Saturday, 16 January 2016

Rosalie and David Bowie, 1973

I don't know if you heard, but David Bowie died. I have many, many feels about this, some of which I tried to put into words over on the Blog of Me.

Right now, I also feel a bit conflicted about posting this, but I'm going to do so less for self-promotion and more for 'Hey, this is a thing' that I already did because I didn't need him to die to appreciate his brilliance...

Walking in the Shadowlands is a novel about a 1970s rock band, so of course Bowie gets namedropped and makes an indirect appearance or two. This is a snippet of the moment where Rosalie first sees that strange character Ziggy Stardust on a hotel TV.

Despite having worked for years before, Bowie seemed like an overnight sensation in the early 70s. The profound effect his appearance on Top of the Pops in 1972 when he and the band played "Starman" can hardly be exaggerated. It was almost like that moment in the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy arrives in Oz and the world transforms from sepia to glorious technicolour... or like someone decided to colour in the greyscale painting that was the UK at that time.


January 1973. Manchester, UK.
The last time Rosalie had seen David Bowie, she had been working at the Marquee while he played a number of shows. She remembered him as a mousy-haired man with a typical combination of earnest creativity and sharp desire for fame. One of many.

Stuck in a hotel in Manchester, too tired to do anything but watch Top of the Pops, she was reassured that it was business as usual on Pops: disposable dreck made for weeny- and teeny-boppers too inexperienced to know better.

She watched bored and appalled, until Bowie and his group took to the stage to perform ”The Jean Genie”. She could hardly believe her eyes: he was a strange, thin, eyebrow-less creature with a plume of artificially red hair and a single chandelier earring. Her mouth dropped open as she sat transfixed by his prettily angular face and wondered if he’d visited the planet Hendrix had gone home to.

The guitarist was Mick Ronson, another face she remembered from the Marquee. He was wearing a
gold suit which exposed his chest almost down to the navel, but she cared more about the infectious guitar riff and jumpy chords from his familiar fingers.

One of the cameramen was using a fish-eye lens to distort the image, but he hardly needed help to make it look weird. Rosalie found it hard to believe that such thing was on national television. Whatever were normal people making of it?

Unable to look away, halfway through she called Twain in his room. No answer, so she tried Liam, who answered on the first ring.

‘Are you watching-’

‘It’s fantastic. Twain looks fit to spit.’

‘He’s there?’

‘Yeah. Come on over.’

‘Once Bowie’s finished.’ She put the receiver back in the cradle and focused back on the song. Was it in fact possible to dress up like a Christmas Tree from Outer Space and make fantastic music? Bowie looked like it was possible.

Twain and Byrne were still staring at the TV when she went to them afterwards.

‘What do you think?’ she asked.

‘I think Bowie just changed the rules,’ Liam said soberly. ‘I mean, he’s the Newley-alike who did the Laughing Gnome! When did he turn into this? It’s…’

Rosalie sighed, enchanted beyond rational thought. ‘It’s wonderful.’

‘Yeah.’ Twain shook his hair. ‘Well… I’ve always liked dressing up.’

‘You surprise me,’ she replied dryly.


This is an excerpt from Walking in the Shadowlands by Clare Worley. It goes without saying that the intellectual property is hers and hers alone.

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Most of all: Thanks to Bowie for helping light up the world, for helping the rest of us weirdos and freaks embrace our own oddity. Special mention in this instance also to the always tremendous Mick Ronson, and to Mick Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder. There is no Ziggy without the Spiders.

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