David Bowie: A Life

David Bowie: A Life
By Dylan Jones
[Crown Archetype]

Dylan Jones’ David Bowie: A Life is yet another of those oral histories, the format that is more and more becoming the de facto setting for rock books in a world where Please Kill Me has become the urtext. So what we have here is a barrage of quotes about Bowie from the usual suspects: musicians, critics, scenemakers, groupies, managers and hangers-on of all shapes, sizes and outlooks, with only a minimum of segues or analyses thrown in to hammer down certain points every now and then. Arranging this large spate of original interviews was surely an onerous task for Jones. But cobbling together the book was probably comparatively easy. I mean, I’m guessing all Jones had to do after the interviews were finished was to sequence the quotes, juxtaposing them in such a way as to maximize how they complement and contrast one another, and voila! Another “rock book” is born! And it’s a damned fine rock book, at that.

The oral history setup works in spades for David Bowie: A Life. Sure, there are peaks and valleys. Predictably, the earlier parts of Bowie’s career arc such as Ziggy Stardust, “Heroes”, and Scary Monsters, even, serve as foci for the book. But the 1980s, after Let’s Dance, was a lull for Bowie. And the ’80s segment of the book is correspondingly dull. Thankfully, David Bowie: A Life regains momentum toward the end as Bowie ponders his mortality and makes a couple of rallies with the penultimate The Next Day album and the final installment, Blackstar.

Bowie had become a hermetic, mysterious presence (or absence, even) before his death, and the book’s new info allows readers the possibility of filling in the blanks – or re-deconstructing the Bowie myth, as it were. Nobody, and I mean nobody, played the death card as artfully as Bowie. So if there’s a Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven (and there isn’t), Bowie would be floating around up there right now, running the show – and he’d be God.

Now don’t get me wrong. Bowie was no saint. And I wouldn’t have loved him if he had been. Yeah, I knew he’d had a cocaine period and that he would fuck everything that moved, aargh, “back in the day.” But I had no idea to what extent he was a disgusting slut and a coke pig. Wow. If this wasn’t the story of “David Bowie,” it’d be some Spinal Tap shit.

But this Bowie guy was a chameleon. He evolved from Ziggy to the Thin White Duke into a kind of MTV’ed-up Prince Charles. Well, actually he was a hell of a lot more Princess Diana than Prince Charles, but that’s another tangent.

Anyway, David Bowie: A Life is a postmodern patchwork of interesting perspectives on the man and myth that the reader can assemble in whatever way they see fit. Bowie himself sums it up well in one of the seven original interviews with the author cited in the book:

 My past doesn’t belong to anyone but me, although I am obviously respectful of people’s relationship with it. I’m not much interested in my own mythology. It feels quite fabulous when you watch MTV and realize that someone [else] is doing “me,” but I don’t want to go back myself, and I don’t want to trawl through the archives… But I must admit I like reading about myself… But as subsequent books kept coming out with all their own interpretations, I thought I’d quite like to put out one which incorporates all the inaccuracies, making this kind of truly fantastic creation. It could be my autobiography.