Talk­ing Bowie

The de­fin­i­tive ac­count of the great man’s life, in the words of those who knew him best

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.