I’m a big Bowie fan, with the records, the T-shirts and a seeming desire to watch every documentary ever made about the man and his work. The first Christmas present my now wife ever bought me was tickets to the V&A exhibition, while for a long time I sang STARMAN every day to my tiny baby daughter. It’s a long story, but even at four weeks old I knew that she loved it too. As such I’m not quite impartial when it comes to this book. Indeed, I’m incredibly bias towards liking it.
For a Bowie fan, this oral history is a fantastically deep and immersive experience. Hearing the thoughts and recollections of Bowie himself, as well as those who knew him and sometimes even fans, it’s his story from his childhood right through to his too early death. Probably there are other books that are better for the man’s music, but it is a truly comprehensive guide to his life.
But as much as I enjoyed it, as much as I raced through it, there are undoubted flaws. His family for instance, remain distant figures within the text. Yes, we do hear a lot about his late brother who hangs like Banquo’s ghost over him, but his parents remain forever distant. Mentioned frequently, but unknown. Perhaps for his mother that’s understandable as she does seem an emotionally cold presence in her son’s life, but his dad is both portrayed as someone he was close to and – curiously – someone he wasn’t. (To quote some song or other, it’s confusing sometimes.) Undoubtedly, it’s more a problem with the form than anything else: as people’s memories and perceptions differ, and an oral history can’t help but reflect that. But it does make for a frustrating read.
(It’s a much more minor point: but his relationship with Paul McCartney seems to throughout the book go from lows to highs without any understanding as to why and how. It’s the tiniest of sub-plots I know, I don’t think thumb waving Macca and The Thin White Duke were natural musical bedfellows, but I found myself tantalised nonetheless)
Much like Bowie himself, it’s a book that’s sometimes pretentious, but more often than not is willing to puncture its own pomposity. It reveals a man who is intellectually curious, open to new ideas and generous with those he loved. It also conjures up a man who was capricious, bitchy, easily tired of the people around him and at times quite unpleasant. Even if it’s author clearly adores the man, it’s far from a hagiography.
I’m a Bowie fan of old and absolutely adored it. To be fair the only people likely to read this are Bowie fans too and I think you’ll adore it also.
Fancy reading some of my fiction? You can read the opening chapters of DIANA CHRISTMAS, the first of my ‘Screen Siren Noir’ series here!