When I realized my trip to London coincided with the anniversaries of his birth and death, I knew that I had to dedicate a day to retracing his steps. The first stops on my trip were around Soho. The Heddon Street of Ziggy Stardust was little more than an alley full of dark bricks and deep shadows. Heddon Street I arrived at was entirely unrecognizable. The grittiness of the 70s has been polished away to make room for outdoor seating for a row of hip, pricey restaurants favored by the shoppers hopping from designer store to designer store. The blue plaque marking the spot as something worth noting was partially obscured by tarps and scaffolding.
It was in Trident Studios, tucked down a glorified alley called St Anne’s Court, that The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was recorded. The studios were also used by Queen, Elton John, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Genesis, and the Beatles. Some of the most beloved songs of the century were recorded in what is now a PR and Social Media firm. Above the door is another blue plaque that states the location’s history but on the day I visited, the crush of the crowd pushing through the alley from both directions made it nearly impossible to stop and look at it.
Feeling defeated, I went to the last Soho destination. This little pub around the corner has no plaques, but it was the most important stop. The Ship is a piece of living history, a still functioning par that still looks much the same as it did in the 70s when musicians would stop there on break from recording or after a performance at the nearby, and defunct Hammersmith Odeon (the same one where Bowie declared the end of Ziggy Stardust in 1973).
When I stepped into the mostly empty taproom, there was an American Ska band playing. It felt disrespectful on today of all days. I sat at the empty bar and ordered a pint.
“How many people come in here looking for Bowie?” I asked the bartender pointing to a little chalkboard advertising an upcoming tribute.
“Eh not many when they aren’t on tour. He died today or something.” He shrugged.
“That’s on the 10th” I say but he’d turned to look down at his phone.
I left for Brixton disappointed, but I was drawn back to the Ship a couple more times before I left. It was in those subsequent visits that I found him. Bowie hadn’t loved this little pub because it had a storied past in rock history. He’d liked it because it was cozy and friendly and the beer was good, all the same reasons I found myself camped at a corner table with a pint and my laptop for full afternoons. He hadn’t been searching for ghost, and once I gave up mine I could see the place for what it was.