Music production elder statesman Jon Brewer brings us the beside-the-scenes story of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars guitarist (and so much more) Mick Ronson in his gripping documentary Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story. Even though I’ve been a Bowie fan for decades, it’s new material for me. The first part of the film is great fun with the origin story of Ziggy. Ronson’s raw fiery guitar was the spark behind Bowie’s turn to rock and ultimately established rock credentials for him.
Ronson was a blue collar rough boy working as a gardener in Hull, England when Bowie heard of him and called him to come chat about playing guitar for him.
“Ronson’s raw fiery guitar was the spark behind Bowie’s turn to rock and ultimately established rock credentials for him.”
The documentary implies that the Ziggy band was poorly paid and managed and that Bowie’s famous Rock and Roll Suicide end of Ziggy was as much a financial as artistic choice when the band began to demand more pay.
After Ziggy Mick Ronson went out on his own but stardom and financial success eluded him. It’s frustrating and sad to see his native virtuoso talent squandered to bad management and his own lack of industry savvy. He had people around him to advise him. His inner circle was made up of English and American rock royalty: Ian Hunter, Lou Reed, Joe Elliot, Rick Wakeman, Tony Visconti, Queen, Earl Slick, Dylan, Mike Garson and the like. He worked with them and produced amazing music, but never achieved fame or financial security. Those were party days and business was left to producers and managers. That was a mistake that Bowie himself learned from and corrected: later in his career he took over the business himself. Ronno never got the note.
“Without Ronson there’d have been no Ziggy.”
Angie Bowie as an aging manic pixie dream girl is scary as fuck. She’s still incredibly intense, having never turned the volume down. Good for a documentary, probably bad for a shared transatlantic flight. She provides color and first hand anecdotes of Bowie and Mick.
Without Ronson there’d have been no Ziggy. Without Ziggy, Bowie’s genius would have languished unknown and underrated in the art-pop backwaters with acts like Klaus Nomi. Sadly Ronson died essentially broke with his full story yet to be told. It seems Bowie did what he could to help but Ronson was just too much the artist and too little the businessman.
The image Brewer leaves us with is powerful. Near the end of his life Mick Ronson joined Bowie and Queen onstage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert and played Heroes with his friend and partner right where he should have been all along: beside Bowie.
Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story (2017) Directed by Jon Brewer. Written by Scott Rowley. Starring Mick Ronson, David Bowie, Angie Bowie.
8 out of 10