Sub­texts

Ja­son Heller presents Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Mu­sic, and the Decade Sci-Fi Ex­ploded at the Jean Cocteau Cin­ema

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER -

Is there life on Mars? Whether you get your sci­ence fic­tion fix from lit­er­a­ture or film, you can’t ar­gue that the genre has been pop­u­lar in those two medi­ums. But what about mu­sic? The cen­tral premise of Hugo Award-win­ning au­thor Ja­son Heller’s new book Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Mu­sic, and the

Decade Sci-Fi Ex­ploded is that mu­sic, too, be­came a prime source for nar­ra­tives of dystopian fu­tures, close en­coun­ters, and jour­neys to the stars. In the mu­sic world, Bowie’s al­ter-ego Ziggy Star­dust rained down rock ‘n’ roll from the strato­sphere.

From the start, Heller presents the rise of sci-fi mu­sic as in­tri­cately linked to cin­ema and lit­er­a­ture, par­tic­u­larly be­cause its mu­si­cal lu­mi­nar­ies grew up im­mersed in the genre. In the decade be­fore the Bri­tish in­va­sion of pop mu­sic, young David Jones, as Bowie was known then, was hooked on TV shows like the Bernard Qu­ater­mass se­ries and the slightly later, long-run­ning Doc­tor Who. In lit­er­a­ture, be­yond the im­pact of au­thors like Robert Hein­lein, Philip K. Dick, and Frank Her­bert on the coun­ter­cul­ture, Heller writes about the in­flu­ence of Santa Fe writer Roger Ze­lazny, Arthur C. Clarke, and pop­u­lar sci-fi mag­a­zines like New Worlds. These mag­a­zines gave voice to a new wave of sci­ence-fic­tion writ­ers who were in­flu­enced by, as Heller writes, “the am­bi­gu­ity and de­con­struc­tive dark­ness of Wil­liam S. Bur­roughs.”

While Bowie may be Heller’s cor­ner­stone, and pro­gres­sive rock a ma­jor ve­hi­cle for interstellar fan­tasy and oth­er­worldly odd­i­ties, Heller delves into less ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples of sci­ence fic­tion mu­sic in reg­gae and jazz and in the mu­sic of the Bea­tles, Jimi Hen­drix, and even John Coltrane. Heller traces an in­flu­en­tial genre that’s so rich and vast — and so con­vinc­ingly elu­ci­dated — that he has you not only reach­ing for all your old records and lis­ten­ing anew but won­der­ing why you never re­ally saw sci-fi’s sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on pop­u­lar mu­sic be­fore.

Heller makes an ap­pear­ance at Jean Cocteau Cin­ema to sign copies of Strange Stars at 6 p.m. on Tues­day, Sept. 18. The en­try fee is $10. — Michael Abatemarco Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Mu­sic, and the Decade Sci-Fi Ex­ploded by Ja­son Heller was pub­lished in June by Melville House Press.

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