On one of my many walks through Soho last week, I stumbled upon a bookshop and went in. I was seeking something, though exactly what, I wasn’t sure until I saw the cover and the book’s title, named after a song I remember hearing as a kid so many times. Starman by Paul Trynka is not the first Bowie biography, and I doubt it will be the last, but it’s the first one I’ve ever read about him.
Personally speaking, I knew I was on the right track the day I realised one of Bowie’s iconic songs included the surname of the persona Julian adopts. On a novel footnote, Julian’s persona is a conglomerate of many rockstars, but of course, one is unable to write a novel set in the world of rock music without being inspired by Bowie, the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll shape-shifter.
The biography is a gripping read, from start to finish. To someone like me, who only knew bits here and there, it paints a much larger picture, giving you insight as to how and why he became an icon but it also showed me another side. His many failures before Ziggy.
I had no idea how many times Bowie failed to achieve what he had set out to do. Each time, he started again. He had an almost otherworldly sense of his destiny or maybe, he was more confident that most. Whatever the reason, the man never gave up. He also became a sponge, absorbing many different influences. Varied genres of music. Art. Theatre. Dancing. He was not one-dimensional and I think that is key to his success.
There’s also mention of the moment his features were transformed, during a fight with his best friend George Underwood, who punched him over a girl. Whilst the experience was a harrowing one (he needed several operations), the unfortunate event gave his already unconventional looks an additional quirk.
Striking, described as ‘this fey, elfin creature’ by his then girlfriend Hermione. Bowie tried several looks, until he finally came up with something nobody had seen before. The iconic moment when he and his band performed in a Top of The Pops 1972 show is wonderful to read, and makes one long for being one of the lucky ones who were there to witness it. Like Beatlemania, this was the moment where rock history changed forever.
For someone like me, who was called names by other kids in my neighbourhood for riding my bicycle dressed all in black, in 1976, (in a Catholic country where black was only worn at funerals) Ziggy and others, like Freddie Mercury, with their electric flamboyance, made us feel like it was okay to be different.
Ziggy continues to be a great inspiration to me, even to this day, and thus, when doing research for my novel, I find no better artist to research than the amazing, iconic, ever-changing Bowie.
Here to those who may have never seen it, it the 1972 Top of the Pops perfomance, I speak of.