I am a still-might-be-something-one-day musician. My story with music began with my mother’s vinyl record collection. It contained tons of records from hot jazz to heavy metal but, there were six records that she allowed me to steal into my hiding place where I kept my record player and headphone cans. Hunky Dory was that album, Bowie’s fourth but, my first. I put this album on as I wrote this review, and wore those ancient, yellowing plastic speakers with the slinky, telephone headset spring curled wire plug on my head as I typed.
Reinhard Kleist’s Starman – Bowie’s Stardust Years is a masterful synthesizing of all those changes and forces that assisted in the first birth of the artist that we know as David Bowie. Only a Pretty Thing, who learned about Life On Mars, could have done this.
Art, panel design, inking and coloring is very reminiscent of other British 60’s comic titles, especially the Eagle titles of their 1950 to 1969 period. Artist Frank Hampson would be proud. Tones of grey flashbacks and Bowie’s childhood contrast with day-glow dreams of Ziggy’s rise from dream to reality. A spark of inspiration is supposed to do that, right? Ignite that fire of passion from ordinary raw materials into technicolor brilliance and warmth.
Every panel seems to have that vacuum tube hum. You watch the stage be set, lights still dark but, human movement draws your eyes. Clicks of switches make amplifiers and speakers hum and power lights glow in the dim. You hear plans being discussed as if they are not in the same room. David’s brother Terry is the roadie. He is the one with the Coltrane records. The Alien is fed by such nourishment, eager for more. Terry understands and brings Davy to his first jazz concert. This seals David’s path. From his signature eye injury, to misunderstanding middle class slightly posh parents, to his first feelings of intimacy with all genders, Ziggy yearns to be free of this monochromatic world of soul slavery. Then, BAM, you are warp slung forward into the liftoff moment with a power chord of colors and Tops Of The Pops. Ziggy pointing into the camera and then, into pink, silken sheets with David’s grounding muse.
The whole of the book follows that dynamic. A dramatic wave between what is drab reality and brilliant truth that weaves together the foundation of the person who became one, if not the greatest artist of any generation, past, present or future.
Kleist’s scripting also follow this pattern. They mix fact, spoken interview snippets, news articles, film archival footage and Bowie’s lyrics into a tale that is so real that you would swear the author was a friend of Gallifrey, or owned a TARDIS capsule themselves. Even the tone of the dialogue in your head has the accents you would expect from people of South Bromley and London of the late 50’s and 60’s. As Bowie grows and expands, so does the story, in a natural progression of chords and notes that mirrored Bowie’s rise from working class to rock-star divinity. Nothing ever feels forced or staged in the text. You are there at the table with Lou Reed, sharing smokes with Iggy Pop and going home again to a mother who does not understand gender expression. You are there for everything. For the highest highs that Ziggy reaches and for the lowest nadirs that David Jones crashes into with fears of mental illness, stardom excess to self immolation that leads to just another star child rebirth. Who knew that the 1969 film 2001 was David Bowie’s creative life cycle? Kleist did.
I cannot wait to see the next chapter of Bowie’s saga penned and drawn by Reinhard Kleist, titled “LOW” David Bowie’s Berlin Years”. But, pick up extra copies of “Starman – Bowie’s Stardust Years” from Self Made Hero to hand out to friends. This book should be a required primer for any foundling rock-star of the 21st century. And it has helped to remind this Queen Bitch that it is never too late for another rebirth of truth.