Everything comes from something else.
David Bowie’s chance meeting with a faded rock star who thought he was Jesus Christ was the first of the building blocks that led to Ziggy Stardust.
Bowie was a teenage Mod fronting his band the Lower Third when he regularly bumped into Vince Taylor at the La Gioconda club in London. Taylor was an “American” rocker who had been a major star in France. By the time Bowie met him, Taylor was a washed-up acid casualty who had fried his brain after ingesting waaaaaay too much LSD.
Taylor was born Brian Maurice Holden in Isleworth, England in 1939. He was youngest of five children. In 1946, the family emigrated to New Jersey, where Taylor grew up on a diet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. When his sister Sheila dated Joe Barbera—one half of animation team Hannah-Barbera—the family moved to California.
Like millions of other young American teenagers, Taylor wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll idol. His singing was so-so but he could do a good Elvis impersonation. Barbera offered to manage him. Through Barbera’s contacts Taylor got his first nightclub bookings singing rock standards with a band. He later joked he was only ever chosen to be the singer because of his teen heartthrob looks.
While rock ‘n’ roll was ripping the joint in America, Taylor was surprised to find that back in his birth country the biggest star was a toothsome all-round entertainer called Tommy Steele. With his boy-next-door looks and wholesome cheeky chappy banter, Steele was loved by both the moms and daughters across the land. Taylor figured if this was English rock ‘n’ roll, then he would clean-up with his Elvis routine.
(Sidebar: While Taylor clearly pinched Presley’s act, Elvis later pinched Taylor’s black leather look for his 1968 comeback show.)
When Joe Barbera traveled to London on business—he took Taylor with him. This was when Brian Holden adopted the name “Vince Taylor.” “Vince” from Elvis Presley’s character “Vince Everett” in Jailhouse Rock. “Taylor” from actor Robert Taylor.
Taylor adapted his stage act from Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. He added a biker boy image—black leather jacket, pants, gloves, and winklepickers. He wore makeup and mascara. What he lacked for in voice, he made up in performance. Taylor was a wild man. Utterly unrestrained. His body jerked as if he’d been hit by 100,000 volts of electricity. He wiggled his hips and thrust his pelvis at the hormonal teenyboppers who screamed his name. He was sex on legs. Vulgar. Nasty. Every parent’s nightmare, every teenage girl’s pinup.
His early shows in England during the late fifties-early sixties brought him a record deal. He cut a few disc and wrote the classic song “Brand New Cadillac” (later recorded by the Clash). Taylor garnered mega column inches in the music press. But when he should have been heading to the top, Taylor sabotaged his own career by failing to turn-up for gigs. The reason? His jealousy.
Before a gig he would phone his girlfriend to check up on what she was doing. If she didn’t answer the phone—off Taylor would pop to hunt down his girl and the man he imagined she was with. This meant his backing band the Playboys often performed the gig without their iconic front man. This unreliability damaged Taylor’s reputation in England. The Playboys split-up and reformed around the band’s one consistent member—the drummer.
To make money to pay his debts, Taylor took a gig in Paris in 1961. He was bottom of the bill. Top of the bill was Wee Willie Harris (later immortalized in “Reasons to Be Cheerful—Part Three” by Ian Dury). Taylor was pissed with the billing. He decided to show the promoters who was King. During rehearsal for the show, Taylor gave one of his greatest most violent most outrageous performances. He was a rock ‘n’ roll animal. The promoters saw their error and gave Taylor top billing.
This gig made Taylor an overnight star in France.
A new record deal followed. Sell-out gigs in Paris and across the country. Mass hysteria. TV and movie offers followed.
Vince Taylor was the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. He was punk. He was Iggy before Iggy Pop. At one concert, a support act dared to copy his image—this led to mass riot. Vince Taylor was notorious.
For almost four years, Taylor was a King in France.
He was was the Naz, with God-given ass.
Then one day….
Taylor returned to England to pick-up his and the band’s wages. While there, he sampled his first LSD.
He dug it. He really dug it. He dug it a lot.
Taylor spent most of the band’s money on acid. Over a period of three or four days—or even a week, depending on who’s telling the tale—Taylor necked all the tabs of acid he could get his hands on. All lubricated with some Mateus rosé wine. This led to his Pauline conversion. He had a vision. He was not Vince Taylor (aka Brian Maurice Holden) but in fact he was the son of Jesus Christ—Mateus Christ.
After a few more tabs, a few more glugs of wine and a few more beatific visions—Taylor knew that he was on a mission from God. Now he had to go back and tell his fans who he really was.
Back in Paris—the Playboys were out of money. They have no food and could not pay their hotel bill. Taylor arrived—unshaven, unkempt, and out of his tree. The band demanded their money. Taylor, or should I say Mateus, denounced them for their love of mammon.
He told them All you ever think about is money. God is what you should be thinking about. I am the son of God’s son. I am the new Messiah. Money is nothing. This is what I think of money. (Or words to that effect.)
Taylor took a wad of cash out of pocket. He pulled out a lighter and burnt the money in front of his hungry, penniless band. It was Taylor’s version of kicking the moneylenders out of the temple.
The next night Taylor had a major gig. He turned up clean-shaven, done-up in makeup, black leathers and bike chain. The gig kicked off. The place was rocking. Taylor was on top form. Two numbers in—Vince Taylor up and announced that he was the son of Christ. I am Mateus.
He moved off the stage. He walked among the crowd. He blessed his followers. He gave them the Word of Mateus.
Come follow me. I am the way.
His sister Sheila was there. She freaked. Taylor told her to be calm.
I have prepared a plane for you and my disciples. Come with me and I will fly you to my Father’s kingdom in Heaven. God will make it so.
(Or words to that effect.)
Hours later—Sheila talked Taylor down. He saw some sense. There was no plane. Not yet anyway.
Taylor’s career was all but finished. He gigged now and again. The venues got smaller. The crowds got smaller. Taylor returned to London. He took more acid. He told anyone who would listen that he was the son of God.
One day, he met Bowie again. He stopped him outside the Tottenham Court tube station. He wanted to share some esoteric knowledge with the singer. Taylor unraveled a map. This was a map of all the alien bases on Earth.
Look, David, see…there are UFOs everywhere.. the extraterrestrial is living among us.
Bowie knelt beside Taylor on the sidewalk hunched over the map. This guy was a nightmare. He was bonkers. But yet, but yet…there was something here—something Bowie could possibly use.
‘What I’d Say.’
‘Brand New Cadillac.’
‘Twenty Flight Rock’
David Bowie and others talk of ‘acid casualty’ Vince Taylor