One of David Bowie’s former drummers recalls his brief and occasionally baffling tenure with Ziggy Stardust.
Woodmansey kept the beat for Bowie during his meteoric rise to stardom in the early 1970s, playing on classic albums like “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Hunky Dory,” “Ziggy Stardust,” and “Aladdin Sane.” But he was initially skeptical when he got Bowie’s call to move to London from Yorkshire in northern England, where he’d apprenticed under Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson: Woodmansey had just been offered a stable job as an eyeglass-factory manager, and Bowie was a quirky one-hit wonder (“Space Oddity”) without a clear trajectory. By throwing in his lot with Bowie, Woodmansey hit the glam-rock jackpot, touring the world and honing his craft. However, as his workmanlike memoir shows, it didn’t gain him much insight into the bandleader himself: he recalls being oblivious to Bowie’s growing cocaine use and remembers him as a hands-off frontman who never wanted more than a handful of takes and trusted his sidemen to handle arrangements (only on “Panic in Detroit” did he deliver explicit directions about the drum sound). Woodmansey has some tart complaints about his low wages and sudden firing (on his wedding day, no less) from the Spiders from Mars in 1973. But his memoir is generally absent of bile, as the author prefers to riff on tour pranks, drum technique, and—especially—clothing and makeup, which played a significant role in the group’s rising fame. (The first thing Woodmansey noticed upon meeting Bowie was his clothing.) Hard-core fans might thrill to the minutiae about Bowie’s classic period, but even they might be tempted to tune out the writer’s praise for Scientology and his dry accounting of post-Bowie stints leading the cult band U-Boat, backing Art Garfunkel, and playing in a tribute band to his late meal ticket.
A genial if surface-level glimpse into a brief but critical period of Bowie’s career.