The Laughing Gnome

After a bit of a mad rush towards the end of June, I’ve now had a bit of time (thanks monsoon) to watch a few of the music movies and documentaries that have I’ve been hoarding on my computer. Wasn’t a bad way to spend a Friday night.

First, I dug into BBC Four’s “David Bowie & The Story of Ziggy Stardust”. Bowie’s trio of brilliant albums (The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars) is the main focus of the film, but there’s also an interesting “how did he get here” introduction.

It turns out that Our Dave was a bit of a determined type. Never one to give up on his dream. No matter how shitty it got. Remember, this is pre-‘Fame’ (for those of us old enough to remember the original) and definitely two generations before the chunder-enducing, cardboard, bullshit-reality of “Glee” (sidenote – is it OK to hate something you’ve never seen? It must be, eh? I mean, I’ve never seen David Cameron or Thatcher in the flesh, but that’s not to stop me knowing that they’re a pair of c***s, is it?), but it turns out that DB would do almost anything to make it big. Singing, dancing, acting, playing 53 instruments, writing songs about gnomes. You name it Dave’d do it.

Including this nugget from 1967 – The Laughing Gnome

After “at least half a dozen failures”, Bowie struck it big with TMWSTW and Hunky Dory albums in quick succession. It’s at this point we see the influence of the New York/Warhol Scene how seamlessly Bowie fitted into all that pretentious, androgynous, shagfest.

The Velvet Underground and Iggy, a couple of uber-arty types called Buttercup and  Sasquatch (or some such) babbling on about how everyone was poking everyone else, producing Lou Reed’s “Transformer” album, Mott The Hoople, Elton John (in awe at being able to do vocals in three takes or less) and Gary Kemp gushing at the seams. Good times indeed.

The culmination of the documentary (well narrated by top Sheffield ‘sorted for e’s and whizz’ fella, Jarvis Cocker) gets into the bones of the Ziggy Stardust album, the relationship with with band (The Spiders From Mars), how they travelled the world, the band got shafted by Bowie and his dodgy car-salesman manager (best quote of the film comes from Bowie’s drummer Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey when he finds out that a salaried session player in the band is getting three times more than he is and confronts the manager, Tony DeFries, and he’s told “I’d rather pay the road crew more than you…”), the screaming teenagers, the whole “I created a monster” thing. It’s all entertaining stuff and manages to tie up all the loose ends regarding this part of Bowie’s career.

However, a  few flaws of note. Bowie is not featured in the docu himself. Not once. Not a recent interview, not an interview when he was Davie Jones, and unfortunately not one with him and the gnome. I think to hear from the man himself would have been the icing on the cake, so to speak. It’s a bit of an empty vessel (or some kind of posthumous tribute?) without any contributions from the man behind the bright red hair and without this we don’t really get a true reflection of who or what Ziggy was? It’s all just third-party related “I was there” or “I wish I was there” anecdotal stuff that some becomes a bit dull. It’s also really short on the genius of Mick Ronson and his relationship with Bowie/Ziggy and how that ended.

It could have had a bit more music in it too.

Bowie is (or at least was) something unique. A great frontman, totally OTT, and didn’t care that he was ‘shocking the nation’ (although the cynic in me says that that’s what rock’n’roll’s supposed to do).

It’s an enjoyable hour. Well told, interesting characters, great rock’n’roll, bonkers stuff from the 70’s that we’ll never see the likes of again, and a man in a dress pushing a pram.  Who said concept albums were boring?

PS -I downloaded mine from Pirate Bay if you want a better copy.


Author: From a Late Night Train

Teacher. Musician. Ponderer. Had lived in Seoul, South Korea since 2000. Moved back to Glasgow, Scotland in May 2017.

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