A recent attempt to visit the David Bowie is exhibition in London’s V&A Museum highlighted to this writer how much of a stranglehold this icon still has on the public consciousness, 45 years after his emergence. Those who failed to book ahead joined a 200-minute queue for possible cancellation spots. It was minutes after doors had swung open for the day and that queue wasn’t budging.
Its curators couldn’t possibly have known that in March (the same month David Bowie is opened) the Thin White Duke himself would break a decade-long silence with a new LP. It was preceded by a surprise comeback single that broke the internet seconds after suddenly appearing online the morning of his January birthday. No build-up, no interviews, no teasers, and all ‘very Bowie’ – 2013 would be his year, and his alone.
Simon Goddard, one of the UK’s more eminent rock ‘n’ roll excavators, would also have been in the dark as to these movements when his Ziggology was due to hit the shelves. As far as he was concerned, it was going to be a nice way to commemorate 40 years since Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s cosmic creation, was ‘assassinated’ at a gig in London’s Hammersmith Odeon.
Timing really is everything, they say, but had Bowie decided to remain in his Manhattan domicile and not disrupt the planet’s pulse, Goddard’s work would still be cause for celebration. Minutely researched, but told with a giddy, super-charged glee that is utterly irresistible, Ziggyology tells the tale of how pop’s greatest ruse was constructed over millennia by the aligning atoms of science, popular culture and the stars.
“If you really want to make an apple pie from scratch,” mused US astronomer Carl Sagan, “you must first invent the universe.” So it is that Goddard brings us all the way back to the birth of cosmology with fun-size histories of Copernicus, Galileo (who died exactly 305 years to the day before Bowie’s birth) and 17th-Century German astronomer Johannes Kepler. From here, he canters forward into Beethoven’s piano recitals, Japanese kabuki theatre, HG Wells and the space-travelling symphonies of Gustav Holst, their essence wafting off into the cosmic ether and fusing into something shaped like the guitar-carrying Starman.
A skinny musician/mime artist from Bromley called David Jones is selected to be its host. Into his orbit come Vince Taylor, Elvis (“The Big Bang in the singularity of rock ‘n’ roll,” as Goddard puts it), Stanley Kubrick, the Quatermass Experiment and, finally, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. The costumes and hair colour get louder as the sexual ambiguity gets foggier, and suddenly the western world is helplessly screaming over a galactic Adonis singing about rocketmen at a time when UFO sightings were peaking in the UK and US.
Goddard’s percussive language struts with energy and theatricality. “The twister of teenage necks from the gutter to the stars,” he trills in his introduction.
“The liberator of the slaves to duty and conformity. The nail-varnished hand outstretching to the lonesome and unloved. The greatest pop star of all-time. The greatest pop star of all-space.”
He’s clearly having a blast, but Goddard – whose exhaustive 2009 Smiths and Morrissey tome Mozipedia was colourfully described by one reviewer as “the undertaking of a maniac” – leaves no stone unturned as long as that stone could be a butterfly wingbeat in this red-maned pop tsunami.
The author’s own imagination hovers about the place as he choreographs mirror-facing soliloquies, and solitary reflections that no one could possibly know about. But this is the fun end of the biography, where the dull truth is not allowed to drizzle on the rock ‘n’ roll rainbow.
As if in keeping with the glam spirit of the day, Ziggyology is loose-limbed, but ecstatic reading, and essential for anyone who’s ever owned a pair of platforms.
Copyright Sunday Independent