My Life as a Costumed Adventurer
To find a fictionalised version of oneself as a central character in a popular novel must be a singular thing; even more so if that version of ‘you’ was a self-constructed persona in the first place. But such is the extraordinarily postmodern fate to befall one Michael Warren, creator of Ziggy Hero, protagonist of Harland Miller’s excellent rite of passage novel Slow Down, Arthur, Stick to Thirty.
Harland and Michael, David Bowie fans both, were contemporaries in turn-of-the-’80s York. Harland loved Bowie’s Ziggy but he loved Michael’s Ziggy the more for his trial-by-localness. No swanking in NYC for t’Zig. He, fedora clad, walked the mean streets of Leeds and inhabited unsavoury Northern nightclubs.
Miller aficionados will know Ziggy’s ‘story’ but few will have chanced to hear his music – sounds which captured Harland’s imagination, becoming his novelistic well-spring. Meantime, Warren himself, perhaps best understood as a proto-Jarvis Cocker, remains an elusive figure, overshadowed by both his own and Harland’s versions of his alter-ego.
Assembled from old master tapes and lost demos, this compilation effectively soundtracks Miller’s book, dividing neatly between Warren’s Ziggy incarnation and his later, proto-lounge oeuvre – the ex-Zigster having, necessarily, gone through some innovative ch-ch-ch-changes.
“Warren himself, perhaps best understood as a proto-Jarvis Cocker, remains an elusive gure, overshadowed by both his own and Harland’s version of his alter-ego.”
Last things first; the lounge material is something of a curate’s egg. I’m unconvinced the world really needed a remake of Jim Dale’s ‘Dick-A-Dum-Dum (Kings Road)’ but ‘Holiday’ is a heartrendingly brief, Bill Fay-like postcard of a song, while the saxophone-rich, romantically insouciant and insanely catchy ‘Didja?’ screams “Campari and soda all round!”
The corks really pop, however, for Warren’s Ziggy period. Fey of voice and heavy of riff are Man Who Sold the World candidates ‘Muscle for Me’, ‘Something, Everything’ and ‘Antique’. Better still are the punk-tempo outsider call-to-arms of ‘ The Apart Man’ and the gloriously yearning ballad ‘Neon Light’, although the piece de resistance is the sinuously creepy ‘What Caspar Did’. From its blistering Mick Ronsonesque guitar intro, this lament to Northern thuggery anticipates Morrissey’s ‘First of the Gang to Die’ by decades, debunks ‘glamorous’ violence with its dismissive flick line “he won’t live a day too long…” and archly documents the sense of fear that too frequently stalked the bright young things of that era. An entirely classic ‘this is how it was, this is how we felt’ song.
All in all, an invaluable curio for lovers of Miller’s novel, then, rendered more than a mere curiosity by Warren’s transitory genius in creating an ‘earthed’ version of Bowie, one whose songs, perhaps denied the launch pad of Space Oddity, dealt with as much street dust as stardust.
So if, when the long-mooted film of Arthur is finally made, ‘Caspar’ doesn’t play as the credits roll I, for one, will be ripping up those seats!
— KEIRON PHELAN