It was the end of the swinging sixties.
That day, like so many others, the London sky was sad like a cold cup of tea.
The nasty rain rattled tediously at my windowpane.
I was waiting for my new tenants to show up and inhabit me.
Haddon Hall was the Gothic Victorian mansion in Beckenham where Bowie and his first wife Angie lived from 1969 to 1972. Accompanying them at various times were a random crew of musicians: people who moved in and out of their lives. Bowie, of course, was the most significant resident of Haddon Hall - even at that point - although he was still working out who he would be.
David and Angie rented the ground floor flat, which had (according to Angie, in later interviews) been previously home to some professors and their 27 cats. It was in Haddon Hall that Bowie crossed over into Ziggy Stardust territory, finally embracing his weird; accepting that he was more than just the guy who played at the local pub three times a week.
Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie is a graphic novel by Tunisian-born French cartoonist Nejib, who uses the house David and Angie lived in to tell the story of how David Bowie evolved into his first avatar, and the initial days of how he began on his path to ultimate stardom. A quiet and struggling artist in Haddon Hall, Bowie was still finding his groove - trying to promote Space Oddity while looking for record companies who would sign him for further albums. The narrator of the story is the house itself, just as much in love with Bowie as everyone else; excited when the couple move in.
In Haddon House, Bowie, Angie and their housemates were consistently broke. Pooling together their meagre incomes to a communal pot for food was one solution, but Bowie still struggled to earn money at that point. He had assumed Space Oddity would launch him into masses of fame, but so far it had not, and his publishers wanted him to write ‘hits’. Bowie, it seems, was not even aware that "Oh You Pretty Things" had indeed charted, and was still playing at small festivals for free, smouldering in quiet envy as his friend Marc Bolan was signed on for multiple records. But then "Space Oddity" - the song - is used as the soundtrack to the moon landing, and Bowie’s music suddenly reached far more ears than he ever could have hoped.
We see Bowie move on in life, arguing with Tony Visconti, playing with Marc Bolan, eating with Nabokov, and talking about fame with John Lennon. Sad Barrett of Pink Floyd makes a cameo too. The house also tells us about those surrounding Bowie: his friends, his lovers, his colleagues - none of whom were as talented as he was, a few of whom did not understand or empathise with Bowie’s open, bisexuality and free sexual expression.
Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansy, the drummer on multiple albums, including Ziggy Stardust, had to contend with being 'just the drummer', with Bowie keeping the songs he promised him if they were any good. Tony Visconti, Bowie’s producer for many albums (and famously the man who didn’t want "Space Oddity" on the first album), also lived in the house and wasn’t, as the house shows us, entirely comfortable that the fact that Bowie’s idea of "free love" wasn’t just limited to people of the opposite gender. Poor, sad Angie, who worked tirelessly to promote Bowie, but couldn't lift her own career off the ground no matter how many auditions she went to. She finally, in sheer frustration at the lack of outlet for her theatrical ideas, outfitted Bowie and his band for what may have been the first glam rock concert ever. Everyone else around Bowie had their own personalities - this much the house makes clear. But none had the genius that Bowie did. None would evolve and make the impact he did.
Bowie brings his brother Terry to Haddon Hall too. Terry, released from a London psychiatric hospital, is resident for a while until Angie realises that they can not help him. His demons are too great for love alone to drive away. We see, in a flashback, how much Terry meant to Bowie when he was a little boy, how he introduced Bowie to live music, how Bowie was witness to Terry’s first schizophrenic break, and how Bowie would later be able to connect with his brother via the music they loved as children - but still be unable to help him retain mental stability. Terry’s part in this story is incredibly sad, and incredibly evocative. It’s probably the truest, most emotional note in the house’s story.
Haddon Hall is filled with charming whimsical illustrations made up of free moving, musical lines, great big pops of primary colour, and an almost restrained hand when it comes to filling up the pages. It’s not minimalistic at all, but it’s pretty lean, given its loose, 70s vibe. It’s an easy read at first, but reveals greater depth on a second pass, once you’re done admiring the immediate effect of the illustrations and start to take in the finer details.
If there’s one flaw, it’s that it feels too short, too sudden - stopping when Bowie is about to become the man who took over the hearts and minds of the world of music entirely. Not to say that this period in his life isn’t important (is any period in an artist’s life unimportant?), but any fan of Bowie would want to read more, see more of what was to come, known as it may be to even those who are not huge fans. Haddon Hall, as endearing as it is, feels like it is part of a series, part of something bigger. But perhaps that’s because this part of Bowie’s life was just a small part of who he was, and we know this.