Saturday, May 21, 2016

Book Review: Starman-David Bowie

A promised book review as I dive into this biography. That's all I got for an opening.

Chronicling Bowie's life from his early childhood as David Jones through his pursuit of musical fame that lead to Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, biographer Paul Trynka traces it all, the high and low points with the eye of an observer trying to piece together what made Bowie so iconic and unique.

Like most of these books all the rock tropes are there-sex, drugs, scandal, great and less-great music along with those left in its wake, some of who hold Bowie as a great collaborator and man, others who saw him as an opportunist who took what he wanted. Along the way the book breaks down his albums-from his first self-titled album up to (in an expanded post script) 2013's The Next Day, showing the artistic merit Bowie brought and how he overcome, in the early days, more ambition than talent.

Like most biographies the good stuff comes once we move past the origin story (childhood, parents who don't understand, etc) with particular attention paid towards Bowie's incredible 1970s output and its continuing influence and power. The later chapters take a look more at Bowie's life afterwards and seems a little dry maybe because the wildness of Ziggy departs or because some of those later albums (which Bowie once described as being Phil Collins more than himself) just don't hold much interest.

The book does have some issues though. Like most biographies Bowie himself was not interviewed, only present via past interviews with other writers, so we get impressions of him from everyone else-from his childhood friends to ex-wife Angie to producer Tony Visconti-but nothing from Bowie himself. Also while it's understandable that most of the book would focus on his music output, Tyrnka overlooks most of Bowie's film work, with only fleeting mentions of movies like The Prestige, dismissal of other films like The Hunger (a failure) and Labyrinth (even though Tyrnka does admit it did introduce Bowie to a new audience) and no mention of his presence in Martin Scorsese's controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. Again I understand that the music is the main focus but the lack of insight into Bowie's other ventures seems lopsided.

That said the book is a fascinating read for Bowie fans and those interested in the process of how one man can change himself into whatever he wanted. Rating: ***1/2 out of 4.

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