My Favorite Album: Alan Sparhawk of Low on David Bowie’s "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust..." | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 9th, 2023  

My Favorite Album: Alan Sparhawk of Low on David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…”

"Bowie was always cool. He was cool in the '60s. He was cool in the '70s. He was cool in the '80s."

Jan 21, 2020 Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney
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I here was this book that my father had called Making Music by George Martin, The Beatles’ producer. My dad was a drummer in a country band and was also an aspiring singer and songwriter. I had heard Bowie casually on the radio, but I remember seeing this picture of them playing live in Japan [in the book], and it was the most gnarly rock and roll picture ever. It just left an impression on me. And I thought, “Well, I’m going to buy [The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars] if I can find it.” Of course, there were a couple songs that I had heard casually over the radio, just being around as a kid. But this whole record was this giant thing. It was the step further beyond Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which had been the teen angst record that had been around a lot when I was the age when you start thinking, “Oh, man. Life is heavy.” But for some reason the Bowie stuff was grittier and nastier. There are so many facets about it, anything from Mick Ronson being a sort of mixed and controversial Mormon, not unlike myself. I keep running into things where I realize what I’m attracted to about music and what I think about on a social and artistic level was heavily influenced by that record.

I was 12 or 13 when I bought it. Later on, I remember getting the Bauhaus record when I went to college and connecting through their “Ziggy Stardust” cover. Bowie was always cool. He was cool in the ‘60s. He was cool in the ‘70s. He was cool in the ‘80s. He was cool in the indie scene in the late ‘80s. And then we had kids, and there was a while there where we had to play Ziggy Stardust four or five times a day in the car with our son when he was two and three. And Hollis, our daughter, even before our son, there was a good while where “Changes” was her favorite song. Bowie has always been there in many ways. I guess that record, just because it was the start and the strongest record, I still catch myself singing the songs, even just strumming through them. My daughter is in college now, and she probably knows half a dozen Bowie songs off the top of her head. I’d probably have to look at a chart.

There’s something about his kind of whispery and mystical but also very deep singing style. There’s a fantastical way in the things he sings about, and the way he delivers it sounds like a very wonderful storyteller. There’s something childlike about the blurred gender that makes it easy to identify with maybe. Maybe as a kid there’s something about his voice where, even though it’s definitely an adult, it doesn’t sound like an old person. It’s something that even a child can trust about him. And if you trust someone as a child, you’re going to trust them for life.

(Alan Sparhawk formed Low in 1993 with his wife Mimi Parker, whom he first met when he was just nine. The band’s most recent album, Double Negative on Sub Pop, was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2018. Portions of Alan Sparhawk’s conversation have been abridged and edited for structure and flow.)

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. For the issue we interviewed musicians and actors about their all-time favorite album.]

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