Is David Bowie Literature?

COVER_SATURN (jpeg)

The answer, judging by Simon Jacobs’ new book Saturn, is most certainly yes. With a tiny bit of authorial nudging, Ziggy Stardust the literary hero lights up the page as brightly as the rocker did the stage.

Given Bowie’s showy antics and multiple personalities, you might expect a chapbook filled entirely with stories about “David Bowie” to depart on long, fantastic tangents, sending its protagonist into even-more-unbelievable territory. But Jacobs shrewdly does the opposite. He seems to have researched the entire corpus of Bowiana (cited in the acknowledgements: “the many editions of The Complete David Bowie”) and condensed it into a single bookmark, studded with bibliographic notes, that accompanies the book and offers scholarly proof of its accuracy. So when Jacobs writes, in “David Bowie in a Baconian Nightmare” that “He can no longer tell his screaming face from the background,” you may rest assured that he probably found evidence of some such moment in the historical record, and he adapted it to suit his writerly aims. The same goes for Jacobs’ longer stories. This is from “David Bowie Takes a Commercial Space Flight”:

It has taken over fifty years to reach this point. When David Bowie hears the countdown in his headset, each number hits him like a cold bullet and brings him a step closer to 1969, to his first hit, to the inside joke that made him a star. Later, as they’re unraveled into orbit—the sixty-minute spacewalk for which he’s paid almost everything—David Bowie turns slowly in less-than-gravity to face his wife, Somali supermodel Iman (for whom he has written songs, unlike this one), only to find that in her spacesuit and helmet she has lost virtually all form.

A voice crackles through his headset, “I love you, Dave,” but it is a voice he doesn’t recognize. He reaches out and touches her shoulder through six layers of Gore-Tex, nylon, and Mylar. The sensation is like pressing into a fossil.

Saturn is the best kind of tribute and the best kind of literature: a canny reinvention of a mythic hero. Whatever we can imagine, Bowie probably got there first. His life is more fabulous than fiction. But even he needs a skilled observer like Jacobs to tell his story—to turn Ziggy Stardust into literature, and literature into rock and roll.

Get this book.

We’ll be right here, watching David Bowie clips.

– Brian Hurley

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