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Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy Played Guitar… And Read a lot Too

by Kate Tigue

It’s been over two months since legendary rock star David Bowie passed away at the early age of sixty-nine after a near two year battle with cancer. Fans around the world were devastated and shocked as the notoriously private musician didn’t share much about his personal life with the media and his death proved to be no exception. Bowie was so reclusive that it is not even known what type of cancer he had. We do know one thing for sure from Bowie’s public statements and interviews: his love of music was only paralleled by his love of reading. Yup, the world’s biggest rock star was also an obsessive bibliophile. In 1998, Vanity Fair magazine published Bowie’s answers to the infamous Proust Questionnaire. The first question asks “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” Bowie responded simply, “Reading”.

David Bowie also seemed to have an affinity for libraries. The singer once described himself as “a born librarian with a sex drive” (Hey! Librarians are people too, Mr. Bowie!). He also had a library in his home and supposedly had kept every book he’d ever bought or been given in a warehouse. In 1987, Bowie went public with his love of libraries by agreeing to pose for the American Library Association’s (ALA) celebrity “READ” posters. After his death, ALA was so inundated with requests for the classic poster that the organization’s graphics department has issued a limited-run reprinting. The Morrill Memorial Library currently has one framed and hanging in the young adult room so come check it out!

Looking for more David Bowie? Currently, the Morrill Memorial Library subscribes to Hoopla, an online digital streaming service that is only available to Norwood residents with a valid email address. Hoopla provides free easy access to stream and temporarily download thousands of movies, TV shows, music albums, audiobooks, ebooks and comics to your mobile device or computer. For example, if you are craving some classic Bowie, why not check out his entire back catalog on Hoopla? It’s easy! You can sign up for a Hoopla account by clicking on the Hoopla quicklink on the right side of the library’s website, Have your library card at the ready to sign up after you watch our simple how-to-video or read our step-by-step instructions. Once you have signed up for a Hoopla account, you should also download Hoopla’s free mobile app for iOS, Android, or Kindle devices so you can access your Hoopla titles on the go with your phone or tablet. Now you are ready to go! Every Norwood resident may check out up to ten titles per month with their Hoopla account.

Hoopla has more than just music. Looking for some of the music and books that influenced Bowie? Check out the audiobook of Walter Tevis’ 1963 classic, “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” This science fiction novel features the story of the extraterrestrial Thomas Jerome Newton who comes to earth in order to save humanity but only finds loneliness, rejection and ultimately, tragedy. David Bowie once said, “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I always felt puny as a human. […] I want to be superhuman”. Bowie later used his amazing talent to combine this desire with Tevis’ story to create the concept behind his fifth studio album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” and, later on, the persona of Ziggy Stardust he used to perform on stage. Bowie also starred in his first major role as Newton in the 1976 film adaptation of Tevis’ novel, also titled “The Man Who Fell To Earth.”

Needless to say, David Bowie’s expansive musical range influenced a great number of recording artists who came after him. Like many of us who grew up after the height of Bowie’s fame had waned, I was introduced to him through secondary sources. During their legendary appearance on MTV’s popular “Unplugged” program, 90s mega-band Nirvana covered Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” featuring Kurt Cobain’s supremely haunting vocals. Although Bowie had never met Cobain, he always wondered why Nirvana chose to cover that particular song and praised Cobain’s interpretation, saying “that he [Cobain] did a good, straight-forward rendition and somehow sounded very honest”. High praise indeed. Millenials and GenXers can also thank Wes Anderson for introducing us to Bowie’s music via Seu Gorge’s Portuguese language covers on the soundtrack for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Seu Jorge is a Brazilian musician who was featured in Anderson’s 2004 film as part of fictional oceanographer Steve Zissou’s ship crew, often in the background playing guitar and singing Bowie songs in Portuguese. His cover of “Life on Mars” is both beautiful and devastating.

Finally, if David Bowie felt he had the soul of a librarian, he certainly showed it when he compiled a bibliography of his top one hundred favorite books. The list shows off Bowie’s intellectual prowess as well as his eclectic tastes in genre from non fiction (“A People’s History Of The United States” by Howard Zinn) to true crime (“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote) to classics (“Vile Bodies” by Evelyn Waugh) to the quirky (“Private Eye” magazine). The full list can be found on Bowie’s website, where fans are encouraged to form Bowie Book Clubs! One of the reasons for David Bowie’s immense popularity is his ability and his music’s ability to relate to so many people from all walks of life and after his death, many groups are eager to claim him as one of their own. But he definitely was a librarian at heart. Rest in peace, Starman.

Kate Tigue is a Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the March17th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Alli Palmgren

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