Find­ing the man be­hind the alien

More than 150 peo­ple in­ter­viewed for Bowie bio

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - BOOKS - Sue Carter For metro Canada

Early in the morn­ing of Jan­uary 10, 2016, af­ter news broke that David Bowie had died of can­cer, Dy­lan Jones, the long­time edi­tor of Bri­tish GQ, started re­ceiv­ing re­quests to write his obituary.

Jones spent the rest of that ter­ri­ble day at Men’s Fash­ion Week where many tears were shed over the loss of the enig­matic rock star, who, just the week prior, had re­leased his fi­nal al­bum, Black­star.

Jones first met Bowie in 1982 on the set of the sexy vam­pire flick, The Hunger, where he played an ex­tra dur­ing the iconic open­ing night­club scene. Bowie, one of the film’s stars, asked Jones — al­ready an ob­ses­sive fan — for a light for his Marl­boro.

“I knew him, not as a friend, but I knew him for a very long time,” says Jones, who would go on to in­ter­view Bowie seven times, and write a book about the rise of his Ziggy Star­dust per­sona. But Jones’s most mean­ing­ful trib­ute to his child­hood hero came af­ter his death. For a year, “it was a race” to in­ter­view more than 150 peo­ple around the world for his new book, David Bowie: A Life, a de­fin­i­tive oral bi­og­ra­phy that fo­cuses on the man be­hind the alien — his mo­ti­va­tions and cre­ative process, along­side plenty of dishy de­tails on Bowie’s re­la­tion­ships and sex­ual ap­petite, friend­ships and drugged-out party days.

He spoke to Bowie col­lab­o­ra­tors like Brian Eno, celebrity fans like Lady Gaga and Kate Moss, and those who were in­flu­enced by his mu­sic such as Cana­dian mu­si­cian Owen Pal­lett. To fill in the gaps, Jones drew from ar­chives to include voices like Ziggy Star­dust lead gui­tarist Mick Ron­son, who died in 1993, and Bowie’s wife and love, Iman.

Be­yond the list of usual A-list sus­pects are in­ter­views with those who knew Bowie be­fore he was Bowie, in­clud­ing child­hood friends and neigh­bours. “It was re­ally im­por­tant to me to speak to a lot of the an­cil­lary char­ac­ters,” Jones says. “It makes it very egal­i­tar­ian.”

Al­though Jones has stud­ied Bowie for decades, writ­ing the book pro­vided more in­sight, some­times un­flat­ter­ing, into the artist’s sin­gle-minded am­bi­tion. “He had this amaz­ing abil­ity to dis­miss peo­ple from his life,” says Jones, who re­calls the story of Bowie’s for­mer land­lady, Mary Fin­ni­gan, who was lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally shown the door at a con­cert af­ter-party.

“Some peo­ple feel like they were used, but most don’t. Most peo­ple thought, ‘Well, I had my ex­pe­ri­ence and it’s time to move on.’ You could say he was cal­lous, but he was also hon­est and quite ef­fi­cient.”

De­spite the fact that his sources are ex­haus­tive, Jones still feels there is one omis­sion. He in­ter­viewed Bri­tish artist Clare Shen­stone, who was the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind He­roes, one of Bowie’s most iconic songs.

“I com­pletely re­spected it be­cause she felt be­ing grouped to­gether with a lot of other peo­ple would some­how un­der­mine her own ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Jones. “That’s the only real re­gret.” Sue Carter is the edi­tor at Quill & Quire mag­a­zine.

Getty Im­aGes

David Bowie and Dy­lan Jones are shown at the GQ Men Of The Year Awards in 2002. While they knew each other, Jones says he and Bowie were not close friends.

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