Looking Back at David Bowie’s First U.S. Show in Cleveland in 1972

As we celebrate his birthday, here’s an unearthed Ziggy Stardust show preview and video from Bowie’s historic American debut.

It’s still hard to believe he’s gone. Today would have been David Bowie‘s 73rd birthday, but his legacy and influence continues to grow each year.

His first record as David Bowie was released in the UK in 1967, yet he did not make it to the States until his legendary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars tour with Mick Ronson in 1972. While his infamous show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 20, 1972 is widely considered to be his American breakthrough—in part because the show was recorded for a radio broadcast and was a prized bootleg for years until being officially released—his first U.S. live date was actually at the Cleveland Music Hall on September 22 that year. Until he arrived in Southern California, Bowie was playing to mostly empty venues in the Midwest. Some shows were cancelled for low ticket sales. “We had our downs,” he revealed in Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust. “St. Louis was not a Ziggy town.” But apparently he knocked them dead in Cleveland.

“New rock singer: Bowie or girl? He is not the first male singer to appear on stage in feminine garb—but his thing is not the violent anti-sexual sham of Alice Cooper.”

Years back, I purchased an original vinyl copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust from someone in Cleveland. As is often the case with old records, you might find some artifacts inside, from personal photos to tickets stubs to magazine clippings. But I could have never imagined the unique piece of rock history stashed inside this one: a torn out live preview from The Cleveland Press of Bowie’s first U.S. show, from a curious staff writer by the name of John Sipple.

“New rock singer: Bowie or girl?” the headline absurdly proclaims, with the choice pull quote: “He is not the first male singer to appear on stage in feminine garb—but his thing is not the violent anti-sexual sham of Alice Cooper.”

“Bowie will appear here with his group ‘The Spiders From Mars’ in a rock concert,” the article states. “Bowie seems to want to be accepted as he is, for what he is—talented, entertaining, sensitive, beautiful. If he succeeds, I think it will be progress for all of us.”

Well, Sipple got that right.

Here’s the original show preview below in all it’s glory, including awesome adverts for A Clockwork Orange—appropriately, the Bowie show opened with the theme song from the film—and some B-movie about a pet rattlesnake named Stanley.

By all accounts, the show was a total success. Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer‘s music critic Jane Scott wrote, “Orange-haired Bowie, one of the most important figures of ’70s rock, seemed a little awkward at an earlier press conference, but after his smash show, he eluded his security guards and was eager to talk about coming shows. We reporters sensed that a star was born that night.”

The next few weeks might have been a rough stretch, but give it up to Cleveland for being the first American city hip to Bowie.

And thanks to the wonder of the internet, below you’ll find some rarely seen 8mm film footage shot by Mark Turkeltaub of that historic Ohio night.


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