the Mayan Calendar and his multiple UFO sightings. It was rather informative. "I used to work for two guys who put out a UFO magazine in England,” said Bowie. “About six years ago. And I made sightings six, seven times a night for about a year when I was in the observatory… And they would be stationary for about half an hour, and then after verifying what they'd been doing that day, they'd shoot off.”(7)
He went on to describe an elaborate mind-based web of cultural manipulation coordinated through the media, a process that he claimed had been used by the 2012’s favourite ancient civilization, The Mayans. “That's how the Mayans were ruling South America thousands of years ago,” Bowie continues. “That's what the media is. That's how it works. The Mayan calendar: they could get the crowds to go out and crucify somebody merely by giving them a certain definition, two or three words, primed in terms such that they could tell what day the people would react and how they would react.”(8)
Coke-fueled or not, this brief glimpse is an enlightening look into the belief systems that drove Bowie to create and ultimately musically manifest an entity such as Ziggy Stardust. In actual fact, Ziggy Stardust is Bowie’s Gesamtkunstwerk. His universal artwork not only synthesized multiple art forms (fashion, music, literature) but also uncontrollably began to synthesize his entire life.(9) The question became this: Did Bowie create Ziggy Stardust or did Ziggy Stardust create him?
Nowhere are Bowie’s intentions as and for Ziggy Stardust more clearly and somewhat ironically laid out than in his 1974 interview with William S. Boroughs for Rolling Stone magazine. Facilitated by writer Craig Copetas, the article is simultaneously a voyeuristic excursion into the minds and interactions of two egomaniacal artistic visionaries and a passing of the flame from one fervent nonconformist to another.
An obviously perplexed 60-year-old Burroughs asked for an explanation of “this Ziggy Stardust image” and what “this being had to do with the eve of destruction within five years.”
Bowie waxes eloquent:
- The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy's adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, 'cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. 'All the young dudes' is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.
- Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes 'Starman', which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch on to it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie the Infinite Fox.
- Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song 'Rock 'n' roll suicide'. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible. It is a science fiction fantasy of today and this is what literally blew my head off when I read Nova Express, which was written in 1961. Maybe we are the Rodgers and Hammerstein of the seventies, Bill.(10)
But since the world didn’t end in 1977, what does that mean? We’re on borrowed time? I highly doubt it would be as clichéd, but for some reason I still gravitate towards the Mayans more so than the Jehovah’s Witnesses.(11)
Kenna Burima, meet Terrance McKenna
Throughout 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, Pinchbeck referred to the work of author/ explorer Terrance McKenna. A brilliant theoretician on universal matters, McKenna was like the icing on my I Heart Huckabees personal philosophy. Apparently our reality is attracted to whatever is happening at the end of time that is increasing our interconnectedness, whereby we will eventually reach a singularity of infinite complexity on December 21, 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur instantaneously. Quote McKenna:
- What it's been characterized by is the dissolution of boundaries between classes of people, bodies of knowledge, pools of capital, language groups, and so forth and so on, and so it seems to me ultimate novelty must be a situation where all boundaries are dissolved. And of course, what that looks like, I don't know.(12)
So he doesn’t know, but what he does know he’s gleamed off his computer program Time Wave Zero. He’s admitted that we’re moving into new territory as we reach 2012 particularly in reference to his Novelty theory that explains the movement of time and the existence of our universe as based on how much “newness” exists or is created as we move through time linearly. His Time Wave Zero has calculated the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe as an inherent quality of time and we reach an end point, 2012.(13) By lining up the linear map of human history with McKenna’s novelty graph created by using his Time Wave Zero, McKenna claimed that he had discovered the structure of time itself and everything, everything is moving towards the most significant event in human history. Coincidentally, it turns out that the Mayan’s Mesoamerican Long Count calendar coincidentally ends at roughly the same time, December 21, 2012.
We’re Banking on the Norwegians
I could almost say that if wasn’t for the Norwegians and their seed vault, I’d be worried.(14) But I even get worked up about the end of the world. Call it skepticism, call it good old optimism, call it whatever you want, but I think it may be Ziggy Stardust that is comforting me. Ziggy Stardust isn’t a shrouded set of directions for surviving the apocalypse, nor is it even the cumulative human expression of the end of the world. It is a message, but a message that says that it’s OK to be who we are; fucked up, unbalanced, and selfish (except for the Norwegians).
Sure, strive for enlightenment, but not because in three short years its all going to end. The apocalypse is always coming and just as humanity continues through whatever cyclical shitstorm we continue to create, it’s always going to be a ride — and for that matter, it might as well be a rock and roll ride. Ziggy has comforted me:
- No matter what or who you’ve been
- No matter when or where you’ve seen
- All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
- I’ve had my share. I’ll help you with the pain
- You’re not alone
- Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
- Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
- Oh gimme your hands.
- 1-Thanks Professor Bell for depriving me of my ignorance in Music Harmony 301.
- 2-Nelson, Chris (2002), "A Brief History of the Apocalypse"
- 3-Get Prepared (2009) Government of Canada document
- 4-Apparently Earth's magnetic field is weakening which indicates an impending reversal of the north and south magnetic poles.
- 5-Thanks Wikipedia.
- 6-Leslie, John, (1996), The End of the World, p. 180. Upon further reading, I learned that even vacuous states decay. According to physicists S. Coleman and F. De Luccia, there is a possibility that the decay of our vacuum would change the very constants of nature our universe is built upon. I don’t even want to think about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Not only do I have to consider black holes “out there,” I now have to consider man-made black holes created under my very feet. It’s mind-boggling.
- 7/8-Stein, Bruno (1975), "Flying Saucers, Hitler, and David Bowie: World problems solved in U.S. hotel room"Creem, February
- 9-Koenig, Peter-R. "The Laughing Gnostic: David Bowie and the Occult"
- 10-Copetas, Craig (1974), "Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman" Rolling Stone 155
- 11-Have you heard the one about Prince coming to my front door preaching the Watchtower gospel? That’s all kinds of awesome.
- 12-Bell, Art (1997), "The brilliant Terence McKenna, interviewed on the Art Bell Show"
- 13-History Channel’s Doomsday 2012 Decoding the Past
- 14-The end of the world is nigh and the only country that seems to be taking this seriously at all is Norway. As long as someone’s taking the world’s food source into consideration I can rest a little easier because if global catastrophes like asteroid impacts or disease pandemics were to strike, seeds stored in their "doomsday" vault would ensure that humans could re-grow the crops needed for survival. "Doomsday" Vault Will End Crop Extinction, Expert Says.