Egomaniac, sellout, plagiarist—David Bowie has been accused of many things, but this new biography reveals a warmer side to the pop pioneerby Nick Crowe / February 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Starman: David Bowie—The Definitive Biography by Paul Trynka (Sphere, £20)
When I worked on a recording project with the music producer Tony Visconti in the late 1990s, I was eager for stories about his friend David Bowie. After all, Visconti had produced some of his best works, including Young Americans and Scary Monsters. “Bowie’s a cunt,” he said when the topic was raised, as if it was common knowledge. The subject was never discussed again.
Ground-breaking pop star Bowie has been accused of many things during his career, often for perfectly good reasons. Exploitation was a common theme among fellow musicians, who felt used when he dropped them after a session or tour, eager to move on. Tony Visconti’s gripe was over credit—recognition denied him and guitarist Mick Ronson for their work on the 1970 breakthrough album The Man Who Sold the World (a long time to hold a grudge, but they have since made up).
Critics and fans, bemused by the way Bowie so easily shrugged off one stage persona for another, one style of music for another, frequently accused him of selling out (something he would be guilty of in the 1980s) or worse, plagiarism. Even his sexual ambiguity, immortalised by flamboyant characters like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, along with his famously open marriage with Angela Barnett, were for some an even more despicable ruse, dreamed up with his wife at their flat in Haddon Hall to generate inches of newspaper coverage.
Yet Paul Trynka’s fascinating biography does away with the ruthless, self-serving Bowie and reveals instead a warmer, more instinctive figure, stripped of costume, newsprint, and celebrity veneer, whose relentless urge to create was far more profound than merely a wish to control.
In musical terms, as Trynka rightly observes, Bowie’s achievements are vast. By the release of Let’s Dance in 1983 he had already made 16 studio albums, at least half of which, like Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Low, were classics. No one since has come close. At the same time he influenced records which not only saved the careers of his most beloved role models, but became classics in their own right. Lou Reed’s Transformer was one of these, which he produced, as was his mix of Raw Power by Iggy Pop and the Stooges, an album which would heavily influence punk. His stage acting, as in the…