The best kind of biographies (and autobiographies) offer a personal insight into the career of a particular individual and allow us to embark on their journey through life with them. They give intimate details about that person, allowing us to build up a picture of what they were like, so much so that the reader should feel they know them personally.
I’m very pleased to say that Dylan Jones manages to achieve this aim with BOWIE: A LIFE. It’s a book made up of hundreds of separate interviews with David Bowie, as well as the people who knew him and worked with him. It’s a rather original method, and one that works perfectly well in a way that builds up an impression of the man from multiple viewpoints. Very few of the opinions contrast, which suggests that there’s an honesty to the interviews that accurately inform upon the chronology of events – and our ultimate impression of Bowie – that isn’t skewed by the author’s single viewpoint. The anecdotes are often fascinating, and build together to shape the image of a man who was a true artist, whether it be through his music or his fashion or even in the way he inspired others that followed. It’s difficult to overstate Bowie’s cultural influence, and after reading this book it’s easy to see why. He comes across as an intelligent but extremely driven individual who constantly recreated different personas in order to achieve his artistic goals. The stories and observations give me the impression of someone I would very much liked to have met (something that doesn’t always happen in biographies). And there’s a nice balance to the sentiments – this isn’t simply a hagiography, there are moments where Bowie’s flaws are discussed and there are is a cold objectivity to some aspects of his behaviour.
There’s a nice balance to the interviews, which are painstakingly organised into small sections which tell the chronology of Bowie’s life, from his earliest beginnings in Bromley, through the highs and lows of his career, right up until his far too-early death at the age of 69. The fact that he was working right up until the end (his final album Blackstar – a superb record – was released on his birthday, literally days before he passed away) shows how his unwavering artistic drive was not diminished. He left an outstanding body of work and this book is a very fitting tribute to both the artist and the man known as David Bowie. Highly recommended.