The definitive account of the great man’s life, in the words of those who knew him best
You would think that bookish David Bowie fans — and they are not small in number — would already be overwhelmed with heavyweight tomes worthy of their extraordinary subject. Other famous acts from the golden years of rock have numerous excellent works of criticism and biography dedicated to them. Don’t get Beatles fans started on which is the best book about the Fab Four, or Stones aficionados going on whether Robert Greenfield beats Stanley Booth. And then there’s Bob Dylan, who supplied his own book, which naturally turned out to be better than all the others.
Bowie did not live to write his autobiography, and while plenty have attempted to do a version of it for him, to get the man’s astonishing, otherworldly effect — and affect — down on page, none has succeeded, either before his death, in January 2016, or especially since it, when the music section of your nearest Waterstones — if you have a nearest Waterstones and if it has a music section, in this Godless age — has occasionally seemed to be given over entirely to inevitably rushed, frequently windy and overblown books about the great man, with prose so purple you might think it had been written by, or for, an entirely different dead rock star, the fellow in the paisley.
One of the better Bowie books of recent years was When Ziggy Played Guitar, Dylan Jones’s clever recreation of the night in 1972 when Bowie played Top of the Pops, and became a star. Jones had been enraptured then, as a boy, and you could tell he still was.
Now Jones has produced a much more substantial book, and one with a serious claim to being the definitive written document of Bowie’s life. David Bowie: a Life is an oral history of the Starman, from birth to death and soup to nuts, as its author might say. (Yes, we know each other. Yes, he’s the bloke from the other glossy men’s mag, if you care about that stuff. Yes, this piece marks a temporary cessation in hostilities. And yes, we’ll be back to accidentally-on-purpose standing on each other’s toes at fashion shows next month.)
Jones interviewed Bowie on seven separate occasions over the years — that really is a lot, by anyone’s standards — and now he has spoken to close to 180 of the singer’s intimates and associates, as well as drawing on other material where necessary (a number of Bowie’s closest collaborators are dead, for instance) to produce an epic, incredibly detailed and comprehensive account of his hero’s life. As it should be, the book is lively, funny and warm — and the story, even the well-known bits, still staggers and amazes. Of how the south London boy, born just after World War II, transformed himself — not all at once, but slowly, with much trial and error — into one of the most significant cultural figures of the late 20thcentury. And of how he did it with such incredible intelligence, style, daring and wit.
It’s a brilliant story, and it is tremendously well-told here.
David Bowie: a Life by Dylan Jones (Preface) is out now