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Simon Jacobs

Simon Jacobs lives in New York City. His first book, SATURN, a collection of David Bowie stories, is out now from Spork Press.


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David Bowie Changes


I have always been very affected by pop culture. My eighth grade English teacher predicted I would become the editor of a women’s magazine. Despite not living up to her wishes (yet), when asked to name influences for my own creative practices, music and film are as likely to show up on the list as other writers and their associated presses. Unsurprisingly, some of my own published work has focused around celebrity, an example being Bound: An Ode to Falling in Love, a chapbook my partner Jackson Nieuwland and I wrote in homage to Kimye, imagining them as an interstellar, blended reptilian alien family.

One important precursor to the Kimye phenomenon was Bowie and Iman, two of my idols and touchstones in the creative world, both equally fabulous and worthy of praise for being the bright stars they are. In Saturn, Simon Jacobs imagines David Bowie in a variety of poses through a series of prose flashbulbs. Flash, and we see “David Bowie Bids on a Piece of Modern British Art”; flash, and we see “David Bowie Takes a Commercial Space Flight”; flash, and we see “David Bowie Attends a Charity Event Hosted by His Wife”.

While the focus of Saturn is ostensibly on Bowie, ‘his wife, supermodel Iman (for whom he has written songs)’ has a role to play in nearly every narrative thread, on close to every page of the chapbook. She lies beside him in bed, she is the mother of their child Lexi, she whispers to him in Arabic. She was his love at first sight, a constant reminder of his aging body. ‘Though she is well over fifty, David Bowie is struck with the realization that she looks exactly the same as the day they met nearly twenty-five years ago, that while he sits and grows old hourly, she, Iman, has simply, abruptly, and entirely stopped.’ Flash, and we see “David Bowie Watches Himself Age 200 Years”. When she leaves, he enters a death spiral.

The David Bowie of Saturn is an aging artist, confronting himself at what he perceives to be the tail end of his nearly fifty-year career. This Bowie, not so dissimilarly, perhaps, from the ‘real’ Bowie, is constantly reflecting inward upon himself. The art he paints, the art he purchases, the roles he plays, the characters he creates, are all versions of him. He speaks in quotes from his own lyrics, surrounds himself in self-portraits, finds joy in the discovery that Tilda Swinton is yet another version of him. Occasionally, this discovery is loathsome; Bowie describes ‘the terror of one who looks so much like his past’ while attending a film premier with ‘his son, BAFTA-winning filmmaker Duncan Jones’ (flash, and we see “David Bowie Attends the Premier of His Son’s Latest Film”) and in these moments, he begins to fade away.

Most notable is Jacobs’ recurring depiction of Bowie as Saturn, of Saturn Devouring His Son (flash, and we see “David Bowie Examines Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings Shortly after a Massive Heart Attack”). In a final flash that feels spontaneous, yet in retrospect was fully premeditated, Bowie cannibalizes the body of Duncan Jones. Bowie’s ultimate act is quite physical, but we have seen his thought process as it played out across Saturn: the jealousy harbored for previous selves, the terror and stagnation felt in moments of physical collapse, the astonishment he felt for others, which time had left unflawed.

Spork Press’ design principles work in total harmony with the aesthetic of Saturn. Their books are chunky and almost square, with thick board covers and rough hewn edges. (Think about trimming a book with a very precise chainsaw and you’ve got Sander Monson Jr. What he actually looks like is a mystery to me.) Illustrations throughout reinforce and replicate scenes from Bowie’s life, as Simon Jacobs as imagines it. One of these scenes, Bowie ‘gripping the bloody husk of a body before him’, gnawing on the flesh of his son, is embossed onto the thick cardboard cover of the book, with Bowie inked in copper; the blood, an alien green. Spork has made some of the most beautiful books I own (see also: Feng Sun Chen’s Blud) and some others I desperately want. (Full disclaimer: I went over the list of Spork titles I wished I owned in my head, then in a bout of mania went to their website and ordered six books. Don’t go to the Spork site – actually, don’t even think about their books – unless you feel ready to spend all of your available cash.)

In his acknowledgements, Simon Jacobs thanks David Bowie for his influence on the writer’s own personality. He calls Saturn ‘the result of years of devotion’ and more-than-casual research. My own first encounter with the icon was similarly formative, at age thirteen by way of a looping reel of his music videos at the Journeys shoe store in the Towson Town Mall. I was shopping for my first high school dance with my conservative mom when Ziggy Stardust appeared on the monitor and, thinking I was being shocking, I pointed him out. My mother and the sales associate immediately started raving about David Bowie, trading stories, glued to the screen, while I tried on some pair of wooden heels in the corner. That’s the day I realized David Bowie was the ultimate babe and the only sensible creative mentor for me, for all of us, going forward.

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