❚ DAVID BOWIE HAS BEEN THE SINGLE MOST INFLUENTIAL FORCE IN POPULAR MUSIC SINCE [Fill in the benchmark of your choice, eg:] Mozart/ Schubert/ Marie Lloyd/ Gershwin/ Little Richard/ Sondheim/ Spinal Tap. In which case, this Christmas there can be no better present for anybody with the slightest interest in the godlike creator of Ziggy Stardust than Kevin Cann’s new photobook Any Day Now, The London Years 1947-1974 (Adelita, £25).
It is impossible adequately to acknowledge the trainspotterish, yet deeply rewarding scope of this sheer labour of love that has amassed 850 pictures — friends, lovers, costumes, contracts, doodles, laundry bills, performances, candid snaps — on 336 pages. Why, it even has a backstage photo I’ve never seen of the day I met Bowie at the London Palladium when he sang Space Oddity for charity (and met the cult ukulele player Tiny Tim, going on to record one of his B-sides, Fill Your Heart, on Hunky Dory).
This book is a feast of Bowie-ana served up like La Grande Bouffe, in ever more tempting waffeur-thin slices. Cann is a veteran chronicler of the pop star’s work and here neither attempts a long-form biography, nor detracts from Nicholas Pegg’s much more musically appreciative survey, The Complete David Bowie, last updated in 2006. Any Day Now is more a chronology that feels as if it has an entry for every day in the star’s first three decades, running to 140,000 words (original interviews, press reports, eye-witness accounts), all diced and dispersed through the calendar. Contributions include a foreword by Kenneth Pitt, Bowie’s gifted manager 1967-1970.
A typical spread [see below] might contain six images and as many short items, some of which are set in a font so small as to demand a magnifying glass for reading. An efficient index helps you to pick your topic and start panning for gold.
So for example, the “seminal” filmed version of Space Oddity, Bowie’s biggest hit, that has been exhumed then forgotten four times in the past 40 years, is finally accounted for in all its charmingly improvised glory. Since 2005, we have been able nonchalantly to click on YouTube to view this paradigm of all pop videos dating from before the word was invented. Yet originally it was a mere segment in a half-hour TV film about Bowie titled Love You Till Tuesday (LYTT) and directed by Malcolm Thomson.
While America was testing its first unmanned Apollo Lunar Module in 1968, the Space Oddity segment was of course inspired by that year’s visionary 70mm movie release, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. Cann’s chronology documents Thomson filming what Bowie evidently intended as a tongue-in-cheek spoof from its conception in Oct ’68 to wrap in Feb ’69. Bowie wrote the song itself, a forelorn meditation on love and fame, as his own love-life was falling apart and after viewing the Kubrick film “while stoned” (allegedly) that January, six months before the first Moon landing.
Ultimately in a studio in Greenwich, Bowie dons a barely-plausible zip-up silver space suit, blue visored helmet and Major Tom breast-plate while Samantha Bond and Suzanne Mercer as Barbarella-esque astro angels (more ’68 iconography), flaunting ludicrous blonde wigs and diaphanous gowns, simulate weightlessness among inflatable plastic furniture. It’s a modest little dig at Swinging 60s ephemera to set beside Barbarella, Blow-up and the incomparable Modesty Blaise.
Despite the single spending 14 weeks in the charts in 1969 and reaching No 5, Cann reports, TV networks showed “no interest” in the film, LYTT, containing this musical jewel, so it did not have its first public airing until 1972, on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. It then vanished until 1975 and the re-issue of Space Oddity when the clip was supplied as a promo to broadcasters, which doubtless helped the song’s progress to No 1 in the charts. Even then, the film clip did not receive a release until an album of same name, LYTT, came along in 1984. We then had an even longer wait until a DVD release in 2005 delivered the remastered version we enjoy today.
❏ Not many people know this, 1 – In the same month, Feb 1969, Bowie auditioned for the hippy stage musical Hair! Twice! [Any Day Now, page 146]
❏ Not many people know this, 2 – The book’s timeline ends in 1974 because Bowie left the UK on March 29 that year, aged 27, and has never resumed residency here since. Sob! Onboard the SS France bound for New York, the harmonica legend and Gershwin protege Larry Adler gives a recital. When the crew hear that Bowie is not going to do likewise while aboard and express their disappointment, Bowie gives them an impromptu performance in the canteen: 10 songs including Space Oddity. A few crew members took instruments and they played with him. What a jam session that must have been!
➢ Why there will never be another David Bowie — Caspar Llewellyn-Smith says Lady Gaga has got it wrong if she thinks the Thin White Duke’s brilliance comes down merely to striking a decent pose (from The Observer, Oct 10, 2010)
➢ Review in the Guardian: Two Bowie biographies shed new light on the career of pop’s greatest chameleon, but the man himself remains elusive