Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust (Review)

Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust is Simon Goddard’s biography of the character that David Bowie played onstage at his concerts (and offstage in his life a lot of the time) from the end of 1971 to July 1973. Goddard presents Stardust as a real cosmic entity who essentially cohabited Bowie’s body for this period of time – as he notes in the preface, “This book is mostly the story of Ziggy Stardust but only sometimes the story of David Bowie.” Now if that’s not a promising fiction and non-fiction cocktail then I don’t know what is.

There are 65 pages of this book before David Bowie is even born, and they are put to wonderful use. The reader is taken on a journey through humanity’s fascination with space, from ancient Japanese and Babylonian culture right through to Beethoven’s symphonies, Holst’s The PLanets, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ take on Wells, TV’s Professor Quatermass, right up to the space race and the moon landing of 1969 before Ziggy finally lands. These points of cosmic fascination, Goddard claims, are times when Ziggy gazed upon little old Earth and smiled, preparing it for his eventual descent, and they’re popping with character and energy.

A part of me missed that focused Earth-space history once the concerns of the music came in more strongly; while David is still a boy, Goddard ties the aforementioned cosmic prophets to the expansion of the youngster’s mind, most memorably for me his hiding behind the sofa to secretly watch The Quatermass Experiment. From that point on, however, as much as the timeline tries to move chronologically, Goddard is covering so many people’s stories of what they’re releasing (in particular Elvis, Marc Bolan and Vince Taylor as well as Bowie), and then everyone else’s responses to this new output, that it can be difficult to keep track and realise when we’re backtracking.

As a reader with comparatively fleeting knowledge of the ’50s to early ’70s to the rest of the book’s readership, there was a lot of reading halfway down the page before I had all the details about the person whose point of view we were now in, and not a small amount of Googling to start with. For example, Brian Holden pops up in the middle of a chapter with no context whatsoever and it’s not until another mention of him in another chapter that it’s clarified that Holden was the birth name of Vince Taylor. There are also occasions, once Bowie starts touring, where audience members are described by a first name and their age. It is clear that this teen is inspired by the show and goes on to do great things, but it is often not explained who they actually are. I’m sure it’ll all be much clearer and easier to follow in a few years once I’m better versed with the era, especially knowing real names that match the stage names.

Overall, this was an inventive piece which I hugely enjoyed reading, even if it took a lot of focus to get through. I learnt a lot more about the period, nuggets of cultural history which I’m keen to find out more about and got a glimpse of the icon that is David Bowie. It’s an impressive follow-up to Goddard’s Dickensian debut about the Rolling Stones, Rollaresque, which I hope to read soon too, and I very much look forward to reading his future work and getting stuck into the world of non-fiction.

Which Bowie books do you think do him the most justice? What non-fiction works have swept you away and why? Comment below!

Image source: Penguin.com.au

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