One ex­treme to the other

With David Bowie: A Life, au­thor Dy­lan Jones sheds light on the man be­hind the rock star

The Enterprise-Bulletin (Collingwood) - - ENTERTAINMENT - David Bowie: A Life Dy­lan Jones Dou­ble­day JAMIE PORT­MAN

LON­DON — It’s a book that releases a flood of re­mark­able mem­o­ries — all in the ser­vice of bring­ing David Bowie and his life into bold and some­times con­tro­ver­sial re­lief. There are glimpses of him at work in the record­ing stu­dio — al­ways the con­sum­mate and dis­ci­plined pro­fes­sional, al­ways the quest­ing spirit be­hind the cre­ation of such en­dur­ing clas­sics as Space

Odd­ity and Let’s Dance. There’s also the no­to­ri­ous bad boy of the 1970s — the bi­sex­ual se­ducer of ador­ing teenage groupies, the drug- ad­dled freak tee­ter­ing on self- de­struc­tion.

We read of the night he went berserk, rac­ing his car around an un­der­ground Ber­lin car park at 70 miles an hour and scream­ing that he wanted to end it all by driv­ing into a con­crete wall.

The car ran out of fuel be­fore that hap­pened and it cli­maxed an evening that had ear­lier seen Bowie, fel­low per­former Iggy Pop at his side, ram­ming their car re­peat­edly into the side of a drug dealer’s ve­hi­cle.

But then, two pages later, we en­counter an­other David Bowie — the Bowie who would take a break from a per­for­mance in or­der to watch an episode of Corona­tion

Street on his VCR. This lat­ter im­age par­tic­u­larly de­lights au­thor Dy­lan Jones, whose new book — David

Bowie: A Life — has be­come an in­stant best­seller in the U. K.

“It’s a lovely vi­gnette,” Jones says.

“Dur­ing a per­for­mance on one of his most in­tense tours, a per­for­mance re­quir­ing a lot of phys­i­cal and emo­tional stamina, he was still able dur­ing the in­ter­val to zone out and watch a soap opera.”

Jones was con­stantly seek­ing this kind of in­ti­mate rev­e­la­tion for his book, pub­lished in Canada by Dou­ble­day.

And if the re­sult is a shift­ing, ever- chang­ing kalei­do­scope, there is good rea­son.

It’s an oral bi­og­ra­phy — the prod­uct of nearly 200 in­ter­views with friends, ri­vals, lovers and pro­fes- sional col­leagues of a one- of- a- kind rock leg­end who died of cancer at the age of 69 in Jan­uary 2016, two days af­ter the re­lease of his fi­nal al­bum, Black­star.

For Jones, a vet­eran rock his­to­rian, it’s a way of ex­tract­ing the whole per­son out of a com­plex and of­ten elu­sive hu­man be­ing.

In his in­tro­duc­tion to this 520- page vol­ume, he lays out the chal­lenge of deal­ing with some­one whose “en­tire pro­fes­sional ca­reer was one of myth, leg­end and invention.”

In fact, when he was work­ing on an ear­lier Bowie book, his sub­ject cheer­fully told him he should sim­ply “print the myth.”

Jones has been a fan since, as an en­tranced 12- year- old, he saw Bowie’s Ziggy Star­dust per­sona per­form Star­man on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion’s Top of the Pops — an episode that at­tracted one- quar­ter of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion on July 6, 1972. “The world didn’t need an­other

How I Love David Bowie book,” Jones says dur­ing an in­ter­view at the May­fair head­quar­ters of the Bri­tish edi­tion of GQ Magazine, which he ed­its.

“Lots of peo­ple had writ­ten one of those — I had writ­ten one of those.”

But this was some­thing dif­fer­ent — an oral bi­og­ra­phy.

“It took me zero sec­onds to re­al­ize that I didn’t want any­one else to do the book but me.”

Jones knew he would need pro­fes­sional opin­ions of Bowie’s con­tri­bu­tion to mu­sic — “but I mainly wanted peo­ple who had proper re­la­tion­ships with him to try and paint a pic­ture of what he was actu- ally like as a man, not just as a rock star.”

So his first wife, the sex­u­ally can­did Angie, is on hand to rat- tle on about the or­gies in their Beck­en­ham house.

But also present is Bowie’s sec­ond wife, Iman, who brought seren­ity to his later years.

We also hear from his backup mu­si­cians, the film di­rec­tors who made his lim­ited act­ing tal­ents work on the screen, the teenagers he bed­ded dur­ing the crazy pe­riod and a host of pro­fes­sional col­leagues — Peter Framp­ton, Boy Ge­orge, Mar­i­anne Faith­full and Lady Gaga, to name only a few.

El­ton John makes his own unique con­tri­bu­tion:

“David and I were not the best of friends to­wards the end ... He once called me ‘ rock ’ n’ roll’s to­ken queen’ in an in­ter­view, which I thought was a bit snooty.

“He wasn’t my cup of tea ... but the way he han­dled his death — it was classy.”

Jones in­cludes ex­cerpts from his own Bowie in­ter­views over the years — in­ter­views re­veal­ing a thought­ful, ar­tic­u­late, in­tel­lec­tu­ally cu­ri­ous hu­man be­ing.

“This was gen­uine and one of the things that pro­pelled him and caused him to ex­per­i­ment so much,” Jones says.

“He didn’t have a very good ed­u­ca­tion and was ready to con­sume ev­ery­thing.”

A san­i­tized life of Bowie was out of the ques­tion. Jones knew that in or­der to give a full pic­ture, the years of no­to­ri­ety had to be there as well.

So we get the drug addict whose nose was so eaten away by co­caine that it had to be re­paired with car­ti­lage from else­where in his body; the sex addict who pub­licly an­nounced he was gay but who would in­dulge in bi­sex­ual or­gies and sleep with 15- yearold girls; the chronic smoker who fre­quently weighed no more than 95 pounds.

Jones wor­ried early on that tabloids like The Daily Mail would pounce on this sort of stuff — and they did.

“But con­text is very im­por­tant,” he says.

“Of course there are flash­points in the book that al­lude to his dru­gad­dled ex­cesses, but th­ese are a very small part of his life.

“The Daily Mails of this world will al­ways have their own agenda, but any­one who reads this book will know that’s not the real story. How­ever, you can’t deny the fact that for a cou­ple of years in the early 1970s, he was an in­tensely flam­boy­ant rock star who had the ap­petite and tastes of most rock stars in the early 1970s.”

But with Bowie, the se­ri­ous artist keeps tak­ing cen­tre stage.

“He was a master tech­ni­cian. Not only was he a tremen­dous song­writer, but he had the abil­ity to go into a stu­dio and con­struct some­thing out of noth­ing,” Jones says.


David Bowie led a com­pli­cated life filled with early ar­che­typal rock- star be­hav­iour and ex­cess that even­tu­ally gave way to a more nu­anced and ma­ture man and mu­si­cian.

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