Ziggy Stardust “died” seven months before I was born although his hair stayed atop David Bowie’s head up till mid-1974. In the 18 months of his existence it’s fair to say that his influence was pronounced (would Iggy And The The Stooges’ Raw Power or Lou Reed’s Transformer have seen the light of day without Ziggy boosting Bowie’s confidence?) but the main irritation with Simon Goddard’s book is his conceit, however tongue in cheek, that the Earth’s creation was geared solely to the later one of Ziggy. Lines such as “… the two greatest words in the history of pop music [Ziggy Stardust] …” and “… pop is at its most religiously intense when occupying the sacred fissure between longing and fulfilment …” pepper the prose throughout, albeit at least you know what the latter one’s getting at.
The book is presented in two parts (BZ and AZ if you want to go along with Goddard’s repeated biblical nudges & winks and leanings towards grande guignol) and the second of these is, for the average music fan, by far the more interesting. That’s not to say that the potted biographies of The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Elvis, Tommy Steele and sundry other influences big & small on the fledging career of David Bowie (nee Jones) contained in Part 1 aren’t educational in their own ways. When, however, Mozart, Kepler, HG Wells, Holst and others are shoehorned in to try and convince the reader that they all had a hand in (or influence from beyond the grave upon) the creation of the character of The Starman the act of fitting the outcome around the facts will be cause for serious page skimming. You do though finish this part thinking that Jones senior’s seemingly interesting life might be worth a biography of its own.
Part 2, given that it only deals with those 18 months and not millennia, is therefore the shorter of the two but, for the lay fan unprepared to wade through the “bible” of The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg or Bowie’s own Moonage Daydream (as mentioned in the bibliography) the information therein is probably largely enough. From the pre-fame tour of family homes that Part 1 lists things move on to recording studios and venues so the intrepid could pound round the pavements some more and touch the walls of those that still exist. Managers come and go, we learn of Marc Bolan’s paranoia & jealousy at the popularity of Ziggy, there’s lots of sex on the American visits in that time period etc.
From playing to a few hundred fans in Aylesbury at 50p a ticket (the equivalent of between £5 & £8 today) when the set list still included a James Brown medley to kicking the final UK tour off in front of 18,000 at London’s Earls Court (its first use as a rock concert venue, albeit with an inadequate sound system) the lifetime of Ziggy Stardust was an eventful one, producing two undeniably classic rock albums and the emotion evident on the recording of the final performance of July 3rd 1973 (when even Spiders Weird & Gilly didn’t know the enterprise was being wound-up, due to then manager Tony DeFries being constructive with cashflow) is still quite a thing to behold when you listen to it.
Whilst the book itself isn’t exactly a hagiography Goddard let’s the reader down on a number of levels by sacrificing information to simple gushing. How, for instance, did Mick Ronson (‘Ronno’) and the other Spiders From Mars come to be Ziggy’s backing band? The immediately pre-Ziggy Hunky Dory album barely features other than to mention that ‘Life On Mars?’ was lifted from it as a post-Ziggy single (minus the question mark). One can only assume that its writing and recording were easily and straightforwardly achieved but such omissions only serve to point up the fact that even the less wild theories in the narrative don’t hold water.
Though there is much to like here this is a book which could nonetheless have done with as much of a trim as Bowie’s flowing locks underwent to achieve that “screwed down hair-do”, coupled with a greater realisation that Ziggy was just one of a number of characters, rather than an actual extraterrestrial inhabiting the body of David Bowie for a year and a half.
(352pp, ISBN 978-0091948887, Ebury Press)