11th March 2013 - Simon Goddard
Today sees the release of The Next Day, the first new studio album in ten years from mercurial rock god, David Bowie, who killed off his most famous creation, Ziggy Stardust, forty years ago. Simon Goddard, author of Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust, recalls his first encounter with Bowie, in the guise of Major Tom, and celebrates a thrilling new chapter in the history of rock's greatest icon.
The first time I remember seeing David Bowie was 38 years ago. It's my second earliest memory of being sat in my family living room watching Top of the Pops on BBC1 on a rented Rediffusion colour television on a Thursday evening at an hour galloping scandalously close to what must have been my bedtime.
My first Top of the Pops memory, I've since worked out, must be the Scandinavian singer Sylvia Vrethammar singing 'Y Viva Espana'. Blonde, bedazzling Sylvia, cocking her hips with a blush-inducing 'por favor', is indelibly etched on my mind, with no shadow of shame, as my first unconscious sexual awakening. Looking back at recorded chart history, I can pinpoint this event around late 1974. I would have been not quite three years old.
That same chart history allows me to pinpoint the second Top of the Pops memory, my earliest Bowie memory, a year later in the autumn of 1975 as my young bones hurtled towards the threshold of four. I remember a film clip about a spaceman in his rocket and a song which, even at that age, was very easy to understand about an astronaut named Major Tom who ends up stuck floating in space. Closing my eyes, I can recall the toddler-raw sensation of witnessing something colourful, exotic and slightly cartoon-like while hearing something beautiful, sad and unsettlingly serious. Sunny Spain, this wasn't.
That memory is crystal clear but, some years later, I was thrown into initial confusion to learn that the song I'd seen on Top of the Pops was called 'Space Oddity' and, as all books consulted told me, was released in 1969. I wasn't yet alive in 1969, a detail which played havoc with my young mind, forcing me to question whether I'd imagined the whole thing.
Until the reassuring truth. Though released in 1969, shortly after the launch of NASA's Apollo 11 mission when it reached number ten, 'Space Oddity' was re-released in September 1975 to become David Bowie's first UK number one single. As I'd witnessed. It's a chronological anomaly I now understand as typical of Bowie. Like a fourth dimension unto himself, he laughs in the face of conventional space and time, whose script, as he always warned us, is 'you and me, boy'.
In March 2013, that script is just him. This week he releases his first new album in ten years, The Next Day. Later this month, a landmark exhibition opens at the Victoria & Albert museum which, until late July, becomes the unofficial South Kensington Temple Of The Dame. He stares, again, from the magazine stands, that ever-entrancing odd-eyed stare which says (as he once did at a London press conference in 1987) "Hello, I'm David Bowie and you're not." His name falls from the lips of BBC, Sky and ITN newsreaders astonished by his recent return, some of them mispronouncing his name with an "ow!" rather than an "oh!" as "Bow-ee" (as very nearly all Scottish people still do). The media pandemic becomes so widespread that one morning my radio dial rests upon John Suchet who, between Brahms and Beethoven, talks about David Bowie. On Classic FM.
More than a singer, a pop star, an artist, an icon, a maypole for nostalgia, an enigma, an extraterrestrial, a duke, a goblin king, something that only he is and we're not, David Bowie is, once again, the oxygen of our culture. Right now it's hard to remember during the last ten Bowieless years how we ever breathed without him. His hour is upon us. The pips have sounded. At the third stroke of March 2013 the time will be Bowie O'Clock precisely.
Rewind to roughly three years ago and I have the idea to write a book about Ziggy Stardust because I've reached the conclusion it was the greatest idea in the history of pop music. I come up with the title Ziggyology and a hope that it will be published in 2013 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the "death" of Ziggy as staged by Bowie at the Hammersmith Odeon on Tuesday 3rd July 1973. That book is now finished and with spectacularly odd, coincidental, unplanned but perversely perfect timing, it too lands at the end of this month not merely as an anniversary huzzah for his most famous alien alter ego but within the unexpectedly contemporary stroke of Bowie O'Clock, March 2013.
The subtitle of Ziggyology is 'A Brief History Of Ziggy Stardust'. The back cover will tell you that it is to be filed under 'Music/Biography'. I myself would probably describe it as 'Space Opera/Rock 'N' Roll Cartoon'. As I also say in the preface, 'This book is mostly the story of Ziggy Stardust but only sometimes the story of David Bowie.'
Sometimes the story of David Bowie is simply his story. But other times, like now, when those of us who really do have trouble breathing without him are in serious danger of over-gorging in a paroxysm of hyper-sensory bliss, the story of David Bowie is quite simply history in the making. Because he and he alone will always be David Bowie. And no, we're not.
Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust is published on 28th March by Ebury Press.
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