"It was glorious technicolor": Memoir by Ziggy Stardust's hairdresser is an engrossing, raucous read

Suzi Ronson first met a woman in her 50s, whose son turned out to be David Bowie. From there, it's history . . .

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published April 4, 2024 10:15AM (EDT)

David Bowie (1947 - 2016) performs on stage on his Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour in London, 1973. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)
David Bowie (1947 - 2016) performs on stage on his Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour in London, 1973. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

David Bowie didn’t invent Glam Rock. That sparkly honor is generally credited to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, who created a sensation when he sang “Hot Love,” decked out in a flashy silver ensemble, on the BBC’s "Top of the Pops" in 1971. But the Thin White Duke wasn’t far behind. Within a matter of months, he would emerge as the movement’s standard-bearer in the form of his flamboyant alter ego Ziggy Stardust.

In "Me and Mr. Jones: My Life with David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars," Suzi Ronson captures the origins of Bowie’s Ziggy persona in glittering detail. Fed up with school at age 15, she enrolled in the Evelyn Paget College of Hair and Beauty. Scant days after taking up hairdressing in a southeast London salon, she finds herself face-to-face with 57-year-old Peggy Jones. 

For Ronson, Mrs. Jones seems like just another client. “She’s a woman of about my mum’s age, wearing a tweed skirt with sensible shoes and the ever-present English cardigan. Her hair is thick and I’m sure it will take forever to dry. Like most other customers, she starts talking about her family the moment I get started. ‘My David is such an artistic boy,’ she says. ‘He’s always been that way, plays guitar and piano. He doesn’t have a lot of time to see me but I’m so proud of him.’”

And that’s when Mrs. Jones dropped a bombshell. “He was in the Top 10, you know.” The song was “Space Oddity,” the proud mother announces to Ronson with a smile. Her curiosity piqued, Suzi makes her way into the orbit of Bowie and his wife Angie.

In short order, Ronson is overseeing Bowie’s makeover from longhaired popstar into Ziggy Stardust. The musician once described the androgynous, otherworldly character as “my Martian messiah who twanged a guitar. He was a simplistic character . . . someone who dropped down here, got brought down to our way of thinking, and ended up destroying his own self. Which is a pretty archetype storyline” (Tim Morse, "Classic Rock Stories," 1998).

As it happened, Ronson’s makeover proved to be the icing on the cake when it came to establishing Ziggy’s alien image. Indeed, she would never forget the moment she caught a glimpse of the album cover for "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars." “I gasp. My haircut is on the album cover,” she recalled. “David looks out of this world.”

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Riding on Glam Rock’s satiny coattails —  and a new look, courtesy of Ronson — Bowie transformed himself into an international star. In the process, Ronson found herself traveling the world in Bowie’s touring party, an all-male affair that included her future husband, guitarist Mick Ronson

In her thoroughly engrossing memoir, Ronson shares one raucous episode after another as the globetrotting musicians and their fish-out-of-water hairdresser crisscross the globe. But that was then. These days, “my life flashes by in photographs,” she writes. “The day I met [Bowie’s] mother; the day I met Angie; the day I met him; the day I did that iconic Ziggy haircut; the first time I saw them play. My life was all black and white until I met David, and afterwards it was glorious technicolor, as bright as the hair on his head.”

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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