THE pop story of this or any other year is David Bowie’s comeback. But it would have been oh so different – actually the story, the star, probably wouldn’t have existed – if he had followed through with his dabblings in Buddhism.
Ziggyology: A Brief History Of Ziggy Stardust
“David attended regular meetings at the Tibet Society, studying their literature and philosophy and meditating with lama monks,” writes Simon Goddard. “His next move towards enlightenment would have involved retreating to a monastery in Scotland, a vow of abstinence and a shaved head.”
The Scottish bit didn’t bother him so much as the lack of sex and hair. Indeed, as he scrabbled around in 1967 for another quirk and another direction – to make him truly stand out where his first album, released on the same day as Sgt Pepper, so palpably hadn’t – it was a self-proclaimed Scot who helped, beckoning him with a long painted finger. Bowie joined master of mime Lindsay Kemp’s camp-followers, becoming one of his lovers. More crucially for what was going to come later, Kemp tutored him in a mean make-up regime.
Flash-forward two years and we’re at Perth’s Salutation Hotel, the first night of a Scottish tour on the back of Top 5 smash Space Oddity. Bowie strums the single’s B-side, Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, and according to Goddard: “The fair maids of Perth rushed to the front of the stage and began screaming at his feet. It was a sensation David had never experienced before. The shriek and sigh of unconditional adulation. ‘I would never have believed in a million years that people would scream at me,’ he said afterwards. ‘I stand bemused by it all.’”
The Scottish Bowieophile is naturally interested in the Scottish bits of Ziggyology, not a biography of Bowie but more specifically his greatest alter ego, his eyeliner triumph. But I needn’t worry about exaggerating the importance of Scotland to this tale because in Goddard’s world, everything’s vital. Nothing, or no-one, is too remote, either by position in deep space or a gap of centuries, to be scooped up by the author and have incredibly tenuous connections displayed on pages of brilliant tangerine, which was of course the hair colour of Ziggy Stardust – “the two greatest words in the history of pop”.
Right at the start, Goddard says: “The history of Ziggy Stardust is the history of thought.” In old Mesopotamia, in temples shooting skywards, the Babylonians compiled the first astronomical data. More significantly for Goddard, they were the first civilisation to “erect a welcome mat for the Starman” and this they did by calling the temples “ziggurats”.
Copernicus, Kepler, Beethoven, HG Wells, Stanley Kubrick, Holst, Nigel Quatermass Kneale, Tommy Steele – all these young dudes probably believed their questing earned them their own places in history. No, they were mere fluffers for Ziggy, the cross-dressing alien visitor to our Top 20, the big jessie Moonage Daydreamer with the screwed-up eyes and screwed-down hairdo.
This book is ludicrous and brilliant. You might be tempted to skim bits – skim like the flying saucers in chapter nine, in fact – in your rush to meet the fully-formed Ziggy, but you’d be missing out on some very smart writing, delivered with wit, zip and hazy cosmic jive, none more so than when Goddard describes the strange, sad existence of original pop faker Vince Taylor, who was concocting fantastical personas long before Bowie. He ended up being fed into the Ziggymatron like all the rest.
The later chapter on our man’s encounters with glam rival Marc Bolan is indeed terrific. Affecting friendship, the pair prowled round each other like cats (cats from Japan?), marking future intended chart territory. Bolan, then better-known, laughed behind a sympathetic smile at his support-act’s “crap shoes and teeth like a zip” – and, his superiority seemingly confirmed, gave him a Stylophone as a kind of consolation prize. Result: Bowie uses the cheapo keyboard to write Space Oddity, Perth screams, and life as we know it truly begins. «