For an artist who’s undergone more reinventions than most of us have had hot dinners, David Bowie’s early 1970’s Ziggy Stardust persona remains perhaps his most iconic: face emblazoned with make-up, his hair dyed a shock of red, the look signified his elevated status as a musical force to be reckoned with.
It’s this definitive Bowie era that provides the jumping off point for the upcoming Bowie tribute tour, Ziggy: The Songs of David Bowie. Seasoned Bowie lover Jeff Duff, founding Noiseworks member Steve Balbi, multifaceted vocalist Brydon
Stace and rock star turned theatre performer iOTA will take to the stage each night of the five-city tour, each offering their own take on a collection of Bowie’s best-loved hits.
Sydney Star Observer spoke to iOTA ahead of his stint in the show, and found the quiet, unassuming performer learning lyrics and “thinking about potential outfits and hairdos”.
“I’m still trying to figure out what exactly my part of the show is going to be, but it’s exciting to know that, it being Bowie, you can take it that bit further,” he said.
Perhaps its a testament to just how many classic songs Bowie’s had that iOTA insisted there had been no behind-the-scenes scramble between he and the others over who will perform each track.
“There’s so many to choose from, but I think I got a really good bunch. I’m handling most of the ‘80s tunes.”
Born in 1968, iOTA was just hitting his teenage years when Bowie entered his most explicitly commercial period, churning out perfectly crafted pop songs like Let’s Dance and China Girl.
“That was when I first took notice. Although I remember first seeing a picture of him as a little kid and loving the long wizard sleeves he was wearing and his amazing red hair,” he chuckled.
One doesn’t have to search too hard to find parallels between Bowie and iOTA’s careers — from a certain flamboyant gender fluidity to both adopting stage names (although iOTA sticks more closely to his, having changed it by deed poll when he was 26). It’s perhaps surprising, then, to learn that Bowie actually comes a distant second favourite to another heavily made-up rock act for iOTA.
“I do love Bowie, but in terms of inspiration, Kiss probably inspired me way more. I’m a massive Kiss fan. My bedroom was a Kiss dungeon when I was growing up. I think that’s more where my theatrical thing comes from,” he admitted.
Even when he was appearing in a children’s film (1986’s Jim Henson masterpiece Labyrinth), Bowie exuded an ambiguous, slightly menacing sexual presence. In a 1976 Playboy interview, he claimed he was bisexual, but later recanted, and has been married to Somalian-born supermodel Iman since 1992. How does an openly queer performer like iOTA feel about a seemingly straight artist toying with the public perception of his sexuality like that?
“I saw an interview where he said ‘I got my leg over a lot’. I think he probably fucked anybody that attracted him, which so many of them seemed to do back then — there are famous stories about people like Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger … whether or not they were making it all up, I don’t know. I think a bit of mystery is always a good thing.”
Certainly, Bowie’s own ‘bisexuality’ never seemed as crass or calculated as the same-sex dalliances of many of today’s pop stars (we’re looking at you, Katy ‘boner dyke’ Perry). Whether or not Bowie actually did shag men, he got people talking about the possibility, which was a big deal at the time.
“Yeah. Like Kiss, Freddie Mercury or the Rocky Horror Show — all that stuff that played with gender was a massive influence on me growing up,” iOTA said.
It’s turned out well, then that iOTA played Frank-N-Furter in the Rocky Horror Show and is now tipping his hat to Bowie. Surely all that’s left on the list is to pay tribute to Kiss.
“That’d have to be it, if I do another tribute show. But a Kiss tribute could be really cheesy too,” he laughed.
It’d have to wait, anyway — after appearing in Ziggy, iOTA will next year tour an expanded season of Smoke & Mirrors, the cabaret show that earned him three Helpmann Awards at September’s ceremony. While he’d already won a Helpmann in 2007 for his leading role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this year’s windfall seemed to signify, once and for all, that rock star iOTA had found a new home in the world of theatre.
“I felt so frustrated in the music industry; I could never really make any headway. I couldn’t make an impact, no matter how hard I tried — I was floundering. But now, through theatre, everything’s changed — I feel like there are people out there who like what I’m doing. And I can still do all the musical, rock ‘n roll stuff I wanted — it’s just a much better place for me, being in theatre.
“It feels like I’ve really arrived.”
info: Ziggy: The Songs of David Bowie plays the State Theatre on November 28. Tickets through Ticketmaster. www.ziggytour.com