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Review: Bowie on Bowie January 27, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Another Netgalley free advance read in exchange for a review!

David Bowie has been known for reinventing himself for decades, through personas like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, and through less personified changes in style and substance, from the experimental Berlin trilogy to the commercial pop of Let’s Dance. This selection of interviews spans much of Bowie’s career, with a variety of sources talking to Bowie about his latest album, his latest movie, or whatever else may be happening at the time. Each is a snapshot of Bowie at a point in time, and it isn’t always clear whether the interviewer is talking to the real David Bowie or the image du jour. Even as one interview leads to another and there is discussion of what Bowie said back then, some of the contributors remark (at the time, or as quoted in brief introductions to the reprinted interviews) they’re still not sure whether he’s being open and sincere, or telling them what he thinks they want to here, or performing in accordance with his current facade.

So it isn’t easy to know what you’re actually learning here. There are some things you can be reasonably be sure of: Bowie is intelligent, creative, eloquent, and thinks a lot; he puts on a lot of poses; he can be a bit of a flake; he reassesses his past and reassesses it again. And it seems that, at least sometimes, when he’s being a character instead of himself he may be fooling himself as much as anyone else.

I’ve read other books that focus on specific periods in Bowie’s career — sometimes intentionally, sometimes because whoever’s writing the book was there for only part of the story. This book, fortunately, covers quite a few years, and when there are gaps it’s because Bowie wasn’t doing any interviews. The selection of interviews is also varied, sometimes going back to certain writers and publications to allow some revisiting of past sessions, sometimes going to more obscure sources for different perspectives. Each interview has an introduction of a few paragraphs, providing some context for the time of the interview, pointing out key moments, or allowing the interviewer to add an updated comment of their own.

A serious Bowie fan or scholar will still need a good, well-researched biography to learn more about the real David Bowie, as well as a book or two on the music. But this should really be part of the collection.

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