As pop culture spirals into a banal, self-replicating, self-referencing morass, we seem increasingly to look back to the days when it meant something--when a new LP (ask your parents) might not only mean 30-odd minutes of music, but a whole new way of looking at the world and at yourself. Those were the days of David Bowie, whose near five-decade career is now the subject of David Buckley's new "definitive story".
Strange Fascination started life as a PhD, but it happily lacks the professionalised jargon that might bring with it. Where its critical credentials show is in Buckley's careful attempt to separate out the media "fictive" version of David Bowie--a version which, as he rightly claims, has been wilfully conflated with what Bowie's "really like" by past biographers. Mind you, that's hardly the biographers' fault: Bowie was, and remains, one of the most adept of self-inventors, whose legacy of fully formed personae reveals Madonna's much-vaunted image changes for what they are--"looks", superficial fashion tweakings that never aspired to the wholesale self-fashioning Bowie went in for. (Buckley is strangely unfascinated by recent rumours that Bowie's latest remodelling is more than skin-deep).
Buckley's passion for the man is undeniable, and perhaps misleads him on occasion. While there's no doubting Bowie's past popularity and influence, Buckley might not find many takers for his pronouncements that "Bowie is once again one of the most revered artists in contemporary music" and "nothing short of the first anti-hero of the 21st century". In fact, what comes across most strongly from Buckley's own account is the sheer length of Bowie's career, which means that his most marked influence was on a generation of artists who are themselves now approaching middle-age.
Nicely illustrated, and with some useful "documents" to encourage further study, Buckley's book won't please all Bowie fans, but it's an intelligent and thorough addition to a field that will grow and grow; Serious Bowie Studies. Watch this site. --Alan Stewart
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Author
A fantastic celebration of Bowie's life and work
The motivation behind Strange Fascination was a simple one: sick and tired of Bowie being publicly mangled in the press in the years of his creative decline in the Glass Spider/Tin Machine era, and of Bowie being written out of pop history too many times, I wanted to write a book that told the story of his music, and what it was like being a David Bowie fan. I wanted to try and make sense of it all for myself, and to articulate for others what it was really like to be a member of one of the biggest pop cults of them all. For, at his best, Bowie was far more than just a style icon: he was a symbol of our times, his work the very essence of late-twentieth-century culture.
I never did get to meet the great man, but along the way I got to have tea and cake with John Peel, listen to pianist Mike Garson perform an impromptu version of Life On Mars? down the phone from LA, and wonder at Carlos Alomars hilarious anecdotes and Hugh Padghams tale of woe that was the making of Tonight. Without exception, all my interviewees were full of admiration, respect, and - in some cases - love for David Bowie, and I tried not to lose this in the translation. There were also some serious moments too, plenty of em actually, and in the writing and rewriting of this book I constantly fought to try and accommodate all views, to give all the players in the Bowie story as fair a hearing as possible. I was aided and abetted in this by dozens of fans, academics, writers and publicity people. My thanks to all of them.
Despite the fact that the book is (semi-) affectionately known by me and Virgin as the doorstop, such is its spine-snapping size, it was originally planned to be even longer. There was a wealth of material on the making of the albums that my sage editor, Ian Gittins, a man who thinks Eno a ponce and tragically doesnt even like Outside (that section was cut by two-thirds!), thought of interest only to about three members of the BowieNet chatroom. He was absolutely right, of course, though I still think my suggestion for the books cover artwork (the mask from the 1975 Omnibus Cracked Actor documentary) was at least as good as the cover snap we got (my idea was dropped after a straw poll at Virgin found that only four out of ten of those asked recognised it was David Bowie!).
This paperback version has a new preface and a new chapter on the fifty-something Bowie. Im sure that there will be glorious moments ahead for Bowie, especially if concentrates on the music. And if you are a fan, or perhaps a lapsed one, then Id like to think Strange Fascination might make you want to listen to his records again. It really was the best pop music ever recorded, you know.
David Buckley, 15 June, Munich