Bowie went on to star in a TV ad for ice cream directed by Ridley Scott. #ch-ch-ch-changes Still, the format isn't quite as satisfying as you might think — and after reading the opening essay, which beats even Buckley for quality of insight and writing, you might wish that Pegg had written more of a traditional narrative. There are all sorts of little traps for the Bowie biographer, like the interesting but largely irrelevant fact that H. Wells also grew up in Bowie's suburb of Bromley; Spitz falls briefly into most of them. Sample line: "Like Bowie, Wells used his discipline and intelligence to lift himself above his working class station.
" The no-nonsense biography does allow itself the occasional flight of fancy, but it falls to Earth quickly every time. What you get as a result is plenty of well-researched nuggets you'll want to read aloud to everyone in the room, all connected by a cohesive narrative that helps you look at this fascinating, esoteric man in a hype-free light. Pegg's book is a little different.
Not quite a biography, it takes Bowie's life song by song, in alphabetical order; it is designed to be dipped into. On the whole, the song entries aren't too long or overwrought, with plenty of neat bits of trivia. (Did you know that "Aladdin Sane" was an homage to Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel Vile Bodies, or that it contains a musical reference to the 1950s tune "Tequila"?) Another issue: Some of the more well-researched books, such as the 1987 tome Alias David Bowie, are out of print or have not been updated since publication.
That's a huge problem when it comes to this fast-moving, ever-changing subject. In short, the ultimate Bowie book has yet to be written. Until it is, Buckley is the best holdover, with Spitz's work recommended if you're an extreme Bowie nerd, and Pegg if what you really want to know about is the backstory to each song.
It means we have to choose between a very large number of imperfect Bowie books that mask their lack of access with thumb-sucking analysis. (For example, a lot of these narratives pivot quickly from a description of Bowie in the 1970s to a historical discussion of the 1970s themselves. ) Some of the musicians who have spent months and months on the road with Bowie have little idea of what he’s really like, so rehearsed is Bowie’s bonhomie and so enshrouded is he by a network of aides, assistants and bodyguards, and by the trappings and accoutrements of superstardom.
‘He’s very insulated,’ said one musician, guitarist Adrian Belew, talking of his time with Bowie on the 1978 tour. 'I don’t know of anyone in rock who’s more insulated. ' With Bowie, one senses that these defensive layers are somehow part of the mystification central to his work. Bowie has made camouflage and misinformation part of his actual art. Very few know the ‘real’ David Jones behind the fictive David Bowie.
One suspects, crucially, that not even he knows what he is. But what we do know is that his whole career is a media enactment of a search for some sort of spiritual identity. Bowie has used the media as therapy.
Just as he has ‘healed’ the emotionally ‘sick’, his records are media expressions of hurt, pain and doubt – private grief made public. — Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) January 13, 2016 For example: The book opens with Spitz's agent trying to sell him on writing a Bowie book.
Then he walks out of the meeting onto the streets of Manhattan and sees the mighty Bowie himself, walking down the street. He doesn't talk to him — but takes it as a sign that he should write the book. Indeed, Buckley dispenses with Bowie's less interesting (than the rest of his life) suburban London childhood in a single chapter covering the years 1947 to 1967, and moves briskly on to the floundering angst surrounding the singer's first album.
Bowie wrote Space Oddity after going to see 2001 "whilst out of his head on marijuana tincture. " #bowiesinspace It's all very lovingly described, but to what end? Spitz is too reverential of any Bowie anecdote, even the ones without a point, and simultaneously too likely to divert the narrative into the kinds of cultural critiques that Buckley avoids. I rolled my eyes around the time Spitz started talking about unnamed scientific studies that suggest fair-skinned, blue-eyed people are naturally more shy.
See also: Why David Bowie tried to bury his first album — and why you should give it a try Buckley gets down to business; that's about the best way I can put it. In terms of prose that keeps you turning pages, he's probably the best writer in the whole Bowie bunch. Bowie's strangeness drives a lot of writers to fawning purple prose.
Not so Buckley: He merely points out he's dealing with a figure who has deliberately made his true self unknown, even to fellow musicians, perhaps even to himself. The most recent addition to the Bowie biography canon is a solid effort, but it is marred by the fact that Spitz, a rock journalist, is also a self-avowed Bowie fanboy. He tries to get past that into neutral analysis, but it's a struggle.
He's a pretty good reporter, too. There are plenty of neat anecdotal quotes from friends and colleagues of the singer at every stage of his career, but it doesn't feel gossipy — nor does it dwell on any stage of Bowie's life too much. (Unlike other biographers who seem to take it as their sacred mission to talk to as many of Bowie's classmates as possible.
) Still, some of the biographies are more complete and more skillfully done than others. I've spent the days since his untimely death trawling the most popular Bowie books. Result: I have my candidate for the one Bowie book you must read, as well as four honorable mentions. Strange Fascination by David Buckley (1999, updated 2012).