STRANGE FASCINATION - David Buckley


Allegedly, David Bowie has put a veto on any authorised biography and so it's left to authors of varying calibres to try and piece together the man's life and career thus far. There have been good books, namely Carr and Murray's now long out of print 'Bowie: An Illustrated Record' from 1981 and Nicholas Pegg's exhaustive 'The Complete David Bowie' which had a revision as recently as 2004, I believe. But there have also been some tomes that are simply interested in tittle tattle about Bowie's familial antecedents and don't have an interest in his work at all.

Fortunately, David Buckley's 'Strange Fascination' is perhaps one of the former on the subject. It splits Bowie's career into particular periods and closely examines the making and producing of all the albums and the concert tours. Buckley wisely places such details about the albums into an overall context so that we do get an understanding of the myriad influences that feed into the work, how this affects Bowie's private life and lifestyle and vice versa and which leads to a glimpse into what finally emerges as a painfully shy and private man, often dealing with his own neuroses very publicly whilst using the various incarnations of 'David Bowie' to create a distancing artifice that confirms that we know very little about the real David Jones.

He also adds in some tantalising mentions of additional unreleased tracks and filmed performances that Bowie is keeping in his archive. I for one would love to see the much lauded film of the 'Diamond Dogs' tour.

If you're looking for background into the now notorious 'I'm bisexual' announcements of 1972's Melody Maker interview, the marriage of convenience with Angie, the cocaine blitzed years in Los Angeles, the scandal of the Nazi salute at Victoria Station...well, they are all here. But they aren't treated as anything other than part of Bowie's own hang-ups and foibles. He does have a fascination with gay culture simply because he's always considered himself an outsider, he did dally rather naively with Nazi symbolism (and Buckley states that nothing was ever proved about the salute) and the Los Angeles years, though perhaps the most harrowing time in his career, also produced two incredible albums: 'Young Americans' and 'Station To Station'. The dirty laundry isn't hung out to dry here exactly. Let's just say that Buckley just contextualises it all without drowning in sensationalism. He reads Bowie as a man with an ego that survives through putting up a number of defences and here he looks between the cracks to see if we can 'get a glimpse of the faker'.

The most interesting sections are the early 1970s, particularly the Ziggy Stardust period, and the Los Angeles years, but for me the decade of 1983 to 1993 is at last a more thorough examination of Bowie, now very rich, but bankrupt creatively. There's a sense that his attempts to 'normalise' the Bowie artifice simply lead into a performer caught up in a mid-life 'sense of doubt' and a struggle to connect to his muse. The whole 'Tin Machine' episode sums that up and even Buckley sees that as a failure of sorts from which Bowie learned an awful lot of lessons. That it lead on into the recent renaissance of his career at least shows that it kicked him into the right direction.

There are gaps. There isn't really an in depth discussion of 'Scary Monsters' in 1980 which is odd considering it is always cited as one of his best albums. Buckley skates around it as if his research hasn't perhaps turned up enough detail. However, that's a minor fault in a book that's full of anecdotal evidence from his producers and band members. Lots of interviews with the likes of Ken Scott, Tony Visconti, Mick Rock, Mike Garson, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick and Reeves Gabrels make this a treasure trove of information. Many of them refreshingly tell it as it was and provide a picture of both the fraught nature and the professionalism of working with Bowie.

If you want a bang-up-to-the-minute assessment of, arguably, a major cultural figure, then this book is for you. Its elegant prose will keep you turning the pages, its lack of sycophancy making it a very absorbing document indeed. It was revised as of 2005 and this edition was reprinted last year. One of the very best books on the subject.

Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story (Virgin Books (Revised 2005) Reprinted 2007 ISBN-10: 0753510022)

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