With David Bowie’s recent passing, we have forever lost his recollections of creating some of the greatest and most influential music ever. More than any other artist, Bowie’s records were the ones that reset the cultural clock on what was cool and hip and the direction in which music would head. It is a tragedy we won’t hear “his” story; that loss cannot be overstated.
And though “Space Oddity” was his first “big” hit, and drummer Woody Woodmansey played on The Man Who Sold The World and the great Hunky Dory, it was the The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars that put Bowie front and center. Of the band behind him on that record, guitarist Mick Ronson died very prematurely in 1993 and bassist Trevor Bolder passed just recently in 2013. That leaves drummer Woody Woodmansey’s book Spider From Mars: My Life With Bowie as the sole account (until producer Tony Visconti writes his memoirs) of the group that recorded Bowie’s epic concept record, and birthed the first — and perhaps most famous — of his many alter egos.
And so, the sole first-hand account of one of rock's greatest records is told by the country boy from Hull. Woodmansey clearly loved, and loves, music, and that’s the focus of his story. Sex and some drugs (but definitely more drink!) wander through this rock’n’roll tale now and again, but Woody’s book is about the power of music, his belief in Bowie as an artist, and his friendship — musical and otherwise — with guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist Trevor Bolder. Ronson was also from Hull and the two are clearly cut from the same cloth and lean on each other throughout their lives. Woody’s love of drumming and music are apparent from the outset; his admiration and his regard for Bowie and his art are likewise worn on his sleeve.
Surpisingly, I learned a few things about Bowie that I hadn’t known, such as during tours, he would travel by steamship or train due to a fear of flying. Or, in a new low for the ever-opportunistic Bowie, how the singer fired Woodmansey from the band — by phone, during his wedding reception. To his credit, Woody would eventually forgive Bowie, and by the way, Ronson, who was with Bowie on the other end of the call. Woodmansey’s post-Bowie career is, fittingly, a working man’s story; more bands, more gigs (including Bowie’s Aladdin Sane), and more tours that would never equal being “Ziggy’s band.” Eventually, he would find himself back with Bowie producer Tony Visconti in Holy Holy, a band who would play 1970's The Man Who Sold The World in its entirety and some classics from the Ziggy record. That band would be on the road when the news of Bowie’s death broke, and, after much discussion, they played their scheduled gig two nights later as a celebration of the singer.
Pick your drummer cliche; sturdy, steady, no frills, etc. and they are all apropos. Woody’s memoir is a solid, if at times unspectacular account of what it’s like to play in one of the all-time great rock and roll bands. Named the Spiders from Mars.
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