David Bowie – A Life
Some rock performers are successful because they have a spark and are in the right place at the right time. Rock stars are in a different category. They reach the top because underneath, their image is a genius that propels them. They are vulnerable to the same insecurities and excesses, but their need to create results in an expression that rises to the top.
Dylan Jones brings out this quality in his book about David Bowie, a rock legend who hit the scene in the 1960s and for decades delivered music, art, film and stage performances through ever-changing personas. David Bowie – A Life is a compilation of interviews and quotes from nearly two hundred people and spans the performer’s career until his death in 2016. It is a terrific view into a complicated and private person.
Born in 1947, David Jones grew up in a suburb of London. His father was an entertainment promoter and introduced his son to many types of music, as did his older brother. He attended art school, formed a band called the Spiders from Mars and, in 1969 had his first hit, “Space Oddity.” He married Angie Barnett in 1970 and they had a son in 1971. Their lives were anything but quiet and domestic, however, as they lived in an apartment in Haddon Hall, a large villa outside London, filled with artists and musicians, including the Spiders, and a place that became an intensely creative and collaborative community.
From the beginning, Bowie reinvented himself many times, adapting personas and performing before larger and larger audiences. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will remember Ziggy Stardust, glam rock, the Thin White Duke, and many other later shifts in image and music. Bowie had his hand in all types of creative expression. He wrote, painted and appeared in several films and also onstage, including a highly praised Broadway performance in The Elephant Man. He continued to create until just before his death and his final music video, “Lazarus,” is widely viewed as the singer’s ultimate goodbye.
Quotes from band members, friends, agents, producers, journalists and random one-time meet-ups give a big picture of a complex person. While often manipulative of the press, Bowie is credited with, through his androgynous persona, making a generation of youth feel comfortable and accepted with their sexuality.
Readers will also learn about the cutthroat business of rock music, about agents, promoters, being on the road, bad feelings about borrowed ideas, as well as how his records were made. Bowie’s vast amount of knowledge reflects an insatiable curiosity in everything that was going on about him and is part of all his music. I especially enjoyed reading about his competitive friendship with Mick Jagger and about his longtime personal assistant and gatekeeper, Coco Schwab.
Bowie had many demons including lifelong feelings of isolation, a family history of schizophrenia, a failed marriage and a cocaine addiction. These factors both contributed to and taxed his creative years. As for the drug addiction, Bowie admitted that what made him quit was his realization that he had become a horrible person. Bowie married supermodel, Iman, in 1992 and they led a quieter life his later years, however, during that time, he surprised his fans with two albums he had written and recorded in secret.
At 554 pages, this comprehensive book is expertly arranged. I took my time and often jumped onto YouTube to re-watch his many music videos and performances. I recommend David Bowie – A Life to anyone who enjoys music biographies and to anyone who likes to know about creative geniuses, for, whether or not you were a Bowie fan, he was one of those. In addition, while readers may never truly know who the real David Jones was, the universal comment from all was that David Bowie was always a charming man to meet.
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